Gators Leave Their Mark On NBA Draft Night

By Tony McClean
Updated: June 29, 2007
NEW YORK – Thursday night’s NBA Draft began as a coronation of the league’s two newest prospective superstars. As expected Ohio State’s Greg Oden (Portland) and Texas’ Kevin Durant (Seattle) would go 1-2 in the proceedings.

But as the night went on, the Theater at Madison Square Garden was slowly transferred into a final “victory lap” for three prominent members of the Florida Gators’ back-to-back NCAA Championship teams.

A year ago, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Joakim Noah were all highly regarded sophomores that many draft experts thought would be guaranteed lottery picks in the draft. Especially after coming off the Gators’ impressive title run.

However, the trio would all collectively decide to stay in Gainesville another season in search of another national crown. Not only did the three Gators help Florida win back-to-back crowns, but in a sense made a small statement to their small legion of critics.

While Oden and Durant got most of the pre-draft hype, Thursday night’s selections of the talented trio from Florida may have spoken louder.

Horford, Brewer and Noah were all selected in the top 10 of the draft, making it the first time three players from one school have ever been taken in the top 10 in the same draft.

“This has been an unbelievable experience,” said Horford, who was the third overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks. “Winning two national championships at Florida and then moving to the next level. It’s something very special.”

The 6-foot-10, 245 pound Horford was the highest selection by a Gator since Neal Walk was selected No. 2 overall by the Phoenix Suns in 1969.

Horford is only the third top five pick in school history, as Mike Miller was selected fifth in 2000 by Orlando.

Some 20 minutes later, the 6-foot-9 Brewer was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the seventh overall pick. The Most Outstanding Player of the 2007 Final Four averaged 13.2 points as a junior last season and was the SEC’s co-defensive player of the year.
Later Thursday night, the Timberwolves added another Gator, as Chris Richard was taken by Minnesota in the second round (41st overall pick) where he’ll join Brewer.
Two spots later the Chicago Bulls used the ninth pick to select the 6-foot-11 Noah and history was made as U F had three of the first nine picks in the draft. Chicago’s selection even left the ever loquacious Noah at a loss for words.
“I’m playing for an organization that I really wanted to play for,” Noah said. “I feel like Chicago definitely is one of the only teams that really has a chance to be a contender and win a championship.”
Along the way to his first press conference as a pro, Noah quickly began to endear himself to the Chicago fans. While walking through the Theater aisles and signing numerous autographs, Noah was greeted by a large contingent of Bulls supporters.
Noah quickly became the pseudo mayor of Chi-Town for the night as he bear hugged his new fans, while signing more autographs and taking pictures with several Bulls clad rooters.
In a night that saw several fans doing the familiar “Gator Chop”, the Theater at Madison Square Garden started to resemble the O’Connell Center during a Florida fast break.
“I really think that the University is very proud of us,” Noah added. “Not just the college itself, but the students, alumni, and everything else.”
“When we wore those Gator colors, we wore them with pride. And I really think we represented the school well. We weren’t scared to show our emotions and show our character.”
Now the three Gators look to make that same sort of impact in the NBA.
NOTE: Taurean Green became the fifth Gator selected Thursday night when he was tabbed by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round (52nd overall). The five players drafted is the most ever by a Florida team — the Gators had two players drafted in both 1984 and 2000. The five players selected nearly matched the total number of NBA picks under Billy Donovan prior to Thursday night (six between 1998-2005).