Suffice to say, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer meant it when they told Billy Donovan they planned to return to defend their title. But the hardest part will be standing up to the outside influences in these final days before their status for 2006-07 is completely settled.
Plenty of Reasons to Return
While many have wondered openly why guys assured of being first round picks would even think about staying in school, I think there are a number of motivations for these guys to keep thrilling folks in the O'Connell Center.
They love to play ----- As much as a thrill as it would be to hear their names called during the first round of the NBA draft, the Gator trio also knows they will play precious few minutes as rookies. The opportunity to improve their all around games will make them more ready for action at the next level. Nobody who loves to play is going to be in a hurry to sit on an NBA bench, despite the lucrative compensation that comes with it.
Rare chance to repeat ----- In 1992 Duke successfully defended its national championship by crushing Michigan in the title game. That is the only team to defend the title in the last 33 years. That's right, UCLA won its seventh consecutive title in 1973 and only one champ has repeated since. Georgetown ('85), Arkansas ('95) and Kentucky ('97) all made it to the finals in that effort, but they came up short. Consecutive titles will create a lasting legacy for these guys not only in Gainesville, but nation-wide.
Keeping the '04 Four Together ----- Taurean Green joined these three guys in a recruiting class that was considered very good. Not a great class, like Kentucky's group, but a very good one. Well they have been inseparable from day one Green won't have the NBA opportunity that his roomies will have, but he was the indispensable one all season long. They love living together and playing together. And they can't do that in the NBA.
Win the SEC Title ----- They have two SEC Tournament titles, they won the NCAA Tournament, but they haven't won an SEC Championship. In fact, Florida still has just one outright SEC Title (1989). It would be a nice addition to the trophy case.
Unbelievable learning opportunity ----- These guys can learn and mature by showing they can handle an amazing list of distractions.
- An entire off-season of hero worship
- The cover of every pre-season magazine
- A likely number one ranking to start the season
- A much more difficult non-conference schedule
- Wearing a gigantic bulls-eye every night
It won't be easy to handle all of those things. It won't be easy to recapture the drive and the hunger that propelled them through the off-season. It won't be as much fun when greatness is the expectation. It's unlikely the chemistry and unselfishness will be quite as secure and consistent. If they can do all of those things, they have a chance to make history in a big way in 2007.