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Wright still encourages teammates from bench

Brent Wright looked just like any other player relaxing in the Florida locker room Thursday at the Superdome, except for one obvious difference.

The crutches.

Wright will not participate in Florida's school-record third consecutive NCAA Tournament after season-ending surgery Monday on his fractured right foot.

"It's hard," said Wright, a senior who started 82 career games. "But I feel I can still be there for my teammates, cheering them from the bench."

Wright's injury-plagued season began Jan. 4 when he had a screw inserted to help the stress fracture in his foot heal. He returned to the starting lineup, only to break his thumb on Feb. 10, requiring two more screws.

The final blow came Feb. 21, when he blew out the side of his sneaker against Mississippi, aggravating the fracture in his foot. When the break showed no progress, coaches and doctors recommended a larger screw and a bone graft to speed the process.

"If it had been up to me, I would have played," Wright said. "But they said it was in the best interest for my career and my future to have surgery."

MAKING MEMORIES: Sophomore guard LaDarius Halton, an artist in his spare time, carries a camera with him to record behind-the-scenes images he later will turn into drawings.

"I take pictures of guys listening to music, getting taped, tying their shoes _ something other than just action shots," said Halton, whose locker at the O'Connell Center is decorated with originals. "Then I turn them into sketches."

DEJA DOME: Florida coach Billy Donovan is back at the Superdome, site of the 1987 Final Four in which he played as a senior guard for Providence. The experience taught him the magnitude of the NCAA Tournament.

"When we got off the plane there was a band playing, and after the game there were 150 reporters standing around my locker wanting to talk to me," Donovan said. "That told me everybody in the country was taking an interest in this event."

BLINDERS, PLEASE: The Gators have made a habit of ignoring media reports this season. It's a habit they do not intend to break, even with the heightened exposure.

"People are picking us to go deep in the tournament, and we're not listening to that," guard Teddy Dupay said. "Just like a few weeks ago, when people were asking if we would get to host in the first round of the NIT, and we didn't listen to that."

_ JOANNE KORTH

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