State of Florida flying high in hoops

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
8:30
AM ET
A little more than a month ago, when the madness was all about 40 times and fax machines, the state of Florida had 332 players sign football scholarships for FBS programs.

That represented one scholarship for every 124 high school players, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That represents the top player-to-scholarship ratio in the country.

Not a huge shock given the fact Florida is a football state. Want proof? Florida had 41,127 high school football players in 2012, the sixth most in the nation. Need more? Tim Tebow. He’s from there, played there and has a statue there. You don’t see anybody rocking the Dwayne Schintzius memorial mullet, do you? (There is, by the way, a barbershop, Athletic Cuts, in Gainesville that offers, no kidding, the Muschamp, as in football coach Will Muschamp. And, cherry on top, hoops coach Billy Donovan gets his hair cut there, too. People like the Donovan, owner Chip Ratliff said, but no one asks for the Donovan.)

Football, from the fall to spring practice to summer seven-on-sevens, rules the state like sunshine. Everyone knows it and abides by it.

Check that, abided by it.

Miami, Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and the streaking Miami Heat have forced a re-evaluation of the one thing that is holy -- football’s supremacy -- down in America’s hanging chad.

"Somebody told me Fla was a football state! Wouldn't be able to tell right now. Congrats to The U(of course), Fla Golf Coast and UF!!" LeBron James tweeted Sunday night.

E.F. Hutton of the hardwoods has spoken. Better listen because Florida has indeed started to make some noise.

Florida, Miami and Florida Gulf Coast all won third-round games in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16, which, just like Rounds 1, 2 and 3, will not feature any games played in Florida, the nation’s fourth most populated state.

Well, some things are slow to change. Other changes seem to happen overnight. Or, actually, in this case, Sunday night.

"We were just talking about it walking over here," said Miami guard Shane Larkin after his team’s 63-59 win over Illinois. "It's great. The state of Florida has great basketball teams."

At the top of that list is Florida. While the Gators’ football team has been trying to OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD, the hoops team has been to a school-record three straight Sweet 16s.

"They have one of the best programs and have the success that all of us want to have one day," said FGCU coach Andy Enfield.

Then there is Florida Gulf Coast -- or maybe LeBron had it right, Golf Coast -- a school that has to be just one mixology course from being a full-fledged Sandals Resort with a coach who clearly can recruit, and players who truly can fly.

"Dunk City is coming to Arlington [Texas], so everybody be ready," FGCU’s Bernard Thompson said.

People are ready. Miami, for one, has been ready. The Hurricanes, the highest seeded of the three Florida teams, at No. 2, have been waiting for this told-ya-so moment since they lost to Florida Gulf Coast back in November.

"I wasn't surprised, just because of how they put it on us early in the season," said Miami’s Trey McKinney-Jones after FGCU’s upset of No. 2 Georgetown. "They're a great team, and, as you saw [Friday], they're very confident. They weren't ready to back down at all. And they put the pedal to the metal and they didn't stop."

Nobody may be able to stop the boys from Biscayne Bay. But please somebody stop UM coach Jim Larranaga from locker room dances. He is one GIF away from a broken hip. Not that he cares.

"I told the players before the tournament began that I was going to have more fun than any other head coach and I wanted them to have more fun than any other team," Larranaga said.

Now the entire state is rejoicing, all the while still keeping it in perspective.

"People don’t understand how much football rules the South," Ratliff said. "But this, this is huge. You’ve got Florida, Miami and that little school down there, it’s great for the state."

At least, that is, until April 6. That’s when the Gators play their spring football game.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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