Seeds Of Greatness Were Sown In Summer of '04

There were five of them in Lee Humphrey's small truck that night, somehow crammed into a tight space that really isn't all that comfortable for a pair of fairly normal sized guards (Humphrey and Taurean Green) much less a 6-11 center (Joakim Noah) and two 6-9 forwards (Al Horford and Corey Brewer). They had been to Billy Donovan's house to eat dinner and on the way back to the University of Florida campus, five minutes of quiet was finally broken by Humphrey.

"It was real quiet and then LeeHump busts out and said, 'Guys, we're really going to be good' and everybody just looked at him and started laughing," said Taurean Green, one of the normal sized guards that was in the truck. "It was so random but we all agreed."

Al Horford, who somehow contorted his 6-9, 245-pound body into the truck that night, said, "This is after (Anthony) Roberson, Matt (Walsh) and David (Lee) had left and everybody was doubting us and Lee's looking around and seeing what we're seeing. It's funny that he just brought it up and just told us."

Joakim Noah, whose long, lean frame wasn't made for small trucks, remembers looking back at Humphrey and saying "Humpty, you're right! You're right Humpty."

Somehow, even then, they knew they were going to do something special in this 2005-2006 season even if it did defy logic. A team that loses David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson --- three extraordinarily talented players --- really shouldn't be better, but somehow Florida has had addition by subtraction. The Gators are 31-6 and heading to the Final Four with a starting five made up of four sophomores and one junior.

It is a starting five that had its origins in the summer of 2004. That's when the freshman class of McDonald's All-American Corey Brewer, Noah, Green and Horford started school in Summer B at the University of Florida. The four freshmen --- they nicknamed themselves "The 0-Fours" --- bonded quickly and were inseparable friends from day one.

"Just four guys who love playing basketball more than anything else," said Brewer, who arrived as the only really heralded recruit in this class. "Everything else just happened from there. The more we played together, the more we hung around together, the more we became like brothers."

When the Gator veterans returned to school, the pickup games began and the four freshmen banded together to go against the vets. They had been playing two-on-two every day but now that the veterans were back the games were going to be five-on-five and they needed one more.

"Jo said something like just us the freshmen and we'll take Humphrey," said Horford.

Humphrey was a rising sophomore who had gotten extensive playing time the season before after Christian Drejer had bolted the team at midseason for the Spanish pro leagues. It only took one game but the five of them became a permanent team that went 12-1 going against the vets. Little did they know that the starting lineup for the 2005-2006 season was learning to play together.

Horford was the big guy in the middle who was a rebounding demon. Noah was the gazelle who ran the floor. Brewer was the slasher from the wings and the open court defender deluxe who could jump out of the gym. Green was the point guard, directing traffic and finding open teammates. Humphrey was the long range bomber who could stretch a defense.

"I really feel that we made that connection together," said Horford. "There was good chemistry right along and we all picked it up. Lee was the missing part and the thing we were missing. It's funny how everything played out."

They loved pushing the ball up the floor every chance they got and that kind of grated on the veterans.

"They [veterans] liked to walk it up the court," said Green. "We liked to run and we ran every chance we got. They didn't like playing against us, I don't think."

Brewer started for the Gators from day one. He was the lanky, quick as a cat defender who could be a difference maker in the open court and a lock down guy on the perimeter. A few games into the season, Horford became a starter. His job was to play defense and rebound.

Humphrey got some starting time during the 2005 season when Walsh went down with a bad ankle sprain but mostly he was Walsh's backup as the shooting guard. Green backed up Roberson at the point and Noah languished as the fifth man in what was essentially a four-man rotation at the power forward and center spots.

Sitting was tough, particularly for Noah, who ached to play but understood that he wasn't quite good enough or strong enough yet for the role. His progress was impacted by a case of mononucleosis which cost him 20 pounds on a frame that already lacked muscle. When Florida played in the NCAA Tournament, Noah saw only two minutes of playing time in two games.

Sitting made Noah appreciate playing time and makes him appreciate what freshman David Huertas has to go through on this year's team. When Huertas contributed two points and four rebounds off the bench against Villanova Sunday in the championship game of the Minneapolis Regional, it was his first game action since a three-minute stint against LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals.

"I know how hard it is not to play because I've been in that position before," said Noah, the Most Outstanding Player in that Minneapolis Regional. "When I see David Huertas getting individuals [practice drills] it means he's not going to give up on the season. It would have been very easy to say 'I'm going to give up on the season and get ready in the summer time.'

"No, he's getting in his individuals right now. Corey Brewer got into foul trouble in the first half and he [Huertas] really stepped up in a big way for us. Those are the special teams that have players like that."

And Florida is a special team --- special because the chemistry on this team is so unique. Donovan has said many times during the season that the 2000 team that made it to the NCAA championship game certainly had more individual talent from top to bottom, but no team has had better chemistry than this one. They have done what nobody could have predicted --- set a school record for starting the season 17-0, won the SEC Tournament for the second straight year, won a school record 31 games and now they are heading to the Final Four with a shot to win college basketball's biggest prize.

Nobody expected the Gators to be this good this fast but then again nobody could have predicted the team chemistry that has made this one of the most unselfish groups in the country. The unselfishness is just an extension of what they learned when they played together back in the summer of 2004.

"We really understand that in order to win we have to play together and play team ball," said Horford.

Playing team basketball means that all the parts fit together and no one part is more important than another. Throughout the season, each of the starters has had shining moments to lead the team to a victory, yet in the four games of the NCAA Tournament, Noah has become a comet streaking across the national sky. His play, particularly after a freshman season where he sat on the bench far more than he played, has caught the attention of the national media but even with the media focus, he continually emphasizes that he and his teammates don't care who gets the glory as long as the team gets the W.

"I'm not shooting jumpers and I'm not making one on one moves," he said. "I'm running the court and the guys are getting me the ball under the rim for high percentage shots. I'm just busting my butt and working my hard. That's all it is but everybody is doing that on our team. We're just sharing the ball and playing unselfish basketball. We're not worried about statistics and individual praise. It's all about winning."

And it isn't just about the four freshmen plus Humphrey. All five of the starters are well aware of the contributions of Chris Richard and Adrian Moss off the bench along with freshmen Huertas and Walter Hodge. And they are well aware that walkons Jack Berry, Garrett Tyler and Brett Swanson along with injured freshman Jimmie Sutton all make their contributions to the total team atmosphere that has taken them within two games of fulfilling a lifetime of dreams --- the national championship.

"We keep it a team thing," said Green. "It's not all 0-Four … we call it 0-Six since this is the year we're playing in."

"It's a team," said Brewer after the win over Villanova in the Minneapolis Regional final. "I've never been on a team like this before that everybody was so unselfish and cared so much about each other. We're friends … we're family … we're a team. We believe we can do great things together."

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