But at the end of a season in which Florida was a few points, a few plays, a few moments away from reaching a Final Four … pride kept bubbling to the top.
“Every time I turned on ESPN, they’d always go against us,” Justin Leon said. “For us to make It this far, I can appreciate this a lot. I’ll be able to always go back and tell my kids how I made it all the way to the Elite Eight.”
Florida was not in the NCAA Tournament in either 2015 or ’16. It opened 2017 with eyes on a return, perhaps an SEC title if the chips fell where they may.
But to be one of the final six teams playing? Once the initial sadness washes away, this is a season to be proud of – especially for the key contributing seniors – Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry and Leon.
“Even though we lost right now, I feel good that I was able to be a part of that team that helped get Florida back,” Leon said.
Seven players clocked at least 20 minutes of court time against South Carolina, much as they have the whole season. Those three seniors combined to play 80 and drop 33 points in their final game rocking orange and blue.
From the younger guys:
"[I saw] how much they care for other people, especially Canyon,” Chris Chiozza said. “He'll go out while the fans are camping out and bring them food and stuff like that. He's just a great guy. I take things like that and learn from them and learn how to care for other people. I learned from all of these guys."
“They put everything they had out on the court,” Kevarrius Hayes said. “Canyon was such a good scorer because he had that mentality to attack the rim and just take what they give you. Kasey, he always leads, always has something to say, something to really get us going. Justin … there’s no other one like him, he’s like a soldier. He’s always attacking the rim and doing what we need, and I try to take more from him.”
"They just want to win; whatever it takes to win, they want to win,” Devin Robinson said. “Canyon never started a game this year but came off the bench and played with energy and had a great attitude. Leon works hard every day. He’s a tough, bulldog as they say. And he makes other people better. Kasey … He's a leader. He leads by example. He's always in the gym first, last one to leave, vocal captain on this team."
Their basketball careers are not over. Leon specifically called out his NBA dreams, perhaps overseas.
The Gators program, however, evolves on a yearly basis. Current juniors Chiozza, Robinson, Jalen Hudson and John Egbunu now become even more responsible for leading both verbally and with their play on the hardwood.
Don’t worry. They got this.
"I'm trying to carry over what we built here this year and carry that culture over to next year,” Chiozza said. “I'm going to be a senior next year, so I'm helping the younger guys out a lot. Just keep this team together and keep them playing for one another like we did this year. Try to get back here and farther."
"We have a good locker room in here,” Robinson said. “Everybody likes each other. It makes it easier to play for the next man. I've never been a part of that before."