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One-armed basketball star Zach Hodskins offered walk-on spot at Florida

Zach-HodskinsZach Hodskins has one of the smoothest basketball strokes you will ever see. But it’s not his incredibly accurate shot that has heads turning across the nation. It’s the fact that Hodskins can shoot like that with only one arm.

Earlier this month, the University of Florida and head coach Billy Donovan offered Hodskins a spot on the team as a walk-on. The offer would guarantee him a spot on the bench beginning in 2014 without a full scholarship. Hodskins has yet to decide if we will attend Florida.

“When I’m out [on the court], I forget my arm isn’t there and just play ball,” Hodskins told the News-Herald of Northern Ohio. “Passion and love for the sport helps me overcome all obstacles. To this day I haven’t come across anything I can’t do.”

Hodskins has played high school and AAU ball over the past several years and scouts who have watched him play say he has incredible fundamentals and a “deadly” jump shot. Marcus Gibbs, Hodskins’ AAU coach for the Tennessee Playmakers, said Hodskins is an inspiration both on and off the court.

“He is a role model to any aspiring basketball player that no matter the odds if you work harder than everybody else the sky is the limit,” Gibbs told Prep Rally back in December. “There is nothing that this kid cannot do and if there is he will definitely work to eliminate that problem!”

The University of Alabama-Birmingham and Birmingham Southern have both reportedly been considering offering Hodskins a scholarship. While Hodskins’ story is heartwarming and inspirational, this isn’t a matter of a kid who has faced obstacles being allowed to score by an opponent. He can flat out ball.

Florida vs. Ohio St in the Title Game?

With everyone’s focus being on the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 Games coming up, everyone may have lost site of the tournament that really matters. That’s right, well before the Final Four matchups take place, the real title game will have already been played — that of the ever-important NIT. Coming up on Tuesday, both Florida and Ohio St. will be hosting semifinal games of the NIT. These squads have been running through their respective competition throughout the tournament and seem destined to meet for the right to be crowned the 66th best team in the country. No, this isn’t a slight at either program, it’s just a fascinating nugget shared on-air by Todd Wright Wednesday evening.

How crazy would it be for both Florida and Ohio St. to meet in three straight national title games? Just because it’s the NIT doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. They met in both the basketball and football title games recently with Florida winning both games. Could this be the year Ohio State bucks the trend? Could be. I think this also means a few other things. One, it shows how difficult it is for elite programs to rebuild after losing lots of talent. Secondly, it shows that both schools have strong programs with good coaching; even if they couldn’t make the cut for the NCAA tournament, they’re still proving they can win in tournament play. Now all that’s left to be seen is which one doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain. I’m guessing they both make it.

Billy Donovan Locks His Players Out

In a move quite similar to Tom Izzo recently, Billy Donovan played the “you don’t deserve to wear the ___ uniform” card on his squad. That’s right, after Florida lost to Bama in the opening round of the SEC tournament last week (perhaps a result guided by fate?), the Gators became essentially eliminated from tourney consideration. This display coming off back-to-back national championships for Florida. Needless to say, Count Donovan was not to happy with his team. As a result, he kicked his players out of their practice facility.

That wasn’t all — Donovan also prevented his players from wearing Gator gear, feeling they didn’t deserve to. The move was apparently similar to what Urban Meyer did with the football team in 2005 when he prevented those players from wearing Gator garb. While I’m not in the Gators locker room (and apparently, neither are the players), I can’t completely speak about what’s going on. But I do think players can begin to feel a sense of entitlement upon enrolling in a certain school. If you think about it, it wasn’t really these guys who earned the back-to-back national titles. Nice of Donovan to remind them of this fact when some athletes might have taken their greatness for granted.

Wife Drove Billy Donovan’s Decision to Desert Orlando

The St. Petersburg Times has a really interesting chronology and account of Billy Donovan’s decision to leave Orlando and return to Florida. In reading through the article, I can’t help but notice that Donovan’s wife seems to have been a driving force in Donovan’s departure from the Magic. Just take the opening sentences:

Billy Donovan was distraught Saturday morning, and his wife took action. Christine Donovan dialed Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and told him Donovan was having second thoughts about becoming the Magic’s coach.

Later it’s explained that the wife was instrumental in making sure assistant Larry Shyatt was involved:

She turned to assistant coach Larry Shyatt. “Make a U-turn, ” Shyatt recalled her saying as he drove toward a basketball camp. The Donovans needed help.

Donovan’s wife apparently continued to make the telephone rounds, calling Billy’s father next:

By early Saturday afternoon, Bill Donovan had received a call from his daughter-in-law, telling him how distraught his son was. He knew Billy was “very sensitive about how things affect other people.”

I could be off base in my analysis of what I’ve read in the article, but it really seems to me as if Donovan’s wife went out of her way to make sure he returned to Florida. Think about, only days later she was making all sorts of phone calls on his behalf. If she weren’t around making all these phone calls, where would that have put Billy? Isn’t it entirely possible that he would have worked out his misgivings and realized he should honor his commitment to the Magic? I certainly think so.

I’m willing to bet that Billy Donovan would be the present day coach of Orlando if his wife wasn’t next to him pushing all the buttons. I could be entirely wrong, but that’s what I’m gathering based on the article.

Florida’s Not One of the Best Ever

Yes, Florida certainly was awesome down the stretch, closing out their season with ten straight wins. Yes, their closest game during the entire tournament was a seven point 2nd round win over Purdue. Yes, they never had a moment of panic and struggle. Yes, it was extremely difficult to go from being an underdog last year and winning it, to becoming the favorite entering the year and managing to repeat. There’s no denying that what Florida did was special.

That being said, I will respectfully disagree with Billy Donovan who announced

I think you really have to look at this team, and I’m not saying they are the best team, but you have to look at them and say they are one of the best teams to play this game

I won’t annoint this team as one of the best ever. Sure, winning back-to-back titles now seems more difficult than when Duke did it in the early 90s; legacies and eras of domination are too short because players leave for the NBA too early in their college careers. But as good as the Gators proved themselves to be in the tournament, you have to wonder what business they had losing ANY games this year. Call me a cynic, call me a flaw-finder, call me a pessimist, call me a bitter UCLA fan. I’ll take it all.

But I’ll tell you this much about Florida — they were by far the best team in college basketball this year, with nobody coming in as a close second. Tell me one team that would win more than three games against Florida if they had played ten against the Gators this year? Name me one. Because I sure as heck know that I saw Greg Oden’s best effort tonight, and I saw a lot of hustle from UCLA on Saturday, and I know either team would be lucky to get one out of ten games against Florida. Disagree with me? Impossible.

Florida had every weapon, rather, Florida had no weakness. They had dominant big men, three in fact, and they had killer guard and perimeter play. It’s kind of hard to beat a team that can crush you either inside or outside, or both.

So why did they lose? What team that’s one of the best ever in college basketball has a four game stretch in which they lose three? Answer me that. If you want to argue with me and say that they played their best ball when it mattered the most, then I’ll tell you the regular season and post-season set up needs a serious overhaul where Florida would’ve had more incentive to play to their maximum potential. Either that, or I’ll tell you that the Gators weren’t worried about being considered one of the best teams ever. Because if they set their minds to it, they wouldn’t have lost more than once all year.

I’m not comfortable calling the Gators one of the best teams ever after looking at their easy draw in the Midwest Regional, and the fact that they lost to Vanderbilt, LSU and Tennessee all within a four game span during the regular season. Correct me if I’m wrong, because I don’t think I am.

Screw Florida, I Quit

Do you know what it’s like to see your team lose two years in a row after reaching the Final Four?  Two excellent seasons full of promise and only to see it come to a crashing hault?  Losing to Joakim Noah and his disgusting antics on the court.  Getting crushed by the inside play of Richard and Horford.  Being proud that the Gators missed their initial shot, only to see them follow it up by stuffing the putback down all-the-while teabagging your big men?  It’s hideous.  It’s repulsive.  It’s enough to make me not want to write any more. 

I am crushed.  I am defeated.  I am hurt.  I am sulking and basking in sorrow. 

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to say. 

Not once, but twice.

A mirror image of last year’s one-sided ass-kicking. 

It’s over, it’s done.  Give UCLA ten cracks at Florida, it would be a collective 100 point margin of victory for the Gators.  

I have lost all motivation.  I have lost all spirit.  My muse is gone. 

Just wanted to let you all know, because as my loyal supporters it is my duty to tell you the news. 

Thank you for being a part of my life the last few months and for allowing me to be a part of yours.  Maybe some day down the line, I’ll be able to return should something else inspire me, but for now, I have no further desire to write.  No more funny pictures of Joakim Noah, no more reasons why UCLA should win.  It’s gone, all gone.

Thank you once again.

Why UCLA Will Beat Florida

Feel free to come back and ridicule me later after the Bruins get their rumps handed to them. But until that point, here are five reasons why UCLA will beat Florida in the Final Four.

5. Florida is just way too cocky. They haven’t played with determination, grit, and intensity all year long. Anyone else notice that they had a supremely easy draw? What team truly tested them? Why didn’t they win more games in SEC play when they were far superior to anyone else in the conference? They’ve lacked the focus all year long, and the distraction hovering around Billy Donovan does not help them at all.

4. UCLA is much tougher inside. So Ryan Hollins may have turned things on a bit in the tournament last year, but for his entire career until that point, he was softer than Cinemax at 11pm. Lorenzo Mata might not be able to hit a J from farther than three feet out, but at least he’s gutsy and aggressive inside. Couple that with an older and tougher Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, an Alfred Aboya who isn’t nearly as lost on the floor now as he was a year ago, and the five fouls Ryan Wright can give away, and it spells much more tenacity inside for the Bruins. (of course, should Mbah A Moute and Mata incur three fouls prior to halftime, it’s over)

3. Arron Afflalo can hit the big shot. We already know that Florida has go-to-guys inside. We also know that Florida has shooters who can hit big shots on the outside (trust me, I have nightmares of Lee Humphrey three’s haunting me in my sleep). But this year as opposed to last year, the Bruins have a player who can hit the game-winner, the buzzer-beater. They have an option when it comes down to the last-second shot. Afflalo sunk one to beat USC, and he hit several buzzer-beaters against Kansas last week in his best game ever. Whether or not Afflalo hits the big shot against Florida is uncertain — what is certain is that he has proven he CAN do it, which is enormous for the mental confidence of a player when that moment arises.

2. Darren Collison is better than Jordan Farmar. Sure, Farmar may have been the only player to show up for UCLA in the championship game last year (sort of), and yeah, he’s diming to Kobe on a nightly basis in the association, but the honest truth is that Darren Collison is a much better fit for UCLA’s system. Collison is much quicker, just as good of a shooter, and he’s a more relentless defender. He’ll give the Florida shooters more hell on the perimeter than Farmar did.

1. Ben Howland has had a whole year to figure out how to win this game. If I know Ben Howland at all, I know this: as soon as UCLA got blown the **** out by Florida, he went straight to the film room to begin studying the game tape and understand what the team needs to do to beat Florida. I guarantee Ben’s been preparing a game plan for this exact situation for the past 300 days. He knew UCLA would be back in the Final Four, and he knew Florida would be standing in their way of national title No. 12. And he thought long and hard, about the proper strategy: pressure defense up front, heavily defending the entry passes down low, and hope the team hits their jumpers and free throws. Besides, of all the teams in the Final Four, UCLA has looked the most impressive on their way to Atlanta. The Bruins never struggled with Pitt, and they dismantled Kansas. If you noticed a trend, Howland made excellent in-game adjustments. His brilliant mind will lead UCLA to the win over Florida and vault the Bruins into their second title game in a row.