This year’s NCAA basketball tournament has provided far more than its share of exciting games. And now it has produced a Final Four: Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Kentucky.
As tends to happen when there are so many thrills and spills, this Final Four is problematic for those of us who want to see the championship go to the best college team, not the hottest. Connecticut finished third in its recently cobbled-together conference (middle of the pack among respectable teams) and earlier this month was crushed by Louisville, 81-48.
Kentucky also spent the year proving it isn’t worthy of a national championship. The Wildcats lost 10 games. Florida beat them three times. It doesn’t seem right that Kentucky should get to play the Gators again for all the marbles. But there’s a decent chance that this will happen.
Meanwhile, I thought I would stroll once again down memory lane by offering all-time all-star teams for each of the Final Four teams. I’ll start with the Gators.
Florida is known as a football school, but under Billy Donavan its basketball program need hardly take a back seat. However, it was Norm Sloan who put Florida on the basketball map when he returned for a second stint at the school in 1980. In 1987, he took the Gators to their first NCAA tourney. Led by the M&M backcourt of Andrew Moten and Vernon Maxwell, they advanced to the Sweet 16.
Lon Kruger took Florida to the next level — a Final Four appearance in 1994.
Under Donavan, the Gators have made it to four Final Fours, counting this year. And they won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, the only repeat champs since Duke in the early 1990s.
Here is my list of all-time greats:
Andrew Moten (1983-87)
The point guard on Florida’s first NCAA team, Moten is third all-time in points and seventh in assists. He shot .445 from three point territory.
Vernon Maxwell (1984-88)
Moten’s partner in the M&M backcourt. He averaged 18.8 points per game during his career on .462 shooting.
Ronnie Williams (1980-84)
A four time all-SEC selection, he ranks first in points scored for Florida and fourth in rebounds. His career scoring average was 19.0.
Al Horford (2004-07)
Co-star, along with Joakim Noah, of the back-to-back championship teams. He’s sixth all time in rebounds and second in block shoots. In 2007 he grabbed more boards than any Florida player since the SEC achieved real racial integration. Son of Tito Horford, the first Dominican Republic-born NBA player.
Neal Walk (1966-69)
Walk averaged 20.8 points and 15.3 rebounds during his college career, both Gator bests. He’s best remembered, though, as the player the Phoenix Suns selected with the second pick of the 1969 NBA draft after they lost a coin flip to Milwaukee. The Bucks picked Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar).
Nick Calathes (2007-09)
A 6-6 point guard, his 6.3 assists per game is Florida’s best. He also averaged 16.3 points per game. Calathes recently surfaced in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies after playing in Greece and Russia for several years.
Erving Walker (2008-2012)
A 5-8 point guard, Walker is first all time for Florida in total assists, fifth in points, and ninth in steals.
Udonis Haslem (1998-2002)
A star on the 2000 national runner-up team, Haslem is fourth on Florida’s all-time point list. His career field goal percentage was .584.
Starred with Horford on the back-to-back championship teams. I love the way Noah plays — his passing; the way, in college, he seemed to play multiple defensive positions during the same possession, etc. His rebounding totals were similar to Horford’s; he’s second in total blocked shots for a single season, and his career shooting percentage was .611.
Dwayne Schintzius (1986-1990)
The Gators’ all-time leader in blocked shots and seventh on the all-time scoring list. Had some disciplinary issues, though. Schintzius died of leukemia in 2012.
Eddie Shannon (1995-1999)
First all-time in steals and third all-time in assists for the Gators.
Kenny Boynton (2009-2012)
Second on the all-time Florida scoring list, but shot only 39.8 percent for his career (34 percent on three-pointers).
Corey Brewer (2004-07)
“Glue guy” and defensive stopper on the two national championship teams. Fifth on the all-time steals list, and averaged 1.9 steals per game in 2007.
Dwyane Davis (1987-91)
Shot an amazing .641 percent for his career and .722 as a sophomore. Davis is fourth in career steals, fifth in rebounds, and fifth in blocked shots.
Eugene McDowell (1981-85)
Eugene the Dunking Machine had 43 double-doubles for the Gators. He averaged 9.1 rebounds for his career and shot .597 percent.
Honorable mention goes to Andrew DeClercq, the great rebounding center on Florida’s first Final Four team, and to two players from the 1950s: Joe Hobbs, whose 19.6 career scoring average is second in school history and Rick Casares, a five-time NFL pro-bowl running back who twice lead the Florida basketball team in scoring and rebounding, and was second-team all-SEC in his junior (and final) year.