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Sunshine State Report

The latest on college sports in Florida

Florida catcher Mike Zunino becomes first Gator to win prestigious Johnny Bench award

Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino has been named the recipient of the 2012 Johnny Bench Award presented to the nation's top collegiate catcher in honor of the Hall of Famer Bench.

Zunino is the first player from Florida to receive the honor, the fourth winner from the SEC.  He was a finalist for the second straight year, joined in the final three by junior Mitchell Garver of New Mexico and junior Kevin Plawecki of Purdue.

Zunino, a consensus first-team All-American, the Dick Howser Trophy recipient and Baseball America’s 2012 College Player of the Year, is one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award that will be presented July 6.

He finished this season leading the team in batting average (.322), RBI (67) and home runs (19).


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Bradley Beal selected No. 3 overall in NBA Draft, headed to Washington Wizards

Former Florida guard Bradley Beal was selected by the Washington Wizards in the No. 3 overall slot Thursday night in the 2012 NBA Draft. Beal becomes the 11th first-round draft pick in Florida history, and the ninth under head coach Billy Donovan. Florida has now had seven players seleced in the top 10 of the NBA Draft.

Beal joined Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (No. 1 to the Charlotte Hornets) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2 to the Charlotte Bobcats) from the SEC. It’s the first time the top three picks have come from the same conference since Brad Daugherty, Len Bias and Chris Washburn - all ACC players - were selected in 1986.

Beal will join a Wizards’ squad led by former UK star John Wall, and a team that added Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor in trades this past Friday. …

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Florida men's athletic program wins Capital One Cup for second straight year

For the second consecutive year, the Florida men's athletic program has been awarded the Capital One Cup. The award honors the nation's top collegiate athletics program based on teams' top-10 finishes in NCAA Division I championships, and in final official coaches’ polls in 19 men’s and 20 women’s sports.

In the final standings, Florida (104 points) edged out Arizona (90 points), and UCLA (82 points). 

The Gators will be formally honored along with repeat women’s Capital One Cup winner, Stanford University, at the ESPY Awards televised by ESPN on July 11. The two schools will receive the Capital One Cup trophies and a combined $400,000 for athletic scholarships. …

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BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approves four-team college football playoff

In a couple of years Florida fans will have to refer to the "BCS era" when they talk about the two national titles the Gators won in 2006 and 2008.

That's because there will be no more BCS titles.

On Tuesday, the Presidential Oversight Committee made up of university presidents - including Florida president Bernie Machen - who oversee the Bowl Championship Series, voted to create a new four-team, seeded post-season playoff to determine the national champion in college football. The new format will begin with the 2014-2015 season. …

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Gators lose another as Nolan Fontana signs with the Houston Astros

Former Florida Gator SS Nolan Fontana has signed with the Houston Astros and will not return for his senior season. Fontana was selected as the first pick of the second round of the MLB Draft, 61st selection.

He joins pitcher Brian Johnson as juniors who will not return next season.

A 2012 second-team All-SEC selection, Fontana was the first Gator shortstop to earn all-league honors three seasons in a row and joined outfielder Matt den Dekker (2008-09-10) as the only UF players to be named to the SEC All-Defensive Team three times. He had a .284 batting average in 66 games, led Florida in runs (59), walks (48) and stolen bases (13-for-14), and had 30 RBI, 10 doubles and a career-high nine homers.

On the Watch List for the Brooks Wallace Award presented to the nation’s top shortstop, Fontana had a .974 fielding percentage and committed just one error in league play. He was named to the NCAA Gainesville Regional All-Tournament Team for the third-straight time after hitting .364 (4-for-11) with four runs, two RBI, two walks and two thefts in Florida’s three victories.


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Gator pitcher Brian Johnson signs deal with Boston Red Sox

Brian Jonhson's days of pitching for the Florida Gators are officially over.

The junior pitcher and designated hitter, who was selected No. 31 in the MLB Draft earlier this month, has signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox for $1.5 million and will not return for his senior season. He is currently assigned to the Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League.

A first-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Perfect Game, Johnson was a second-team All-American by Baseball America and Louisville Slugger. He is one of three finalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year award that will be presented this weekend in Lubbock, Texas. Chosen first-team All-SEC for the past two seasons, he was 8-5 with a 3.90 ERA, and had 73 strikeouts in 90 innings. He battted .307 with 41 RBI, 24 runs, 13 doubles and six homers.

Johnson, who is left-handed, pitched his first career complete game to oust fourth-ranked South Carolina from the SEC Tournament on May 25 and matched his career high with four hits in the semifinal round the following day against Vanderbilt. He was named to the 2012 SEC All-Tournament Team at both pitcher and designated hitter. …

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Florida Gators' Azania Stewart earns spot on Great Britain's Olympic basketball team

gz-th-azaniastewart-olympicteam.jpgAzania Stewart, a four-year letterwinner with the Gators and a native of England, has earned a spot on Great Britain’s 12-member 2012 Olympic Basketball Team, the British Olympic Association announced.

"I'm obviously really excited to make the final 12 because it has been a long process involving a lot of hard work, so I'm really ecstatic,” Stewart told GB Basketball. “My family have their tickets and outfits ready, having faith I would make the team. I feel confident we will do the nation proud and will show everyone what we are worth.”

Stewart, who earned her bachelor’s degree in May, ranks No. 3 all-time in the Gators' record books for blocked shots (205) in a career and her career field goal percentage of 54.4% (317-583) ranks as the fifth-highest in UF history. She capped her four-year career with 785 points and 567 rebounds, while starting 84 of the 123 games she played during her tenure.  …

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Bradley Beal talks Gators and the NBA Draft with Jim Rome

Former Florida guard/forward Bradley Beal is preparing for this Thursday's NBA Draft.

Having worked out for several teams, Beal is projected to be a Top 5 selection in the NBA Draft, after spending one season with the Gators.

Beal recently sat down with host Jim Rome on ROME, which airs on the CBS Sports Network, to talk about his season with the Gators and the upcoming draft.

Check out Beal's interview here.

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Former Gators Greg Larson, Daniel Pigott sign pro baseballl contracts

Former Gator baseball pitcher Greg Larson  and outfielder Daniel Pigott have signed professional baseball contracts.

Selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 20th round in June’s Major League Baseball Draft, Larson has been assigned to the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League, the organization’s Class A short-season affiliate.

Pigott, who was taken in the ninth round with the 292nd overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds, will be playing for the Billings (Mont.) Mustangs in the Pioneer League. 

In a team-high 35 appearances as a senior, including two starts, Larson was 6-0 with a team-low 1.33 earned run average. He totaled 38 strikeouts and permitted 12 walks in 54.1 innings of work and limited opponents to a .204 batting average. Larson finished with122 career appearances, second all-time at Florida behind Connor Falkenbach (124, 2002-05).

 Pigott batted .318 with career highs in runs (49), RBI (41), walks (23) and homers (8) this season.



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Gator sprinter Tony McQuay headed to London on US Olympic team

mcquay_mug.jpgFlorida sprinter Tony McQuay will represent the United States in the 2012 Olympics in London after earning a silver medal in the men’s 400 meters on Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

McQuay is the three-time NCAA Champion who helped lead the Gators to the men's NCAA Track and Field title earlier this month.

Former Gator football player and sprinter Jeff Demps came in second in his men’s 100 meters semifinal and fourth overall (10.10) to automatically qualify for the final as the only collegian to advance. But Demps finished seventh overall in 10.27 in the final.

McQuay turned in a personal-record and Florida school-record time of 44.49 on Sunday to finish just behind LaShawn Merritt, who ran a world-leading 44.12 to earn the gold medal.

McQuay’s time is the third-fastest in the world this year, finishing in front of USC’s Bryshon Nellum, who ran 44.80 to capture the third spot for London.

Former Gator, NCAA Champion and All-American Will Claye also turned in a runner-up performance in the men’s long jump, leaping 8.23m/27-0 (+2.3) to solidify his place on Team USA. It was Claye's sixth and final jump that earned him his spot. …

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Gator catcher Mike Zunino named Player of the Year

Florida junior catcher Mike Zunino has been named the Baseball America 2012 College Player of the Year, the first Gator to earn the prestigious award, which has been presented annually since 1981.

Zunino is also the only member of the publication’s 2011 All-America first team to repeat as a first-team selection this year. UF junior pitcher/DH  Brian Johnson was named a second-team All-American in the utility spot.

Friday's announcement is the latest in a string of awards and honors for Zunino, a native of Cape Coral. He is a first-team ABCA/Rawlings, Baseball America, Louisville Slugger and NCBWA All-American, and became Florida’s first-ever Dick Howser Trophy recipient last week. …

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Introducing Gators' new basketball assistant coach Rashon Burno

New Florida assistant basketball coach Rashon Burno said he's slowly getting acclimated in his new role, although the New York native admits getting used to the Florida heat is his toughest challenge so far.

"When it's 80 degrees at 8 a.m., man that's hot,'' Burno said.

The former DePaul point guard joined the staff in the spring after former assistant Norm Roberts left to join the Kansas staff.

Burno met with the media on Thursday, and talked about his playing days at the O'Connell Center, his ties to the famed St. Anthony's High School in New Jersey, and his admiration for Florida coach Billy Donovan.

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Gator golfers earn All-America honors

Florida golfers T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber have been named to the Division I PING All-American Teams, the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) announced this week.

The Gators have now had at least one player earn All-America honors 14 consecutive seasons, and 23 of its 25 seasons under head coach Buddy Alexander.

Vogel, a second-team selection, earned two victories and finished in the top-10 on nine occasions. Vogel led the Gators in stroke average (71.3), rounds counted (93 percent), birdies (132) and scoring differential (2.05).

McCumber, who earned  honorable mention honors, finished tied for second at the NCAA Championships. For the season, McCumber recorded seven top-10 finishes and tallied a solid 72.8 stroke average.

The Gators had three tournament victories and seven top-3 finishes this season, and expect to return their entire roster with the exception of seniors Michael Furci and Zach Lee.

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Billy Donovan-led USA Basketball Team wins gold medal

Florida men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan didn't get an NCAA championship trophy this season, but he now has a gold medal. …

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Florida earns second place in Learfield Sports Director's Cup

Led by three NCAA national titles, Florida earned second place in the Learfield Sports Director's Cup, presented annually by the nation’s athletics directors, recognizing the schools with the best overall sports performances in an academic year.

Points are awarded based on finishes and participation in 20 NCAA Division I sports. Stanford won the Director's Cup for the 18th consecutive Directors’ Cup at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) convention earlier this month. UCLA will be third followed by Ohio State.

The finish matches Florida’s highest ever in the annual all-sports rankings and is the Gators' fourth consecutive top four finish in the rankings. The Gators had a total of 12 top-10 finishes, and seven teams placed among the nation’s top five.

Florida is the only program to finish among the nation’s top 10 in each of the last 29 national all-sports standings. The Gators were also second in 2009-10 and tied for second in 1997-98. …

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