They were A COLLEGE BASKETBALL RARITY, AN entity you may never see in the sport again. Florida's starting five—juniors Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, along with senior Lee Humphrey—led the way as the Gators became the first team since Duke in 1992 to repeat as national champions and the first team ever to achieve that double with the same five starters. They were unselfish on the court (all five starters averaged in double figures, with no one scoring more than 13.3 points per game) and off it ( Noah, Horford and Brewer all passed up millions of NBA dollars to return to Gainesville). That decision set the tone for this close-knit group and sent the message that these Gators were focused on a common goal: winning another NCAA title.
Not that remaining focused was easy. Coach Billy Donovan expertly navigated the squad through a minefield of massive expectations, hostile arenas and potentially crippling distractions (including questions regarding his own future).
"We all mesh," said super sub Chris Richard. "All of us are completely different, but we put aside our differences for the betterment of the team. Lee is just a quiet choirboy. Taurean is a hyper water beetle. Jo is the rebel. Al is the mentor. Corey's just a go-with-the-flow guy. And I'm just enjoying the ride."
Their extraordinary ride is over now, so here are some notes for the rest of the field. Take our class in Basketball Chemistry 101.
Green (left) was the least acclaimed of the Oh-Fours, the nickname for Florida's junior class, but he may have been the most important. Indeed, Florida was at its best during its back-to-back championship run when Green was clicking. When he wasn't, the Gators struggled: Over a four-game stretch in February, Green hit just 6 of 32 shots from the field, and Florida lost three times.
If the Gators needed a spark, Green usually provided it by running a high screen-and-roll with either Horford or Noah at the top of the key. The result was often an open three-pointer for Green or an easy bucket inside for one of the bigs. Green's respectable outside shot (40.4% from behind the arc) made it much more difficult for opponents to defend the paint, since they also had to worry about sharpshooter Humphrey.
But Green's value went beyond his ability to score. He excelled at running the break, and he took good care of the basketball. "He'll always get it past half-court and get it in the right people's hands," Brewer said. "He's the best leader I've ever played with."
Humphrey tore up the net in March—literally. During Florida's Midwest Regional final victory against Oregon, the shooting guard hit seven treys, one of which shredded the nylon and caused an 11-minute delay.