Best Local Jock 2002 | Clarence Gilbert | Sports | South Florida
Gilbert was a sensational basketball player at Dillard High School and ended the regular season of his senior year at the University of Missouri on a down note. Missouri was ranked as high as number two early in the year but, in one disappointment after another, eventually fell into unranked territory. They barely made the NCAA tournament as a 12 seed, and, with Missouri's dismal past record in the Big Dance, few expected much out of the Tigers. But Gilbert wouldn't go down easy. First, the guard came up with a theme for the team -- "The Rock" -- that Coach Quin Snyder said galvanized his club for the tourney. Then Gilbert backed it up on the court, pushing his teammates and averaging about 20 points a game as Mizzou knocked off the University of Miami, Ohio State, and UCLA to become the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Elite Eight. The bigger, stronger bodies of number-two seed Oklahoma finally stopped the Tigers, but Gilbert left the court proudly; he made Missouri one of the maddest teams in March history.
Number 37 perfectly represents the Florida Panthers. Every time trade rumors have surfaced this year, the 30-year-old goaltender's name has come up. He has been here for three seasons, and his lucky break this year was Roberto Luongo's injury on March 20. Maybe now the front office will shut up and Kidd will finally get the ice time he's always wanted. Kidd has a reputation for not complaining, for showing leadership in the locker room, and for rising to the occasion when necessary. This season, he had a terrible time coming up with wins at home. In 33 games, he had 4 wins, 16 losses, and 5 ties. Those stats, though, don't tell the whole story of Kidd's performance.
How 'bout them Owls? Coach Sidney Green, the former Runnin' Rebel and NBA journeyman player, inherited a pretty sorry bunch back in 1999. In fact, the team hardly qualified as a "bunch" at all: What with all the transfers, he suited up just seven players that year. Hardly surprising, then, when the team went 2-28; if this squad wasn't the worst in Division I, it was pretty darn close. Last year, after further attrition, Green was forced to play his freshmen, and the team actually improved -- to 7-24. For this year, he brought in some talented junior-college players to plug holes. The result: a 16-11 regular season, three hard-fought wins in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament (including the 76-75 squeaker over Georgia State in the final), and the university's first trip to the NCAA Tournament. In their first-round date with Alabama in Greenville, South Carolina, the Owls refused to lie down, matching the heavily favored Crimson Tide shot for shot for 33 minutes. Alabama finally pulled away and won, 86-78, but FAU's performance earned the program nationwide respect -- and almost cost the team its coach. Green's success at turning around the program made him a finalist for the vacant DePaul job. When the task of reviving that university's once-proud tradition fell to someone else, the brass in Boca Raton breathed a sigh of relief. Now Green will have a chance to defend his conference title and perhaps bring the pride of Palm Beach County back to the Big Dance once again.
The Marlins somehow escaped Montreal-like fan desertion when Wayne Huizenga sold off all the big talent after the 1997 World Series. A solid base of fish-lovers survived three consecutive losing seasons. But then John Henry skipped off to Boston and Jeffrey Loria bought the team, bringing a little of that Montreal magic with him. Now the Marlins are bringing in 5000 or so at home games, right on par with the 'Spos. And despite the fact that the carpetbaggers from Canada callously traded closer Antonio Alfonseca, the team is showing signs that it could be a serious playoff contender. The young pitching staff has the potential of supplanting Atlanta's old-timers as the best rotation in the National League, and the batting lineup is solid from top to bottom. If a few consistent guns emerge from the bullpen, the men in teal (and no, we're not talking about some dance troupe from Key West) might just vie for a championship. Which brings us to that ancient philosophical question: If a team is winning and nobody is watching, does anybody give a damn?

Best Team to Leave Town in the Past 12 Months

Miami Fusion

"I wept." With those simple words, Ray Hudson, the most quotable coach this side of Knute Rockne, confirmed what South Florida soccer fans had feared: The four-year-old Miami Fusion was dead, a victim of the money-lusting contraction fever that has gripped professional sports. The Major League Soccer team was killed by owner Ken Horowitz, who had steadfastly maintained he would support the Fusion for the long haul and then unceremoniously bailed out, insisting the action would make the sport stronger. That the death came less than six months after the Fusion completed a fairy-tale season only made the sting worse. In his first full year as coach, the always colorful Hudson led the team to its best record (16-5-5) ever, missing the MLS championship match by only one goal. The English-born Hudson, who first endeared himself to South Florida fútbol fans in the 1980s as a member of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, is now coaching D.C. United in the nation's capital. As for professional soccer in South Florida, with two failures on its record, fuhgeddaboudit.

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