Column: Joakim who?

By Jon Gluskin

It’s amazing how everything changes in April.

Just two weeks ago, anytime you heard or saw anything about college basketball, you got the same things over and over.

All we heard was J.J. this, Morrison that.

And now here we are, less than a week into April, and we’ve forgotten all of what was so hyped in March.

The last images implanted in our minds are of J.J. Redick walking to Duke’s bench with tears in his eyes as his college career came to a disappointing end, and Adam Morrison crying with seconds still remaining in Gonzaga’s battle with UCLA, with his team still having a legitimate shot to win or tie. They did end up losing, sending Morrison to bawl his eyes out while laying face down at center court.

Now it seems like there’s only one star in college basketball – national champion Joakim Noah of Florida.

In only six games, Noah went from being a solid sophomore for Florida, to the brightest (and ugliest) star for the best team in the college game. Florida played incrediblly as a team throughout the NCAA Tournament, but it’s because of this guy that they won.

‘Dominant’ is probably the only word you can use to describe his sensational performance in the Tournament.

He went 33-60 from the field, including 16 points on 7-9 from the floor in Florida’s 73-57 rout of UCLA in the Championship.

He had 29 blocks in the Tournament – an NCAA record.

Six of those came in the title game – another NCAA record.

How come nobody was talking about this guy when the brackets came out?

I saw him play once on TV during the regular season. With the exception of that game, I don’t even remember hearing his name mentioned at all.

And now he could be a lottery pick if he decides to leave Gainesville for the pros.

He’s a 6 foot-11 inch big man who can handle the ball, shoot a mid-range jumper and scare opponents just from driving into the paint. As UCLA learned the hard way, if you challenge this guy, you’re going to lose.

“He’s long, wiry, and because he’s thin, it’s hard to feel him when you’re going up. He’s skilled and doesn’t take a bad shot,” UCLA’s senior center told the media about playing against Noah.

It’s fair to say this came out of nowhere.

As a freshman, he played a mere 9.4 minutes per game and averaged 3.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.7 blocks.

This year, he played 24.9 minutes each game and averaged 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

Even his dad – Yannick Noah, a famous tennis player who won the 1983 French Open – didn’t see this stellar finish coming.

“Maybe it’s going to sound strange, but he just didn’t play last year. I’m really surprised by the way he’s playing, especially the last few weeks,” Yannick said to ESPN’s Andy Katz. “He’s working hard, and most of all, he’s on a good team. The way they play allows him to play his own style.”

Yannick is from Cameroon, and after Noah’s freshman year, Noah went back to Africa for a little vacation. When he came back to America, he went to New York, which has been his “new” home. He played in Harlem in the famous Rucker League.

He got a lot tougher and a lot better.

And now he’s on top of the world. Everybody loves him. People can’t get enough of him.

Of all the big-name stars in the game, who would have thought the 2006 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player would have been this guy?

The past three winners were Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony, Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor and North Carolina’s (unfortunately) Sean May (unfortunately).

Joakim Noah proved he belonged.

So if he decides to come back for his junior season, he will be frontrunner to win every award. He will be a preseason First-team All-American.

But as good as he his, come next April, we probably will have forgotten about him and moved on to the next guy. There will be some player who takes his team on his back and propels them to be National Champs.

Shaun Pruitt’s back seems ready, doesn’t it?

Jon Gluskin is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]