Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Florida Secures Basketball Commitments From Sampras & Agassi Kids

Gator fans are still celebrating after Florida’s 73-57 thumping of UCLA in last night’s national title game. Joakim Noah is literally the big man on campus after earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. Coach Billy Donovan certainly appreciates the impact made by the son of a tennis star. Therefore, Donovan has secured commitments from four-year-old Jaden Agassi, three-year-old Christian Sampras, and eight-month-old Ryan Sampras.

Fairly unknown before this season, Joakim Noah is now the object of desire for all NBA general managers. Noah had 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks in the championship game and totaled a record 29 blocks during the tournament. The performance was on par with that of his father, Yannick Noah, in winning the 1983 French Open. Roland Garros Stadium has been hallowed ground for the family ever since then. In fact, part of Donovan’s recruiting pitch was in convincing Joakim that the Gators played their home games on clay.

Now Joakim has influenced Donovan’s recruiting strategy in another way. Seeing how Noah has led the program to unprecedented heights, the coach decided to continue targeting the offspring of tennis standouts. “We won a championship with Joakim, and his dad won one stinkin’ Grand Slam singles title,” remarked Donovan. “Jaden’s dad is Andre Agassi, and his mom is Steffi Graf. 30 Grand Slam singles titles between them – we’re talkin’ dynasty, baby!”

The Sampras children only add to the winning legacy. Pete Sampras captured a men’s record 14 Grand Slam singles titles. His sister is the head coach of the UCLA women’s tennis team, so many expected his children to become Bruins. However, once again Donovan got the best of UCLA. Known as one of the most tireless recruiters in the coaching profession, the Florida leader has raised the standard in pursuing prospects early. No one is better at landing pre-kindergarten blue-chippers.

However, this activity does carry enormous risk. Top-flight programs often have to depend on youthful hoopsters these days. However, players referred to as young are usually 19, not 4. Ryan Sampras cannot even walk yet, so teaching him the principles of man-to-man defense could be problematic. He also will make practices less efficient, as assistant coaches will need to add diaper-changing to their duties. However, if he performs well in free-throw shooting drills, the staff will reward Ryan by allowing him to play with their keys.

Donovan downplays the risk, noting that next year’s team will be an experienced unit. Despite his dominance in the tournament, many observers expect Noah to return. If he and teammates Corey Brewer and Al Horford do put the NBA on hold for another season, the Gators will return their entire starting lineup. Therefore, the Sampras and Agassi children can be free of much pressure as they gradually accumulate more playing time. Ryan Sampras will likely be redshirted, so he will be a seasoned two-year-old when he takes the court in 2007.

One group that will not be skeptical is Donovan’s fellow SEC coaches. This season LSU proved that it could excel in league play with a Big Baby. The Tigers only had one baby and still reached the Final Four. Florida will have three, so the sky is the limit for the Gators. Also, Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is proof that even if you’re unable to dress yourself, you can still succeed in the SEC.

The Sampras and Agassi children will surely have a unique presence in college basketball. However, you won’t be able to tell them apart from other players when they get whistled for fouls. They’ll cry and throw a tantrum – just like everyone else.