Sloan has similar warm feelings about the state. He has become so associated with basketball in the ACC that his stopover at Florida from 1960 to 1966 is frequently forgotten. He headed for North Carolina State, David Thompson and Final Fourdom after that, but he never got Florida out of his mind. "I enjoyed it tremendously when I was here before," says Sloan, "and I always felt that if Florida had the proper facility, I would consider coming back." Well, the folks at Florida hurried the construction of its futuristic Stephen C. O'Connell Center while drawing up a list of coaching talent that might lead its basketball team to glory. The list had only one name, and Sloan said yes.
Sloan may have liked the Florida living and the new facility, but he didn't like what the Gator program had become after 8-19 and 7-21 seasons under John Lotz in 1978-79 and 1979-80. Only three of Lotz's players were around last season, and Florida now has one of the youngest teams in the country—four sophomores, eight freshmen—mainly because Sloan wanted to play with his people.
"There's a combination of reasons nobody [from Lotz's teams] is here," says Sloan. "Some lost interest in playing, and I lost interest in some. I wanted players who wanted to be at the University of Florida. I have them now." Among those who left were Reggie Hannah, a big-time center who transferred to South Alabama, and Grandholm, who transferred to South Florida.
Grandholm says Sloan didn't pressure him to leave, though the coach didn't encourage him to stay, either. Grandholm left, he says, primarily because he wanted some "juice" he just wasn't getting in Gainesville. "I'm from Indiana," he says, which is enough when the subject is high school basketball. "I played before 8,500 in the gym at Elkhart Central High all the time. I played in front of more than 15,000 in the state Final Four at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Plus, I'd come to Florida to play for John Lotz. When he was fired and Coach Sloan came in, it just didn't seem like the right place for me anymore."
But USF is the right place for Grandholm, as it is for Grier, who had 42 points, 10 assists and 14 rebounds in the Florida Four tournament. "We really didn't know what a big-time program was before Coach Rose came," says Grier, USF's alltime leading scorer. "I thought everything was great here even though we were losing. I thought that was the way programs were run, and so be it. I found out differently. The main thing we lacked that Coach Rose gave us was mental toughness."
Still, things aren't perfect in Grier's world these days. A native of Port Chester, N.Y., he has had to do without his favorite TV show, The Honeymooners, in Tampa. "Man, I miss ol' Ralph and Norton every night," he says.
Rose's inspiration comes not from television but from sources as diverse as the Bible and the novels of Robert Ludlum. In analyzing USF's rising stature, he calls on another favorite, the Peanuts cartoon strip in which Lucy advises Charlie Brown at her 5¢ psychiatry stand. "Lucy tells Charlie that life is like a big cruise ship," says Rose, "and some people have their chairs at the front of the boat looking forward, and some have their chairs at the back of the boat looking backward. Then she says, 'Which way are you looking, Charlie Brown?' And he says, 'Heck, I can't even get my chair unfolded.' Well, I like to think that right now we've just got the chair unfolded and we're ready to move it."
And, when he says that, he could be speaking for the three other Florida schools as well.