The NBA playoffs started with eight former Gators competing on seven different teams.
Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that three former Gators are playing in the NBA Finals.
Udonis Haslem (Miami Heat), Mike Miller (Miami Heat) and Matt Bonner (San Antonio Spurs) will each be going for title rings when the Spurs play the Heat in Game 1 on Thursday night (9 p.m. ET, ABC).
All three have filled important roles off the bench for their teams this season. And all three were part of UF’s 1999-2000 team that reached the Final Four and fell to Michigan State in the NCAA Finals. When I first joined the beat in 2003, Florida coach Billy Donovan told me it was the most competitive team he ever witnessed from a practice standpoint.
“It was a war,” said Teddy Dupay, Florida’s hard-charging combo guard on the 2000 NCAA runner-up team. “Nine guys competing for playing time, and everyone felt they belonged. Shooting drills, five-on-fives, everything was competitive. That served us well and made us really closer as a team.
“In our pick-up games, there were hard fouls, some fights. Practices were intense. But I think it created a bond that we have to this day.”
Dupay, who lives in Tampa and currently works in real estate, said he’s not surprised that former teammates Miller, Bonner and Haslem have enjoyed long, successful careers in the NBA.
“I always felt that UD was going to be a 10 to 12-year pro,” Dupay said. “He’s good for a team, a very tough guy. Bonner with his size and shooting ability, you knew he would do well.
“Mike, obviously his first five or six years, he was a go-to-guy, an All-Star guy. He averaged 15 points as a rookie with the Orlando Magic. He’s logged a lot of miles. So for him to be able to blend in and play with (the Heat), I think it’s been a good spot for him. He’s still capable of having that big scoring night.”
Here’s another Florida-Miami Heat connection. Last August, Heat coach Erik Spolestra attended Donovan’s coaching clinic in Gainesville. Spolestra peppered Donovan with questions about how to repeat as champions. Spolestra is now four wins from achieving that goal.
— Former Gator Erik Murphy worked out for the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and has also worked out for the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons. The Pacers pick 53rd overall but a scout with the team told me he doesn’t expect him to fall that far. The scout said that the 6-foot-10 Murphy boosted his stock at a recent workout in Las Vegas in which he made 13 of 15 shots. “The whole league was there,” the scout said. Murphy is projected as a mid-to-late second round pick.
— It’s official. The Gators will face Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 17 at Madison Square Garden. ESPN announced the doubleheader on Wednesday. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will play at 7 p.m., followed by Florida-Memphis at 9 p.m., with both games televised on ESPN. It’s just the second-ever meeting between the two schools. In the previous meeting, Memphis beat Florida 84-83 in 1976 in the Big Sun Tournament title game in St. Petersburg. Led by rising senior guard Joe Johnson, Memphis is coming off a 31-5 season in 2012-13. The Tigers lost to Michigan State, 70-48, in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.