As the Florida Gators sailed to their second consecutive NCAA championship on April 2, 2007, those of us watching couldn’t help but think we’d seen this episode before: these Florida Gators looked oddly similar to the ones in 2006. We, it turns out, weren’t seeing things: this team, and the outcome, was just the same.
Now this was, from the beginning, nearly bound to happen: after Florida won the 2006 National Championship, all five starters announced they would return to defend their title.
With so many familiar faces, there was none more recognizable than Joakim Noah. A man known for height, dramatic celebrations, and a signature curly pony tail, Joakim Noah has virtually been the face of the Florida Gators for the past two seasons.
Born on February 25, 1985 in New York City, Noah had athletic prowess in his blood: his father, Yannick, was the 1983 French Open Champion. Perhaps it was his love for hoops, or his height – as Noah is nearly seven feet tall – but something led the younger Noah away from the tennis courts and onto the basketball ones. It turned out to be a good decision.
After a stellar high school career, where Noah averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds, Noah went on to play at the University of Florida.
As a college freshman, Noah saw little playing time and even littler greatness: he played just over ten minutes per game, averaging under four points and three rebounds on the season. Noah’s sophomore effort, however, saw Noah truly come alive: he averaged 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. As impressive as these stats were, they paled in comparison to what Noah was about to do.
In the 2006 NCAA tournament, Noah appeared to find himself, and he found himself becoming an elite player. During the NCAA regional game against first seed Villanova, Noah led the way with 21 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks. He then went on to the final game of the NCAA tournament, scoring 16 points, pulling down 9 rebounds, and blocking six shots, the latter which would set a championship game record. These performances garnered Noah several awards, including Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, 2006 Associated Press All-SEC first Team, Honorable Mention All-American, and the beneficiary of a local late night talk show’s campaign to name a University of Florida throughway “Joakim Noah Road.” The performances also caused his stock in the NBA draft to skyrocket.
Noah , however, had other plans.
Instead of declaring for the NBA draft – and likely procuring one of the top spots – Joakim Noah decided to return to Florida for his junior year. It was a decision that ultimately paid off for his team: Florida defended their championship crown. As for Noah, his decision of last year is now viewed by many as selfless: he has probably seen his stock in the NBA draft drop. Simply put. he was hotter at this time last year. But Noah, amid celebrations of his team’s second consecutive title, hardly seemed to notice.
The power forward hasn’t said whether he will remain for his senior year or say “later gator” to the University of Florida. Whenever he declares eligible for the draft, he will have no problem fitting in, scoring points, and blocking shots in the NBA.