By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — A member of Terre Haute North’s state-finalist golf teams in 1978 and 1979, University of Florida professor Greg Moreland doesn’t find time to hit the links nearly as often as he did in high school.
One reason is he’s too busy cheering on the football and basketball teams with the rest of Gator Nation.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Moreland said of Florida’s successful defense of its national basketball title on the heels of a football national title. “My wife and I are hard-core sports fans and boosters of the basketball program since 1994. I find it hard to put into words. I’ve just been walking around with a grin on my face for I don’t know how long.”
An avid sports fan before making a new home in Florida, Moreland has celebrated many Florida athletic triumphs over the years, including the Gators’ run to the Final Four under coach Lon Kruger in 1994.
Moreland, who graduated from North in 1980 and from Indiana State with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1985, has been in Gainesville, Fla., since then.
He finished his doctorate in spanish-american literature in 1996 at the University of Florida, which happens to be the same year Billy Donovan took over the Gators’ men’s basketball program.
Moreland teaches a class called “business and culture of sports in the spanish-speaking world.” At times, he finds that he and his students end up talking about Gator football and basketball.
The Gators are certainly the talk of the country right now after becoming the first starting five to win back-to-back titles.
“I’ve been trying to impress upon my students that they’re living unprecedented history,” Moreland said. “Your grandkids are going to be asking you, ‘What was it like when the Gators were winning all those national titles?’
“This isn’t going to happen again.”
Moreland plans to be in attendance Friday when Donovan and the Gators celebrate with their fans on their home court. The highly-touted group of Florida players used the occasion last year to declare they would all return for their junior season.
This year, Moreland is hoping for a declaration from Donovan.
“I’m just curious if this could be that chance for Billy to do a similar type thing,” Moreland said.
Despite all the speculation that Donovan will bolt Gainesville for Lexington, Ky., Moreland is confident that Donovan’s loyalty to his athletic director and to the community will keep him at Florida.
“It would go against everything he has ever said and ever done [for Donovan to leave],” Moreland said. “This would be a hundred times worse than Steve Spurrier going to South Carolina.”
Donovan, paid $1.7 million annually with one year left on his contract, turned down an extension to a little more than $2 million after winning the national title last season. He said it would look like he was profiting off the ability of his players.
Now Donovan is looking at the chance for an even bigger raise. Will it come from Florida or Kentucky?
Moreland said he read that Donovan said he was disgusted with how Kentucky treated Tubby Smith. He hopes that statement is one that could mean Donovan hopes to stay in Florida for a long, long time.
Donovan has turned a hard-core football school into one that loves its basketball as well.
“Right now, it would be tough to say that the two aren’t on even footing,” Moreland said. “If you talk to the average fan, basketball is in the culture. People start puffing their chest out when they talk about Florida basketball now.
“Donovan staying would help that tremendously. If he stays at Florida, he could become a Dean Smith type of coach, staying at one place his whole career.”
I’d be up for Billy the Kid returning. Maybe four of his junior starters coming back would be enough convincing to keep him in Florida. It would be fun to see them go for a third straight.
Craig Pearson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.