Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Noah, other Gators gather NCAA reward

GLAD THEY SAID 'NO' Four members of the Florida team who turned down the NBA last year exulted in winning another college championship


Joakim Noah hasn't changed his tune.

The son of former French tennis star Yannnick Noah and three other Florida players who said no to the NBA a year ago got their reward on Monday night when they won their second straight US NCAA basketball championship.

"I feel like we had to sacrifice so much for one another, but it was never a problem," Noah said after the win over Ohio State. "Because it was always about the right things."

The University of Florida become the first school in 15 years to defend a basketball title and the first ever to hold NCAA Division 1 football and basketball titles in the same year.

Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Taurean Green, Noah's teammates, elevated their games and their profiles from the season's start to the very end and figure to reap a big reward as professionals.

Noah's chances of being chosen as a top NBA draft pick, however, have dropped.

Foul troubles planted Noah on the bench longer than either he or coach Billy Donovan could have planned.

His nerves frayed by the finish, Noah barely scraped together eight points and three rebounds in 21 minutes -- and that was just two nights after a similarly unimpressive semifinal performance against UCLA.

But Noah insisted that he didn't care.

He thrust a fist in the air as Horford dribbled the final seconds off the clock, shimmied for a moment, then joined his teammates in a roiling mini-mosh pit off to one side of the court.

Then, befitting the son of a Grand Slam tennis champion, he raced through the crowd and clambered into the stands to embrace his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, the way Wimbledon winners climb into the family box.

"Everything that I went through this year, they went through times 10," Noah said.

"It's so much harder, especially for my mom," he said. "I remember before I came to Florida, she didn't even know about the rules of basketball."

But there was no mistaking the joy animating Noah's face as he rejoined the chorus line of teammates standing on the scorer's table and led them through another championship dance.

"I feel like we've accomplished something special," Noah said.

"So many people doubted us, but we're in the books now," he said.

"People can say whatever they want about this team," he added, "but at the end of the line, they have to say we won back-to-back titles."

That last bit was aimed at the critics who have mocked Noah's wild hair or mimicked his over-the-top celebrations -- even those who sent him reams of hate mail and spoofed him mercilessly on the Internet.

"Right now," Noah said, "I don't know what we're going to do. It's all about enjoying the moment right now. I feel like it's always about what is going to happen next, and it's not about that now. We'll talk about that later."

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