Making a rock-star like entrance, the Gators strolled across the same court they won the title on Monday night in Atlanta with a capacity crowd of well-wishers at the O’Connell Center.
“Last year, these guys won a national championship with no expectations on them,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think last year, there was definitely a level of uncertainty of how good this team could be. I think they took everybody by surprise.
“Then they won this year having all the expectations on them. I don’t know what would happen if these guys played against the UCLA teams back in the ’70s or some of the Kentucky teams, the UNLV teams, the Duke teams. But I know this: These group of guys have got to go down in history and be mentioned as one of the greatest teams of all time.”
In a surprise move, Florida honored its junior class of Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah with a ceremony normally reserved for senior night. The players were joined by their families as they received framed jerseys. All four said Thursday that they will forgo their senior season for the NBA.
The players credited their fans for much of their success and expressed thanks and gratitude for the opportunity to play at Florida.
“I love the Gator Nation,” Horford said. “This feeling, it’s a great feeling.’’
The Class of 2004, along with Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard, won three SEC tournament titles, one regular-season conference title and consecutive NCAA championships.
“I don’t know if they totally understand what they did,” Donovan said. “When they get older and look back at what they did, they’re going to realize the rest of their lives they’re going to always have a place in college basketball history with a few, select teams.”