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In order to make sure Florida Gators-related news stories don't fall through the cracks, once or twice a week Orange & Blue News will keep you up-to-date with the latest goings on in the world of University of Florida athletics.
Gators in the NBA have strung together some top-notch performances as of late, starting with Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, who hit a buzzer-beating short jumper with 1.8 seconds left to power his team over the Washington Wizards 101-99 in overtime on Friday. The only player in the NBA currently averaging at least 17 points, eight rebounds, one block, one steal and shooting over 55 percent from the field, Horford posted 34 points and 15 boards in that contest. On Monday, he came through with another double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds in a 114-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. After missing nine games due to a stress fracture in his leg, Wizards guard Bradley Beal returned to the court Monday and strung together an impressive performance in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. Beal registered 21 points and seven boards, scoring 14 in the fourth quarter including eight-straight (back-to-back threes) and a game-winning layup on a drive to the hoop with 6.9 seconds remaining.
A couple of former Florida players in the NFL also showed out in a major way over the last few days. Denver Broncos wide receiver Andre Caldwell registered two touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career on Thursday, doing so while picking up team-highs of six receptions for 59 yards. Caldwell replaced Wes Welker, who is out of action with post-concussion symptoms, and benefitted from Peyton Manning's attention. His six receptions were the most he's had in a game since Sept. 25, 2011. Baltimore Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam backed up a lot of his tough talk this week, leading his team with 10 tackles (seven solo, one for loss) in Monday night's 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions. Elam also nabbed the game-sealing interception in the contest.
Tuesday not only marks an important game for the Gators basketball team, it is also head coach Billy Donovan's latest return to Madison Square Garden, the arena he grew up visiting as a fan and playing in as a member of the Knicks from 1987-88. The New York native was born and raised in Rockville Center on Long Island, so playing 44 games with the Knicks - many of which in MSG - was a lifelong dream come true. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.0 assists as an NBA player. "I was a kid that being in elementary school, high school would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go in to Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the rafters," Donovan said of the World's Most Famous Arena. "It's definitely special. There's just something special about it to me, there really is. And I think for some of our guys they maybe don't understand that part of it … there's guys on our team that has never been to New York City."
One Philadelphia Eagles player thrilled with Chip Kelly's new offense is former Florida wide receiver Riley Cooper, who is currently having a career year with 41 receptions (29 for first downs) for 743 yards and seven touchdowns through 14 games. Coming off an off-season in which he was the face of racism after a tape surfaced of him using a profane word at a concert, Cooper appears to have worked his way back from the edge of the NFL both in reputation and production. Good timing, too, because his rookie contract runs out this season and he will be a free agent shortly. Cooper is making just $630,000 in 2013.
Retired NFL linebacker Mike Peterson, who served as an undergraduate student assistant with the Gators football team this season, graduated on Saturday and will no longer be able to hold the same position on the coaching staff. While it is possible that head coach Will Muschamp brings Peterson back as a graduate assistant (if he chooses to continue school) or a salaried position, that is far from certain at this point. Also joining Florida's coaching ranks this past year was former quarterback Chris Leak, who a source told ITG will be returning to his GA role in 2014. In theory, Leak could also be promoted to quarterback coach, a role he basically holds in an on-field capacity right now, should UF hire an offensive coordinator who coaches another position. That would require some shuffling of the staff, however.
Stepping forward and both providing a major vote of confidence to his team while also indicating that he plans to stay for a fifth season, redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr took to Twitter on Monday. "Everybody jumping like we got a sunken ship ... Put it on my mama we gone take off next fall with no mercy for anyone!" he wrote on his account. As it turns out, the display name on Orr's account reads "Loyalty's Everything," so it's no surprise that he would take this stance on behalf of the Gators. Muschamp just so happens to be preaching loyalty to the 2014 recruiting class as well. Orr picked up 4.5 tackles for loss on the year and also recovered two fumbles. His 2.5 sacks were third-most on the team.