“Good game, good game, good game….” I’m sure we all remember those handshake lines in youth sports, as we learned good sportsmanship by offering halfhearted congratulations to a superior team that earned victory. That’s the way I feel today about last night’s championship game.
I have found myself annoyed on a visceral level by the notion of the Florida Gators repeating as champs. But I must admit, with 20/20 hindsight, that this event was good for college basketball.
Florida’s best players made a commitment to team when they could have jumped to NBA fame and fortune. I can’t even imagine that scenario playing out anywhere else. Do any of us think we’ll see Mike Conley, Jr., David Lighty and Greg Oden in red and gray next year? For all of the Gators’ top players to decide independently to return is astounding.
I hear you saying “Sure, like Horford and Noah needed the money, they’re rich already!” Yes, that removes the financial necessity of jumping to the NBA, but it doesn’t remove the lure of the show. If Random House had been waiting with a book contract for me when I was 19 years old, I would have taken it, ready or not. Because when someone hands you the golden ticket, most often, you take it.
Perhaps more amazing was the willingness of the upperclassmen to become role players in pursuit of a second championship. Lee Humphrey started last night’s game, but everyone on both ends of the court knew he would be shooting threes. He did that, and hit four from behind the arc, contributing the bulk of his 14 overall points in that predictable fashion. But what a crucial contribution-how could Ohio State pack the middle or play zone if the senior was there to shoot them out of it? Chris Richard put in as many minutes as Joakim Noah, and had a better stat line, but nobody’s lining up to interview him.
The Gators played loose and sometimes even sloppy this year, because the pressure was off. Even if they had been bounced in this year’s Sweet 16, they still had the first ring. But that wasn’t about to happen. Florida turned it up a notch in the Final Four and blew great teams out of the building. It was readily evident in the game against UCLA that the Gators had been on cruise control waiting for the main event. Beating Howland’s talented team looked easy, and they left little doubt that they could do the same to their next opponent. And guess what? Cruising until the Finals is what they’ll be asked to do next year, in the pro ranks.
So, I congratulate all of the Florida Gators. While their fans destroy Gainesville and pat themselves on the back for… watching television, I guess, those twelve athletically gifted college kids and their coaches can gather together and congratulate themselves for doing it as a team, and making all of their diverse parts fit together into an overwhelmingly good whole.
And then, if it’s not too much trouble, could they just take their two rings and go to the NBA, already, and quit toying with the rest of us? After two, it just becomes cruel.