Fate ships a Maryville hoopster to Gainesville
The Humphrey Dance
by Tony Basilio
Much to my chagrin, Lee Humphrey and Florida were meant to be. Even when Humphrey was a schoolboy growing up in Maryville, forces beyond his control were pulling him to Gainesville. I didn’t realize to what extent until the hotshot National Championship guard from Florida mentioned his first trip to the home of the Gators.
Humphrey grew up a UT fanatic in Maryville. As a young boy, his father Tony would often take him to Tennessee football and basketball games. It’s always seemed nonsensical that a talented player with his upbringing plays hoops at Florida. Lee made me feel like a relic, recently recounting how as a boy he would sit around and listen to me and other sports radio shows with his father. Lee recounted some radio-related memory that just makes me believe that some things were meant to be. It was confirmation that Lee Humphrey and UT weren’t. Recently, Humphrey shared with me that he’s been listening to me for as long as he can remember. Ouch.
So, recalling a highlight from December of ’95, he mentioned that as a 10 year old his Dad put him up to calling a sports radio show where he answered some goofy trivia question. Bowl Game tickets for the Outback Bowl ended up being the prize. Lee thought he won the tickets from me, inquiring, “I think it was your show, Tony. My Dad told me the answer and made me call.” Initially I played along but after hearing the result and the coincidence of Humphrey’s first Sunshine State junket, there was no way I was sharing the credit/blame. It was, alas, Mike Keith who first paired Lee Humphrey and Florida. Or was it fate?
The one and only time when the Outback Bowl was not played in Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl was in ’95, as the famed stadium was undergoing renovations. So, UT and Virginia Tech had to play a bowl game in, of all places, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. So, there Lee Humphrey sat with his Dad on complementary tickets, clad head to toe in Tennessee Orange. Little did they know that a few short years later, Lee would be making much greater history of his own in a darker shade of orange only a few short yards from the vaunted Swamp! Some things were meant to be.
After the way he was ignored by Buzz Peterson, a pedestrian college career from Humphrey would’ve been Peterson’s vindication. But, in ’05-’06, Humphrey emerged as a cornerstone of the greatest team in Florida history, averaging 10.9 points with 1.8 assists per game. In fact, Humphrey set the school record with 113 three pointers.
This Florida team was thought to be a long shot to win the SEC Title let alone a national crown. Gone were the likes of David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Was this year’s Florida team the ultimate example of addition by subtraction?
“It’s tough to say. I think playing against those guys in practice helped us become better players. In pickup we would always break up and play the older guys versus the younger guys. I would always be teamed with the four sophomores from this year’s team. It really helped us develop a great chemistry that carried over to this year,” Humphrey says.
Humphrey was unnecessarily booed back in February when the Gators were knocked from the ranks of the unbeatens in Knoxville.
“It kind of surprised me a little bit. Anytime you’re playing and they’re [the fans] getting on you, you have to take that as a compliment. That must mean that you’re doing something right,” he says.
Even with the superb result of the recently completed season, Florida has the motivation of defeating UT under Bruce Pearl.
“Tennessee is such a fun team to play against. We had two great games with them last year,” Humphrey enthuses. The question is: Will it be fun for UT and the rest of the SEC? This in light of the shocking decision by both Joakim Noah and Al Horford to eschew guaranteed riches in the NBA for another season in Gainesville. Even Humphrey was taken aback at the notion of having the Gators intact next year.
“I was kind of surprised. Especially with Jo (Noah) and Al. They were saying that Jo had a shot to be the top pick in the NBA draft and Al could’ve gone somewhere in the top 10. I think they’re coming back because we truly love playing with each other,” Humphrey says.
Humphrey, who carries a 3.74 GPA in applied Physiology & Kinesiology says he would like to give professional basketball a try at the conclusion of his college career. One would think that a team here or abroad could use a young man of his tremendous character and ability. Then again, I’m still trying to deal with the fact that Lee Humphrey was meant to be a Gator. The irony is enough to give me a bad buzz.
Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.