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October 13, 2006

Gators prepare for defending champ hype

Smith key to Vols plan
Midnight Madness Preview
The College Basketball Wire

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -The Florida Gators want to look at the upcoming season as a new year with new players and new challenges.

They also know they're going to get the same old question: Can the Gators become the first team since Duke in 1992 to repeat as national champions?

"It's a whole lot of fun being at the top, but you've got to stay at the top," guard Corey Brewer said Tuesday at the annual media day. "That's what we're trying to do. Everybody's going to be talking about us, but we've also got to enjoy the process of getting better and winning."

Florida begins its quest to repeat Friday night with Midnight Madness, the tip-off to the 2006-07 season.

The Gators return all five starters and their top seven scorers from last season's team that finished 33-6 and beat UCLA 73-57 in the title game. They expect to be better, especially since they're a year older and have four talented freshmen.

They also anticipate being targeted by each opponent. But will it matter?

"It's the laws of the jungle. Does the lion ever get hunted? No. The lion goes and hunts," forward Joakim Noah said. "That's just the way it is."

Noah said the team's goal is to win the national championship. He also was quick to point out that the Gators had the same agenda last year, when they were unranked to start the season and as low as 75th in one preseason poll.

"We can't worry about the expectations and the pressures of this year," Noah said. "We've just got to keep attacking and keep running the floor and doing what we do best and stay humble. As long as we stay humble, we're always going to be a tough team to beat.

"We're the defending champs. What happened last year happened last year. It's a whole different season. On paper, we look great. Right now, it's on us to play between those lines and do what we do best, which is play hungry, aggressive basketball."

Gators coach Billy Donovan agreed, saying, "You can humble yourself or life will humble you."

Donovan planned to address the hype and hoopla before his players take the floor Friday night for a highlight video celebrating the championship season, a slam dunk contest and a scrimmage.

"With the expectations to start the year, there's always a level of drama," Donovan said. "And when you buy into that drama, you get caught looking too far down the road. Last year, there were no expectations on our team. People were anxious to see what kind of team we were going to be. Maybe we went beyond people's expectations.

"I think expectations are good. You want to be a team that's competitive and you're out there trying to play and compete for championships."

But Donovan believes too much can be made of preseason talk.

"It's all drama to me," he said. "It's over-hype. It's over-drama. I understand we have to get it out there and talk about it. But the bottom line is my total focus is trying to become a better team on the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor."

The Gators lost forward Adrian Moss, who graduated, and freshman David Huertas, who transferred to Mississippi. Jimmie Sutton also transferred, but he didn't play last year because of a knee injury.

Donovan added guard Brandon Powell and forwards Jonathan Mitchell, Marreese Speights and Dan Werner. Donovan said all of them could play this season, giving the Gators more depth than they've had in recent years.

But the additions also could change the team's championship chemistry.

"Anytime you add new ingredients to the soup it's going to taste different," Donovan said.

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