Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Noah gets more pub, but Horford could be better
By Andy Katz
ST. CATHARINES, Ontario -- Joakim Noah will get the hype. Al Horford may end up getting the hardware.
Noah, last April's Final Four MVP, remains one of the toughest matchups in the country. He's an active body who, at 6-foot-11 with guard-like skills, may end up playing small forward more often for Florida this season. He's extremely quick and agile.
After watching Horford for two games in Canada though, it's clear the SEC coaches knew what they were talking about when they discussed the Gators for ESPN.com's SEC summer session. They described Horford as a player who did a little bit of everything and who ultimately was the Gators' most valuable player.
"I've always thought he had the most upside," Florida associate head coach Donnie Jones said.
"Al knows who he is," added Lewis Preston, Florida's newest assistant, who came from Notre Dame to fill the spot created by Anthony Grant's move to take over at VCU.
Let's just say this about Horford: He starts his own breaks. He can grab the rebound, put the ball on the court and, at 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, he dribbles like he's a point guard. On one play this past weekend, he did just that and set up Walter Hodge for a 3-pointer.
He's also a superior passer from the post. When he gets the ball, whether it is at the high post or on the block, he has sensational peripheral vision. He also has a step-back 17-foot jumper and a jump hook with his left hand. And, yes, he definitely can still slam too.
"Coach [Billy Donovan] told me to work on my left hook and free-throw shooting," said Horford, who averaged 11.8 points and 10.0 boards in the six NCAA Tournament games. "I worked on my left hook a lot whenever I played pickup ball. I worked with my free-throw shooting with [Donovan] and coach Preston in the spring. I'm trying to shoot as much as I can."
Horford has a pro body. He is lean but sculpted, unlike the still-gangly Noah. He also has more traditional big-man moves. Horford just looks like he's ready-made to play professionally.
"I'm figuring out my game and I'm getting real comfortable," Horford said. "I'm getting real comfortable playing on the perimeter, too. I just feel really good right now about my game."
The hardest task for Florida sports information director Fred Demarest might be letting everyone know that Horford is as deserving of national attention as Noah.
"I'm just going out there to play, and if they want to give all that attention [to Noah], then that's fine," Horford said. "I'm going to play regardless of whether the attention is on me or not. It doesn't matter."
Assistant coach Larry Shyatt said he could foresee using a frontcourt of Horford at power forward, Noah at small forward and Chris Richard at center. They are clearly three different types of post players, with Horford and Noah more like guards in forwards' bodies. The Gators could be tall on the perimeter too, with the 6-9 Corey Brewer next to either Taurean Green or Walter Hodge at the point.
"[Joakim] and I are different in the post," Horford said. "I'm more of a power player and Jo likes it from the 3-point line in. If you put it all together, we're tough to stop."
Horford was an interesting study on the trip. He's bright, witty and well-rounded. He loves baseball and said he knows fellow Dominicans Moises Alou, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez. The son of former Miami center Tito Horford, Al moved to Michigan in the ninth grade. He originally committed to the University of Michigan, "but I dropped that after two days, because I felt pressured into making that decision," Horford said. "I talked to coach [Tommy] Amaker and told him that I wanted to reopen my recruiting and wanted to go to Florida."
Three years later, he has recommitted to Florida, staying for his junior year instead of being a likely lottery pick in June's NBA draft.
For now, Horford won't commit beyond this season, one that could see him play himself into being a top-five pick. It's no slight toward Noah to wonder whether Horford can be the more productive of the two, the more honored at year's end and ultimately, the higher draft pick.
|Horford's dangerous in the post or out on the fast break.|
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.