SEC Title on the Line for Senior Night

The Florida seniors will have to put emotions behind them quickly after the pregame festivities on Tuesday night. The memories of Adam Allen, Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus in the O'Connell Center have come a long way. A selfish group of freshmen got a wakeup call in their early years, but they have grown up to earn a chance at the SEC Championship on Tuesday night against Alabama.

It wasn't easy for them to get here.

Allen, Parsons and Tyus came to Gainesville four years ago without knowing what to expect on the court. Whatever their freshman years brought along, there was no doubt in their minds the NCAA Tournament was a certainty.

Their wake up call came only games into the year. It was a roller coaster first two seasons that broke them down mentally and emotionally. Instead of feeling like they deserved to be successful, it taught the players what it took to earn the right to play on a good team. That's the reason the players have an opportunity to cap their careers with an SEC Championship Tuesday night.

"It's been very rewarding and fulfilling to see them get to this point," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "Sometimes you didn't know if we could get to this point in time. They've worked hard and figured things out, but there is a lot left this season to be played. It's a team that as freshmen and sophomores probably thought they were going to walk their way into the NCAA Tournament. Last year (as juniors), they fought their way in."

The senior class went through its share of uncertainty off the court. Point guard Nick Calathes left early to pursue a professional career in Greece, while point guard Jai Lucas transferred to Texas. Macklin joined the group three years ago when he transferred in from Georgetown.

Even when Macklin was on the bench and taking a redshirt in his first year on the team, he was able to watch as his teammates fought through the NIT to appear in the Final Four at Madison Square Garden. It seemed like a small accomplishment for a school only two years off back-to-back national championships, but the end of that season gave confidence to a program that desperately needed it back.

"The one thing with these guys is that we had a hard time physically beating good teams that had size and strength," Donovan said. "We had a tough time rebounding the ball. We couldn't quite get over the hump against good teams. In the last two years they've learned what goes into winning some of those games."

The challenge will be capturing the emotions before tipoff.

Tears from family members, and possibly even players, will flow. Memories of all four players' careers will run through the minds of everyone in the arena. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the game.

Donovan has experience dealing with it, but it's still an area he isn't sure how to handle.

"It's always a hard thing," Donovan said. "It's emotional for anybody. I don't know if there's any right way. I went through this as an assistant at Kentucky, and we felt like when the game started it looked like those guys had been through an entire season in about 15 minutes. When guys know it's their last game in the arena, it's significant. When they're young, they act like it'll never end. The key is to enjoy that moment but get prepared and ready to play."

It would be one thing if Florida took the court to take on an average team in the SEC. Tuesday night they will take on Alabama, whose 11-3 record matches Florida's with two conference games one weekend of conference play left.

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, a former Donovan assistant at Florida, has his team playing well in conference play thanks to a renewed effort on the defensive end.

"They're a physical team," Donovan said. "They do a great job creating steals and do a great job with their hands. They don't give up easy baskets. You've got to be strong with the ball and be able to go inside-out. They have good speed and athleticism. They're just a very active team defensively."

The difference this year has been in freshman point guard Trevor Releford. He's third on the team with 10.3 points a game, but his defense and ability to run the offense have the Crimson Tide playing well in conference.

"He's not only one of the best young point guards in our league- he's one of the best overall point guards in our league," Donovan said. "He has played exceptionally well for them."

JaMychal Green has also taken steps forwards this season, leading Alabama with 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

"He's clearly one of the best low post players in the conference," Donovan said.

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