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Long way from Gainesville (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 21, 2008 1:35PM; Updated: Monday March 24, 2008 10:08AM
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For Noah, the difficult and sometimes painful lessons have been coming all season. It's a far cry from his days at Florida, where he literally towered over the campus and could do no wrong.

Noah's decision to bypass the riches of the NBA (and a likely top three draft selection) to return for his junior season at Gainesville made him a hero in Gator Nation. When he joined teammates Al Horford (now with the Hawks) and Corey Brewer (Timberwolves) to bring Florida its second straight title, his legacy was sealed. Even though Noah's stock as a top NBA prospect dropped a bit -- he wound up going ninth to the Bulls -- the smile on his face on draft night showed he believed it had all been worth it.

The NBA, however, has been as cold and unforgiving as a stiff wind off Lake Michigan. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, Noah learned he wasn't a BMOC anymore. He had to get doughnuts for his veteran teammates and carry their bags. His occasional tardiness for practices or team buses, and off-the-cuff outbursts, weren't tolerated as readily.

"It's completely different," Noah said. "You can't even compare almost. The players are a lot better, first of all. You're playing at the highest level. And there are so many games, the mentality is different. In college, you have a week to prepare for an opponent. Now you're in a city one night, you get back at three in the morning and you have a game that next night.

"The atmosphere is different in college, too, with the students and all that. ... There's so much excitement in the [buildup] to each game. Even though I consider myself to be passionate and emotional on the court, it can't be the same in the NBA because you're playing so many games. You can't get too high or too low. The NBA is always about the next game. In college, when we lost a game it was like the end of the world. It was devastating."

That's not to say Noah still doesn't take defeat hard. In fact, he blames losing for a lot of the slip-ups and mistakes he has made as a rookie. The Bulls began the season as a top Eastern contender in the eyes of many experts, but got off to a horrible start amid distractions over contract issues and a possible trade for Bryant. Now they're fighting for their playoff lives even in a weak conference.

"Losing is frustrating," Noah said. "Not just [for] me, but for everybody on the team. ... People get frustrated and do things. The losing is a big part. I know I made some mistakes. I feel I've learned from them."

A few minutes later, Noah could be seen joking with Luol Deng at the next locker and conversing across the room with Thabo Sefalosha in French about the latter's new shoes. The Bulls had won the game that night, and all was well in Noah's world. Other than the bulky gray sweater and heavy coat under his arm, for one night at least it was almost like old times.

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