Florida's Noah has UCLA ties, thanks to Ashe

Tennis legend, a Bruin, lifted Joakim's father

Notebook

April 03, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

INDIANAPOLIS -- There was no shortage of questions yesterday directed to players from both Florida and UCLA about the Bruins' storied basketball program and its championship tradition, but for Florida center Joakim Noah, there was a different kind of connection to the California school.

Noah traced his family's athletic success back to UCLA grad and tennis legend Arthur Ashe.

When Noah's father, Yannick Noah, was a 12-year-old tennis prodigy in Africa, Ashe discovered him during an African tour in 1971. Ashe called his agent, and soon Yannick was shipped off to a boarding school in Nice, France, where he paved the way for his professional career, which included a win in the French Open.

"If it wasn't for Arthur, I don't think I'd be here right now," said Noah, whose mother, Cecilia Rodhe, was a former Miss Sweden. "If it wasn't for him, my father wouldn't have been the tennis player he was. I'd probably be a little kid in Africa."

Instead, Noah came to call New York his home.

Pro bloodlines

Noah isn't the only player on Florida's roster whose father was a professional athlete. Taurean Green, the son of Indiana University assistant coach Sidney Green, is Florida's point guard. The elder Green was a forward at UNLV from 1979 to '83 and went on to have a 10-year NBA career. Sophomore Al Horford's father, Tito, played two seasons at Miami and then spent three years in the NBA before pursuing a professional career overseas.

Green said he remembers playing with Baltimore's Muggsy Bogues in the locker room when his father played for Orlando. His best memory, though?

Winning a national championship with his AAU team when he was 10 years old.

Still second fiddle

Even if Florida were to win a national title today, and although the Gators have now been to two Final Fours in six years, Florida coach Billy Donovan said basketball still won't be the fan favorite sport in the South.

"There's no question - I've said this many times - in the Southeast, in terms of fan enthusiasm and fan excitement, it is for football," Donovan said. "In the states of Kentucky and Indiana, the fanfare and enthusiasm is for basketball. I understand that. Billy Donovan is not changing that culture."

Still, Donovan said he has never regarded the program at Florida as an "afterthought," as one reporter described it yesterday.

"I think just based on what we've been able to do over the last 10 years as a program - I'm not sitting there saying that basketball is more important than football or trying to get into a pecking order," he said. "But I think our program has gotten respect."

Almost a Gator

Even though home is only about eight miles away from the UCLA campus, Bruins sophomore guard Jordan Farmar said he came "very close" to heading cross-country to play for Donovan until he had a last-minute chat with Bruins coach Ben Howland.

"He really made a poor choice, didn't he?" Donovan said with a smile.

After Farmar took an official visit to Florida, Howland made a visit to see him at Taft High School in Los Angeles.

"We sat down and he told me how things were going to be," Farmar said. "I had to make a tough decision."

One player on Florida's roster Howland didn't lure to his program, though, was Noah. Howland recruited him when he was a head coach at Pittsburgh and Noah was a sophomore in high school.

"Actually, Coach Howland was the first coach to ever recruit me," Noah said. "My sophomore year when he was still at Pitt, I remember him being in the office at my school and saying one day he would recruit me. It's crazy now we are playing him in the national championship."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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