Noah Not Exactly The Team's Neat Freak

Chris Richard, a self-admitted neat freak who likes having everything in the right place, just shakes his head when the name Joakim Noah and the word tidy are mentioned in the same sentence. Richard's locker is next to Noah's at the Florida basketball practice facility. Richard says he's got everything in order in his locker. And Noah? That's a totally different story.

"If you go by the locker room and maybe even the apartments where we live, you'd have to say either me or Jack Berry are the neatest guys on the team," said Richard, the 6-9, 250-pound junior power forward from Lakeland. "We keep our places pretty clean and we definitely keep a clean locker. Some of the other guys are definitely slobs but if you're rating the slobs on our team, there's no doubt Jo is absolutely the worst."

This collection of neat freaks and slobs will put its unbeaten record (16-0) on the line Wednesday night when the second-ranked Gators play host to Savannah State in their final non-conference game of the season (7 p.m., O'Connell Center). Savannah State isn't likely to put up much of a challenge. The Tigers are among the worst teams in all of Division I with their 1-17 record. They're averaging barely 50 points a game, giving up more than 80.

Richard's vote for Noah as the team's biggest slob probably gets a second from sophomore center Al Horford. Horford shares an apartment with Noah, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer so he's quite familiar with Noah's habits.

"Taurean and me keep the place pretty clean," said Horford. "We're the clean ones. It's probably a tossup between Corey and Jo about who's the biggest slob but if you really think about it, Jo's the worst."

Horford says that he and Green are constantly picking things up, running the vacuum, washing dishes and doing all the things that make the place presentable but just as soon as Noah gets into the room, the place starts getting that lived in kind of look to it rather quickly.

Richard doesn't see Noah's apartment all that much, but he does see the contrast in lockers. His is neat and clean except when Noah is around.

"I'll come back to my locker after practice and his tights will be on the floor in front of my locker and his boxers will be there on top of something that's mine," said Richard with a laugh. "He's always got food in his locker and sometimes it's food from yesterday or the day before that he didn't take home with him."

Richard says that he hasn't seen anything growing in Noah's locker but that's probably just a matter of time.

"That's something I expect to see any day," he said.

* * *

Junior Lee Humphrey, the nation's leading three-point shooter, keeps suggesting Cracker Barrel when the guys on the team are choosing a restaurant on nights when they go out to eat together. He keeps suggesting but nobody wants to go there.

"If I pick the restaurant, one of the restaurants I want to go to is Cracker Barrel but I've been vetoed on that a few times," said Humphrey, who is shooting 52.9 percent on threes this season. "Adrian (Moss) will usually pick a place like Popeye's … he's big on fried chicken. The sophomores kind of like Yamato's. That's a place they'll go to together even when the other guys on the team aren't with them. They really like it."

Richard says that Moss and Humphrey are the team's "greasy spoon guys. They'll eat anything … junk food, fast food, soul food … long as it's food, they'll eat it."

Richard considers himself a more discriminating diner with a preference for the collard greens and turnip greens at Mom's Kitchen and the fried chicken, pork chops and mashed potatoes at Junior's.

* * *

At Horford's apartment, there's no question that the king of the kitchen is Noah. While Noah may have his shortcomings when it comes to neatness, there's no question he's got the skill in the kitchen.

"Jo is the cook," said Horford. "He's really good … pasta, steak, chicken … anything … he's tried new stuff, too, and it's always good."

Whenever Noah cooks, the other three roomies pitch in to do the cleaning.

"He cooks and we'll clean up," said Horford. "Anyone who can cook like that, we'll clean up for."

Over at Richard's apartment, the fare is pretty traditional but he can get creative, too. On a recent Sunday when most of the team was at his apartment watching a football game, the halftime break gave him a chance to show off.

"Everybody was hungry so I went in the kitchen," said Richard. "There were some chips and a bunch of other things. I started throwing things together and fixed up some cheese sauce, sort of like some queso, and I brought it in there.

"At first nobody would touch it which was fine with me. I just kept eating. They figured it must be pretty good so they all started eating, too. I think I'm a pretty good cook and I get it kind of naturally. Both my grandmothers were gourmet chefs and they could both make something good out of almost nothing. I think I got that from them."

* * *

If you have the impression that this is a close-knit team where all the personalities and components blend together to form this rarely-found chemistry, then you're right. And, as unselfish and compatible as they are as a team on the court, they have that same ability to get along off the court.

"It's like all your best friends got together to make up a basketball team," said Richard. "I think that's what makes us a good team because we really do get along. Just like your best friend will always pull for you when you're doing something, all these guys pull for the other guys … it doesn't matter who's on the court, we're all together."

Humphrey says that all the players already liked each other, but when they all stayed in Gainesville for summer school the bond grew deep.

"We played basketball just about every day, hours and hours," said Humphrey. "When we weren't playing basketball, we were hanging around together. That's when I think we really came together as a team. We genuinely like each other."

Because they like each other as friends off the court, they are willing to push each other and do whatever it takes to improve on the court. Practices, says Humphrey, are competitive opportunities for the team to improve daily.

"Our guys are pretty consistent but I think for the most part each day we've come to practice each day focused and ready to do what the coaches want us to do," said Humphrey. "I think there haven't been very many times this year when we haven't been ready to go. I think that's probably one of the strong points on our team, being ready to practice every day and then getting after it."

* * *

With a win over Savannah State, Florida will finish it's non-conference part of the regular season with a 14-0 record, best in school history. The Gators will take the road the next two games for Southeastern Conference games at Tennessee (Saturday) and South Carolina (next Wednesday).

"We've got the bulls-eye on our back now," said Richard. "We're everybody's number one opponent now. If they beat us when we're ranked second in the country, it makes their whole season. We know we can't take anything for granted. I think we'll be ready to go."

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