Florida sophomores develop unique bond


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Assistant coach Donnie Jones walked into Florida’s practice facility late one weekend night, needing to pick up some paperwork.

The lights were already on, and sounds of squeaking shoes and bouncing basketballs echoed through the building.

Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah were playing two-on-two hoops in the middle of the night. Maybe Jones should have been surprised that Florida’s super sophomores would be there.

“Those guys, since day one, have been inseparable,” Jones said. “They really fit with each other well.”

The four second-year players do nearly everything – live, eat, study, hang out, practice and play – together. They’ve developed the kind of bond coach Billy Donovan wanted but never got from previous teams.

The chemistry also has been an invaluable part of Florida’s run to the Final Four, where the Gators (31-6) will face George Mason (27-7) tonight.

“We see each other every day, almost the whole day,” Brewer said. “Living with guys, you get to know them real well.

“Basically, they’re like my brothers now after living with somebody for two years and spending 20 hours out of the day with them.”

It translates on the court, too. Green, the point guard, said he knows his three roommates so well that all he has to do is give them a certain look, a nod or a subtle hand gesture to prompt them to cut to the basket, set a pick or get him the ball.

Talk about nonverbal communication.

Donovan has never seen anything like it.

“I can tell you that these kids have a great deal of love and concern and care for one another,” Donovan said.

By contrast, some of his other Florida teams have had more distractions than he cares to remember.

In 2002, a couple of days before the NCAA tournament, Brett Nelson broke a cheekbone during a fight with teammate LaDarius Halton in practice. Two years later, Christian Drejer quit a few weeks before the tourney to sign a pro contract in Spain.

There have been other defections, too, most of them leaving Gainesville in hopes of playing more elsewhere. Mohamed Abukar, Ryan Appleby, Mario Boggan, Rashid Al-Kaleem and James White could conceivably still be playing for the Gators. So could Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson.

But Florida’s makeup probably would suffer.

“It is very delicate because you hear people talk about family, you hear people talk about getting along, (but) part of the biggest thing about team chemistry is each guy on the team being able to accept the other guy not for what they like about them, but for their faults,” Donovan said. “That’s the hardest thing to do in life, to be around somebody, and care for somebody that maybe rubs you the wrong way.

“Once you can do that, that’s when the chemistry and the bond grows.”

For the sophomores, that started the day they stepped on campus in the summer of 2004. The freshmen foursome arrived at the practice facility, where Donovan had pickup games waiting for them. But instead of selecting teams, Noah quickly and confidently suggested he, Brewer, Green, Horford and Lee Humphrey would take on everybody else.

The youngsters held their own, too, winning several games against the team led by David Lee, Roberson and Walsh.

The sophomores connected immediately and started getting closer when they moved into a four-bedroom apartment on campus together. They quickly realized they had a lot in common, from basketball, to school, to social activities. Green, Horford and Noah also had famous fathers.

Sidney Green was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bulls in 1983 and spent 10 years in the NBA. Tito Horford was a McDonald’s All-American in 1985, played two seasons at Miami and then spent three years in the NBA. Yannick Noah won the 1983 French Open tennis championship and then became a reggae star in Europe.

Their sons have much more in common, especially now.

They plan to remain roommates next year and hope to find an off-campus house. But they hope that’s the only change. “The best part is you always have friends around, no matter what,” Horford said. “It’s either one, two or all three of them. You always have somebody to be with or walk to class with or just hang out and talk.”