Sunday, March 23, 2003

After spurning Spartans' offer, Gators' Roberson must face them

South Regional preview

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. - To Tom Izzo, Anthony Roberson is still "our kid from Saginaw."

It's somewhat natural, considering the bond the Michigan State coach built - or thought he had built - with the sweet-shooting guard during recruiting that began when Roberson was a high school freshman.

"He's cocky enough to be good, and unselfish enough to fit in," Izzo said. "That's a hell of a combination."

But now, much to Izzo's chagrin, Roberson plays for Florida.

Roberson and the second-seeded Gators (25-7) face Izzo and the No. 7 Spartans (20-12) today in the second round of the South Regional.

An all-state guard from Saginaw, Mich., Roberson seemed destined for Michigan State.

Roberson, however, wasn't so sure he wanted to stay near home. He wanted to branch out, to "see another part of the world" and get closer to some warm weather.

Telling that to Izzo was one of the toughest chores of his young life.

"Coach Izzo recruited me more than anybody," Roberson said. "He came out and watched my JV football games. He was the face I saw every day. That's why it was hard to tell him no. But I had to be a man about it."

The teams are meeting in a rematch of the 2000 national final, won 89-76 by the Spartans. Roberson was only a sophomore in high school then, but that game was a turning point in his Spartan-Gator saga.

He remembers watching the game, not knowing much about the Gators, but liking how Billy Donovan loved to run, press and let his guards shoot 3s. And he gave his freshmen - especially guards Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson - ample playing time.

Donovan didn't want much to do with Roberson at first.

"I knew he was a Michigan kid, and the odds were pretty good that he was going to stay in-state," Donovan said.

He's been one of the keys to the Gators' success, averaging 12.7 points and working his way into the starting lineup.

"Win or lose tomorrow, I'm happy I chose Florida," Roberson said.

Texas vs. Purdue

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Purdue's Gene Keady is coaching in his 17th NCAA Tournament, but has never had a Final Four team.

"I always hear people say, 'If he'd get to the Final Four, he'd probably be in the Hall of Fame,' " Keady said. "That's a poor way to judge someone."

Keady is in his 25th season as a Division I head coach, including the last 23 at Purdue. The ninth-seeded Boilermakers (19-10) will take on top-seeded Texas (23-6) today.

Longhorns coach Rick Barnes, in his 16th season as a head coach, hopes this is the year he makes his first visit to the Final Four.

The two teams have even more in common.

As much as any team, Texas and Purdue rely on depth. Both squads like to use 10 or 11 players, and even star guard T.J. Ford doesn't expect to play the whole game for Texas.

Ford said he didn't know much about the Boilermakers, adding, "seeding doesn't really mean anything. Tomorrow, it's 1 vs. 1 - they have one win and we have one win."

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After spurning Spartans' offer, Gators' Roberson must face them

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