Young Gators start thinking about next year

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

INDIANAPOLIS -- Florida coach Billy Donovan lifted the national championship trophy above his head Tuesday, his eyes red after an all-night celebration with players, coaches, family and friends.

He would gladly do it again.

"I'll remember this for the rest of my life," he said.

Donovan never expected this much this soon from his young Gators. And who knows how soon it will happen again. Three sophomores -- including multidimensional forward Joakim Noah -- have to decide whether to return for next year.

But on Tuesday, the Gators still were celebrating their 73-57 victory against UCLA in the NCAA championship.

They played stifling defense and overwhelmed the Bruins with dunks, layups and long-range shots. It was the perfect way to cap Donovan's first decade at Florida.

"What happened is significant in basketball in the state of Florida, is significant to the University of Florida," Donovan said. "I'll remember these 10 years in terms of trying to build things and create a level of consistency."

But can he keep Florida there? It might depend on Noah, guard Corey Brewer and center Al Horford. All of them could jump to the NBA draft even though they have repeatedly said they intend to stay for at least another year.

"I don't think anybody's ready to leave yet," teammate Chris Richard said. "Everybody loves each other and we want to come back and try to repeat. We've proven that we're the best team in the country and we'll be the best team again coming into next year."

Duke was the last team to repeat, winning in 1991 and '92.

"I'd like to win another one," Horford said Monday night. "I don't know about the group. I guess we'll have to sit down and talk about everything."

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