AUSTIN -- Who said Florida was a football state?
Don’t tell that to the three Florida schools that are making noise in the NCAA Tournament. Throw in the NBA’s Miami Heat and their 26-game winning, and basketball fever is at an all-time high in the Sunshine State.
“We’re not just a football state,” declared Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin after Florida advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 78-64 victory over Minnesota. “With Miami doing great this year, and us, and Florida Gulf Coast, we’re doing great.”
Said UF’s Casey Prather: “We definitely won’t get treated like second-class citizens, not anymore, because of the state’s success.”
The Gators believe the perception of Florida being nothing more than a football state is beginning to change. Not only did the Gators win back-to-back national titles in 2006 and ’07, but some of the state’s other schools are starting to get noticed.
Miami won the ACC championship, and beat the school’s football team to the punch. Now comes Florida Gulf Coast, a 15th seed that has become a national darling by knocking off heavily favored Georgetown and San Diego State.
Because the Eagles have captured the fascination of the nation, the Gators could feel like outsiders when they face them in Dallas on Friday. The crowd could be cheering for the young upstarts from Fort Myers.
Not that it will seem unfamiliar to the Gators.
“When we go into places like Tennessee or Kentucky, that’s basically the whole country against you, their fans,” said UF guard Kenny Boynton. “But Florida Gulf Coast … hey, they’ve surprised some teams.”
Boynton, who is from Pompano Beach and played at Blanche Ely High School, said he doesn’t think basketball in Florida has been nearly as inferior as others from around the country might think.
“Me, being from Florida, I’m biased,” Boynton said. “I’d say we’ve always been a basketball state. But, for the rest of the world, we haven’t been. Florida is having a good year with the Florida schools. Hopefully we keep it up and change the world’s opinion about Florida being a football state.”
Florida center Patric Young said that could still take some more time, despite the recent success.
“We’ve proven ourselves so much in football that basketball gets overshadowed a little bit, even though basketball does pretty well,” Young said. “If we keep this going for a couple of years, then we can say Florida is a state that can play basketball.”