GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Their national championship rings are stashed away, some in safes, others in drawers, a few back home with family members. Their commemorative hats and T-shirts are long gone, too.
The Florida Gators are ready to move on.
A new season. A new team. A new task.
The Gators returned to the court Friday night for Midnight Madness, tipping off practice for the 2006-07 season, celebrating their first national title again and beginning their pursuit to become the first team to repeat in 15 years.
“We all want our rings and it means a lot to get them, but right now it’s a new year and a new season and we’re trying to get new ones,” forward Corey Brewer said.
Although Midnight Madness marked the official beginning of practice, the Gators got a head start last month with 10 days of work before playing two exhibition games in Canada — part of an international tour that every school is allowed to schedule once every four years.
Nonetheless, the Gators treated Friday like their first day.
Coach Billy Donovan held a nearly two-hour practice before Midnight Madness, which included a highlight video of last season, the unveiling of a championship banner, a slam dunk contest and a scrimmage.
Not surprisingly, Joakim Noah was the center of attention.
Arguably the most recognizable college athlete in the nation, Noah was cheered every time he touched the ball. He even won the 3-point shooting contest, making five from beyond the arc while teamed with guard Sha Brooks of the women’s team.
His first one was an air ball, then he hit two in a row. When his next shot rimmed out, he turned to the student section in the O’Connell Center and said, “If I would have made that, I would have been talking mad trash.”
Several schools started practice with festivities aimed at including students and fans before practice gets serious.
The Gators spent the last six months celebrating their title. They partied through the night after beating UCLA 73-57 in Indianapolis on April 3, received a raucous reception the following day at the Gainesville airport and relived the season’s best moments in a championship salute in the O’Connell Center later that week.
It got better, too:
Players immediately took the rings out of their cases, put them on and wore them the rest of the day.
Most of them haven’t touched the rings since.
CBT: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made it official that he'll be coaching Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and he'll also be with Duke at least that long, too.
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