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Noah Completes Quite an Arc

He's only a sophomore, but forward-center sets two NCAA blocked-shot records on his way to a title and MVP award.

April 04, 2006|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — A piece of Indiana hardwood became Joakim Noah's red clay of Roland Garros on Monday night.

"It not only feels good, it smells good, it tastes good. I can't even describe it," the son of Yannick Noah said after collapsing flat on his back on the court after Florida won the NCAA title, then stayed there, basking in the moment.

You half expected Noah to fall to his knees and clench his fists with emotion the way his father did when he won the French Open in 1983.

Like his father, Joakim is good around the net. But he has his own name, his own game and a brilliant future after a shot-swatting virtuoso performance that made the 6-foot-11 sophomore the star of Florida's 73-57 victory over UCLA.

Noah set a title-game record by blocking six shots, and an NCAA tournament record by blocking 29 in Florida's six-game march to the title.

And after the first moments of celebrating with his teammates he clambered into the stands to find his father, wearing a blue Gator T-shirt, and seated near his ex-wife and Joakim's mother, Cecilia Rodhe, a former Swedish model.

"It's not something you think about before the game," Joakim said. "It's sheer love. When you win the game, you want to be with the people you love. That's where they were. It has nothing to do with what my father did 23 years ago.

"Actually my grandfather, he ran onto the court. He jumped from the stands. I don't know how he did it, because you should have seen how high the jump was. He could have really hurt himself."

This time, the son found the father.

Yannick Noah watched as Joakim turned in a 16-point, nine-rebound, six-block, three-assist performance only a year after he was left on the bench for all but two minutes of Florida's two NCAA tournament games.

"It's unbelievable. I just can't believe it," Yannick said. "It's hard to find words. I'm so happy for him and for his friends. They worked so hard.

"Watching it was very tough. Thank God it wasn't close. They made it look easy."

Noah broke the record of four blocked shots set by Arizona's Loren Woods in 2001 before halftime with five .

John Thompson, the former Georgetown coach sitting courtside as a radio broadcaster, called it a rare performance, praising Noah's passion and his hustle, but quibbling with the blocked-shots record.

"That's because they didn't count them when Bill Russell was playing," Thompson said.

Thompson didn't want to speak of Noah in terms of former greats such as Patrick Ewing. Instead, he thought his gifts should stand alone, apart from anyone else's.

"Comparisons are odious," Thompson said. "I don't think it's necessary to compare him with anybody. The fact is, that was a special performance."

It was so special that if Noah were to enter the NBA draft, he would easily be a top-five pick after a run through the NCAA tournament that still seems to only hint at his potential.

"I know how high I would take him, but I don't want to say it, because I want him to stay in school," Thompson said.

The UCLA players, mindful of Noah's presence all night, complimented him afterward.

"You know, he's very good," UCLA guard Arron Afflalo said. "First of all, on offense, he has the ability to go outside. He's not a stiff at all.

"Defensively, he's just long. You know, he has the ability to change shots if he's not blocking 'em. He plays with a lot of energy."

Jordan Farmar agreed.

"I mean, he's long with good timing. He does a good job of staying on the ground, you know, not going for shot fakes, using his length to his advantage. He does change a lot of shots if he doesn't block them."

Cedric Bozeman called him a great player.

"He's a great defensive presence down there and it's not just him, it's [Al] Horford too," Bozeman said. "Noah's a great player and he's going to make some money some day."

Yannick Noah marveled at what his son has done.

"I'm really surprised the way he has been playing the last two months," he said but offered no guess about what his future might hold..

"I have no idea. He's a big boy. It's his decision."

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