April 6, 2007

Dwyer Praises Skill, Maturity of Gators

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During my time at Cornell, I’ve put more time and energy into watching and writing about college sports than any other single endeavor. I’ve risked the wrath of my mother and professors by letting my class attendance and grades slip so I could chase down stories. I’ve missed birthday parties and disappointed friends in order to sit in a press box and watch any number of football, hockey, basketball or lacrosse games.
However, there’s no question in my mind that it has been a worthwhile effort, and that feeling was justified once again this week — not by any particular event on the Cornell campus, but by a band of Gators several thousand miles south.
On Monday night, I sat alone in the basement of my house on Linden Ave., kicked out of my own living room so my misguided roommates could watch the season premiere of The Bachelor: An Officer and a Gentleman, in the comfortable, spacious living room. But it was probably better that way, since I have a tendency to celebrate exciting plays with spastic, violent dancing, as well as to tear up during One Shining Moment — or even during the obligatory parents-in-the-stands shot during the closing minutes.
And when all was said and done, and each of the Florida players had tied their snippet of net to their championship cap, I had yet another reason to believe that this game is about more than just putting a ball in a hoop and getting as much money and fame in return for it. These guys turned down all of that for a chance to play for one another and make history, and it was the best possible ending to see all their sacrifices pay off.
Do you think Corey Brewer second-guessed his decision in October, when his diabetic father had his leg amputated and Brewer thought of the NBA millions he had passed up that could have provided his father with impeccable medical care? As Joakim Noah weathered a avalanche of vitriol from college fans and watched Greg Oden and Kevin Durant take the country by storm, do you think he wistfully remembered how everyone thought he would be the No. 1 draft pick last year? If you were Al Horford or Taurean Green, trying to juggle papers and exams with endless hours of game film and brutal practices, would you regret passing up on life in the fast lane as an NBA rookie?
But these four, and the rest of their teammates, resisted the temptation to whine about what might have been and put their focuses squarely on the future and leaving an indelible impression on history. Are they one of the greatest teams of all-time? Of course.
For me, the most memorable play from the national championship game came in the first half, when Oden just destroyed Brewer’s layup attempt with a two-handed block that knocked Brewer to the ground. But so what? Just because Florida made it look so easy and effortless and absolutely smooth doesn’t mean they deserve less respect than a team that depended on Christian Laettner miracles to win titles.
The Florida phenomenon starts with their coach. While Billy Donovan has been anything but an unsung hero over the last two years, I think he deserves another round of applause. And another. And another. I’ve teetered on the edge of heartbreak for the past four days, waiting for Billy the Kid to rip the rose-colored glasses off my face and stomp them to bits by running off to Kentucky for a lucrative contract.
I believed someone who refused to talk about a contract extension in 2006 and could teach unselfishness and loyalty so well to his players, would inherently understand the value of acting in a way that showed he lived by those same values. He didn’t disappoint, renewing his commitment to Florida in a press conference yesterday, according to the Associated Press. I know Santa Clause is a myth and I never believed in the Easter Bunny, but thanks to Billy I can hold on to the idea that teamwork and community means more than the almighty dollar.
And that’s the true reason I think we will never see anything approaching the two-time champions ever again. Basketball is a me-first, money-now environment at every level, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. O.J. Mayo’s college decision was a cold-hearted business deal, as he elected to play for USC head coach Tim Floyd because it would give him a chance to send his NBA stock sky-high by leading a school to unprecedented success in a media hotbed, according to The New York Times. Even the recruits with stellar references, like Kevin Love, who will play for UCLA, bring potential disasters along with them. According to the Willamette Week Online, Love’s father tried to fire his son’s high school coach after Love was benched for the first six minutes of a game in accordance with a team rule that stated anyone who missed a practice wouldn’t start that week’s game.
But even with all the ridiculous stories and larger-than-life characters, there is still the occasional team that proves you can have success by doing things the right way. Florida is one of those anomalies, and that made this year’s March Madness better than ever.
Olivia Dwyer is a Sun Senior Writer. Forever Wild will appear every other Friday this semester. Olivia can be reached at Odwyer@cornellsun.com.