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Fans greet the team




As America’s newly crowned back-to-back national championship University of Florida basketball team arrived home from its winning 84-75 triumph over Ohio State in Atlanta, the thrill - and exhaustion - of being No. 1 stretched from crowded coffee shops to campus lawns where students napped from late night celebrations.

Call it the hangover highs.

"I had a Diet Coke as soon as I woke up," groaned freshman Lauren McKinney, 18, at a campus Starbuck’s Tuesday morning. "I’m so tired. Excited, but tired."

Teaching assistant Vinodh Venkatesh, 24, dozed on a bench outside Smathers Libraries before an afternoon Spanish class. More than 80 percent of his 25 students told him they were skipping.

"I planned accordingly," he said. "My bus ride to campus was pretty interesting. People were asleep."

After the game, some over-zealous partiers threw-up in the bushes, yanked down tree branches or climbed greased light poles until police coaxed them down.

At least one student shimmied up on the roof of a sandwich shop. One teen suffered minor head injuries after he fell about 10 feet from a palm tree near the popular Swamp restaurant.

Officials extinguished nine minor street fires of old furniture and garbage. Police arrested four people for disorderly conduct, including one woman who slapped an officer.

By far the night’s worst event occurred about 2:10 a.m. when University of North Florida student Austin John Wright, a 21-year-old from Atlantic Beach, struck Gainesville veteran police Lt. Corey Dahlem, 45, who was working overtime to help control the crowd.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Burroughs said Wright drove more than 30 mph in his 2001 Toyota Tacoma down University, which had been blocked from traffic, where he struck Dahlem, who was thrown about 25 feet in the air.

Wright drove away, nearly striking two motorcycle officers, before he was finally stopped and arrested several blocks away.

Dahlem, a married father of two, was taken to Shands Hospital with critical internal and head injuries.

Wright, whose breath tested three times the legal alcohol limit, was booked into the Alachua County Jail where he faces four charges, including driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Despite the evening accident, the team’s win reverberated throughout the day Tuesday.

Workers at Gators Plus near campus unloaded boxes all day to keep the racks filled with at least 10 different types of championship shirts.

"This is like Christmas time," said store owner Bill Olander. "It’s fantastic for business."

About 1,500 fans greeted the team at the city’s airport. Some waited in the blaring sun for about three hours, waving pom poms and copies of the Gainesville Sun’s souvenir edition, "Team Terrific."

As their plane touched down, the band started playing, three members of the Dazzlers dance team boogied.

Television cameras and photographers surrounded the team like paparazzi as they signed autographs, high-fived the fans and showed off the championship trophy. Two helicopters circled overhead.

"Dan! Dan!" yelled UF sophomore Lewis Curtwright, 20, as forward Dan Werner approached. "I love you," he said, ruffling the player’s hair. "You rock. Sign my shirt. That’s my man. Dan the man."

-- Melanie Ave, Times staff

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Joakim Noah signs a basketball for a young fan today.


Marreese Speights signs a shirt for a fan at the airport. 


Al Horford Holds the championship trophy as the team arrives at the airport.

St. Petersburg Times photos by Zach Boyden-Holmes. Click to enlarge.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:15pm]


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