Walter Hodge's jersey recently joined those of other Gator greats inside UF's practice gym.
GAINESVILLE -- Walter Hodge never was the star. He never was the fan favorite. He always had something really cool shaved into the side of his head. Nice and neat.
Now, after a four-year career that included two national championships, Hodge will always be remembered as one of the Gators' all-time greats. On Friday, Hodge's jersey, folded neatly into a large frame, took its place alongside the jerseys of Joakim Noah, Udonis Haslem, Al Horford and all of the UF basketball legends hanging inside the Gators' practice facility.
[PICTURED, Hodge received a standing 'O' from the O'Dome on senior day.]
Hodge will finish his career this March with more career wins than any other Florida basketball player. Florida's win against Kentucky on Saturday was Hodge's 114th career victory. Chris Richard and Lee Humphrey are tied for second with 112 career victories. Richard's and Humphrey's jerseys are also encased and on the wall inside the Gators' practice gym.
Saturday's win against Kentucky was Hodge's final regular-season home game of his career. Fittingly, he lead the Gators in scoring with 18 points. More than anything, UF coach Billy Donovan likes a team player, someone who sacrifices his personal agenda for the needs of the team. That was Hodge. He played behind Lee Humphrey for two seasons during the championship years then stayed in Gainesville for two more years, helping the Gators' rebuild their depleted roster.
"You have energy givers and you have energy takers," Donovan said. "You have guys that go out to practice and take the coach's energy, they take their teammates energy -- they just take energy. Walter is as good as I've been around as an energy giver. He gives energy to his coaching staff. He gives energy to his teammates. He's an energy giver.
"Anytime you lose an energy giver, that's a tough thing to replace. And he has always been that way."
Hodge has led the Gators in scoring in the last two games. For those wondering, here are the players whose jerseys are hanging in the Florida practice gym: Brent Wright, Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Matt Bonner, Justin Hamilton, Brett Nelson, David Lee, Adrian Moss, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Joakim Noah and Walter Hodge.
NCAA OR NIT?
Hodge's family traveled from Puerto Rico to attend Walter's final regular-season game in the O'Connell Center. Hodge said on Saturday that he doesn't want to play anymore games in the O'Dome. Translation: He doesn't want to host an NIT first-round game at the O'Connell Center. Hodge would much rather end his career in the NCAA Tournament. Florida's postseason fate will be determined later this week when the Gators travel to Tampa for the SEC Tournament.
[PICTURED, Florida needs to kill some more kitties on Friday.]
Given the late-season surge of the Auburn Tigers -- AU defeated LSU on Saturday to earn its 10th conference victory -- Florida (22-9, 9-7 in SEC) needs at least two wins this week to strengthen its case for an NCAA Tournament berth. Florida plays Arkansas (14-14, 2-13) at 9:45 p.m. on Thursday. The winner plays Auburn (21-10, 10-6), the West's No.2 seed, on Friday. If Florida defeats Arkansas, then Friday's game against Auburn could be an NCAA Tournament play-in game.
WERNER SACRIFICING FOR TEAM, SAYS BILLY
UF forward Dan Werner was 2 of 9 against Kentucky. While Werner's shooting touch was off, he played well defensively against Kentucky center Patrick Patterson in the second half. Patterson had 16 shot attempts in the first half but only had one shot attempt in the second half. UF coach Billy Donovan on Dan Werner's shooting woes:
"It's hard for Dan Werner because Dan Werner has to do so much physically that I do think it affects his shooting," Donovan said. "I think Dan Werner would be a much, much better shooter if physically he didn't have to do what he does every possession on defense. And there's a guy who gets it. He's smart enough to say, 'You know what? I'm not going to worry about my jump shot. I know I'm not shooting great but I know I've got to do this defensively for our team to win."