That’s the headline from an old sports page that’s been hanging behind my desk for a few years. I don’t remember why I kept that one from April 11, 2004. But after watching Al Horford and Florida win their second straight NCAA championship Monday night, it made sense to see him next to those words this morning.
The page displays the LSJ basketball Dream Team that year, probably the best in my eight at this paper. Everett’s Derick Nelson (Oakland) and Goran Suton (Michigan State), and DeWitt’s Erik Kangas (also Oakland) also went on to Division I college careers. Lakewood’s Clint Tobias plays baseball at Michigan.
One of my least favorite stretches as a reporter was during Horford’s college decision process, as he first chose Michigan, then changed his mind and picked Florida. The recruiting web sites and plenty of others were following his every move, and that meant me calling him at least every other night to find out what, if anything, had changed. He was mostly fine about it, then stopped taking calls for the final week before picking the Gators. But I didn’t really blame him. Horford was soft-spoken but incredibly pleasant, especially given his immense talent and the cockiness it could have fostered. After a while, the recruiting game just got to be too frustrating, and that was easily sensed in his usually-friendly voice.
But he certainly made that final decision count, despite tons of scrutiny when he first changed his mind. Sure, Michigan would have been better of with him (but still lacking a reliable point guard, probably not good enough to save former coach Tommy Amaker’s job). Ironically, Horford also canceled a visit to Ohio State — last night’s runner-up — after visiting Florida that fall of 2003.
Horford’s potential was obvious back then. But it would have seemed far-fetched to predict this finish. He missed out on leading Grand Ledge to a state title, instead watching Suton and Nelson win it their senior year. But Horford has obviously made up for that, and now he’s arguably mid-Michigan’s top NBA prospect since the Vincents during the 1980s.
Can he make his next career count as well? We’ll see. He certainly knows how.