Tuesday , Apr , 04 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Championship pride again for the Noahs

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Joakim Noah is too young to remember the
1983 French Open. He wasn’t even born, but he’s heard plenty about that day at
Roland Garros. After all, it was his father, Yannick Noah, who was crowned
champion in the prestigious event.

Twenty-three years later, the younger Noah has a prize of his own, maybe
bigger than his father’s, as the Gators pounded the UCLA Bruins, 73-57 in the
NCAA Tournament championship game at the RCA Dome Monday night. It marked
Florida’s first national title, and Noah did it all with 16 points, nine
rebounds and a record six blocked shots.

“It was definitely a lot of hard work. It was definitely a different
experience for the simple fact that we won the whole thing,” Noah said with a
wide smile. “Like I said before, the Gator boys are hot right now. It’s just a
great feeling, and I can’t wait to get back to Gainesville. And, coach, don’t
get mad at us because we are going to do it very, very, very big when we come
back.”

Huge can be described as the performance Noah and the Gators set forth in the
championship game. Noah went 7-of-9 from the field and his six blocks were the
most for a title contest. Noah’s 29 blocks during the tournament set an all-
time record, eclipsing the 24 from Arizona’s Loren Woods in 2001

This past summer, Noah joined his father, now a well-respected recording
artist, when he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in
Newport, Rhode Island.

After the game, the younger Noah ran into the stands to celebrate with his
family.

“It’s just sheer love and just the people — when you win, you want to see the
people that you love,” Noah said. “That’s where they were. So whatever it
takes to see the people that you love. It has nothing to do with, ‘Oh, my
father did it 23 years ago, so now I’m trying to do the same thing.'”

In fact, Noah rushing into the crowd wasn’t reminiscent of what his father
experienced in 1983 after beating Mats Wilander at the French Open.

“My father didn’t do that,” said Noah, who was voted Most Outstanding Player
in the Final Four. “Actually, my grandfather, he ran onto the court. He jumped
from the stands. I don’t know how he did it ’cause you should have seen how
high the jump was. He could have really hurt himself.”

The entire Gators team got into the heads of the Bruins, who had given up 45
points in each of their last two games in the tournament, a five-point win
over Memphis to get to the Final Four and a 14-point triumph over LSU to reach
the championship game. However, when the Gators reached 45 points on a three-
pointer by Corey Brewer with 16:07 remaining, the Bruins knew it would be a
difficult uphill climb. UCLA was behind 45-27 at the time.

The Bruins weren’t the only ones obviously frustrated. It spilled over to
UCLA’s cheerleaders and dance team, which tried to rattle Noah, but the
6-foot-11 sophomore instead rubbed off the teasing.

“Actually they were talking a lot of trash,” Noah said. “They were just
talking crazy to me, like, ‘You’re so ugly.’ It hurts when you have so many
beautiful girls out there just telling you how ugly you are and stuff. I just
had to focus on the game.

“When somebody is screaming all that stuff at you, the best thing I could do
was just blow a kiss by, and maybe they like me.”

Nevertheless, there’s plenty of respect to go around for Noah, including from
the Bruins themselves.

“He’s not a stiff at all,” said UCLA’s Arron Aflalo. “He’s able to make plays
from up high, which caused us a few problems today. Defensively, he’s just
long. He has the ability to change shots if he’s not blocking ’em. He plays
with a lot of energy.”

The question now is will Noah return for his junior year at Florida, or try to
jump to the NBA? For now though, he’s just basking in the similar glory of
what his father experienced 23 years ago.

“There’s no feeling like winning in front of your family,” Noah said. “I don’t
even know what to say right now. It’s just — you’re in a state of shock. I’m
just so proud of my teammates right now. It’s crazy how much — how hard we
worked for this moment.”

FLORIDA UCLA