Noah Has Been Waiting For This Moment

Joakim Noah waited an entire year for this moment. Ever since Florida lost to Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament back in March, he's been working hard to get ready for this season and a chance to make a contribution.

Sitting on the bench last year as Florida lost in the tournament made him so aware of how important basketball is.

The hard work showed this past Tuesday when he turned in a 21-point, 11-rebound, five blocked shot effort against Embry-Riddle in Florida's first exhibition game at the O'Connell Center. It was his first starting assignment for the Gators. Last season as a freshman, he saw limited minutes but his role has changed now. He'll get his second start tonight when Florida plays host to West Florida at the O'Connell Center (7 p.m. start).

"He's been hustling in practice and getting it done on the offensive glass. He's been getting after it pretty hard," said teammate Al Horford, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Embry-Riddle.

For Noah, just being on the court again was special. He's dedicated himself to performing at a high level this season so the Embry-Riddle game was his first chance to go against someone other than teammates in practice.

"It's a great feeling especially when you haven't played against competition like this in a long time," says Noah. "I'm fired up especially in here. There's no better feeling than shinning a little bit in the O'Dome, it's a great feeling."

During Tuesday's game, he had a couple of moments when he left the court gasping for breath. He says that wasn't a lack of conditioning showing, but instead it was his excitement to be back on the court playing basketball in front of a big crowd again.

"I felt real winded, but I think that was because of adrenaline," he said. "I was really hyped up before the game and it's something that I'll have to calm down a little bit, that will come with experience."

Noah believes he's in excellent conditioning thanks to the early morning workouts with strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Herring. When he's in the weight room, he remembers the end of last season's Villanova game to inspire him to do more.

"Any time you end your season with a loss, as a competitor you always take that into consideration every single time you feel tired in the morning, when you have 6 a.m. workouts or when you don't want to be there you think about things to motivate you," he said. "I think that the loss to Villanova made us hungrier and got us ready for this season."

When it comes to Noah, there is no easy way to define him. Start with the wild shock of hair that seems to have a mind of its own. The hair is a visible extension of his personality. He knows no strangers and pretty much goes his own way, checking out everything along the journey.

The son of former French Open tennis champion Yannick Noah, now one of France's most famous musicians, he's an international traveler who turns introspective when he sees the world. To get ready for this season he went to Africa and then to Europe.

"I went to Africa to see my grandfather for a week and I went to France for a week." Noah said, "It prepared me more mentally because I hadn't seen my family and friends in a while but as soon as I got back over here it was all business. I got to the weight room, playing ball everyday and just getting ready for the season."

Now that he's back in Gainesville and the season has begun, he is finally getting a chance to show what he can do. He thinks Tuesday night's game is just an indicator of things to come in the future.

"I feel I've always had the ability to do things like that," he said after Tuesday's game. "All I need is the chance to get on the court and play. I believe in my coaches, my teammates and I believe I can help my team win."

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