SEC: Gator Swagger

By David Scott - March 11, 2007

After three days of sheer dominance over the below average (Georgia), the average (Ole Miss) and the slightly above average (Arkansas), you begin to run out of ways to praise these dynastic Gators of Florida. They've won three staright SEC titles, are the defending national champions and, at 29-5, will be inked in as the last ones standing on something like three of every five brackets that get filled out over the next three and a half days.

If they were a supermodel, they'd be Giselle . If they were a golfer, they'd be Tiger. If they were an individual ball player instead of team, they'd be Michael.

As it is, they have the one-name recognition of that trio.

"(The Gators) are a well-oiled machine. I'll be very surprised if they don't win it all," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath after his Razorbacks were picked apart in the SEC Title game by a score of 77-56. "It would take an off-night for them to get upset."

Sure, the Gators had some off-nights this year - especially on the road at Vanderbilt, LSU, Florida State and Tennessee. But those nights are distant memories after these past three games in Atlanta - which just so happens to be the place Florida hopes to find itself three weeks from now when the Final Four is waged inside the Georgia Dome.

"I think they're a great team, you know," said Arkansas forward Sonny Weems who finished with 15 points and four rebounds. "They play with great swagger."

Yes, they certainly do. It starts with the quiet swagger of their diminutive coach, Billy Donovan and permeates through to the Tourney MVP, the beefy Al Horford, who after being replaced in the final minutes swaggered over to the bench and raised his hand with three fingers poinitng upward to signify the three-peat his team was accomplishing.

"Coach always talks about playing on edge, but I think that's the most important, just playing on edge, almost playing a little bit scared," said Noah. "I think that playing a little bit scared, and being scared to lose can be good.
So playing with a swagger, but also realizing what's at stake."

What's at stake for the Gators is a chance to repeat - not defend - their 2006 national title.

"We're not defending anything," said Donovan. "Our arena, for however long it's up there, that banner for National Championship in 2006 is not going anywhere, it doesn't make a difference if we go 0 and 60, it doesn't make a difference if we lose every single game we play for the next five years, that National Championship banner is not going down. So they've got to understand they're not defending that. It's not like they said, hey listen, if we don't win it again this year, somebody's coming in and taking the trophy away, someone's taking the banner away, and it all goes away, what you guys earned, you lose.

"But people talk about the word 'defending, defending, defending,' and we've got to get out of that and understand it doesn't make a difference what happens the rest of their lives. In 2006, they're always National Champions, regardless of what happens going forward."

Of course, as the Gators do go forward - and forward they will go, deep into this NCAA tournament - they will carry with them that swagger.

"You know, I think there's a fine line between overconfidence and having what I would call genuine true real confidence in yourself," said Donovan, the master motivator and part-time psychologist. "I think when you deal with somebody that is overconfident, they have not put in the work, they haven't put in the time, and they rely on their individual ability, or they have an inflated opinion of what their individual ability is. I think when you've put your work in, and you've worked as a team, and you've worked as an individual, that should promote and instill confidence from within, through practice, that should promote confidence within.

"So I think that swagger you're talking about is a preparation that you go through. I don't know if we have a swagger or not. I do know that we're a team that has been humbled in a lot of different ways. And I think like Joakim said, you need to stay on edge, and there needs to be a level of concern. And sometimes playing with a little edge, and a little nervousness that, you know, if you don't play well, you're going to get beat, you know, that maybe creates that feeling. I think when you walk in, thinking you can just show up and play, and however you play, you're going to win, I think that's a sad, sad mistake that young people make.

"So I don't know if I'm trying to or they're trying to create a swagger. I am trying to create them having a level of 'on edge' and concern."

Right, Coach. Exactly what we're talking about.

The Gators have swagger.

Posted by David Scott at 05:29 PM on March 11, 2007

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