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Diane Pucin / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

This Noah Courts Success Too

January 11, 2006|Diane Pucin

Joakim Noah loves his dad. He just doesn't want to be his dad.

Joakim Noah admires his dad. He wants to be admired too -- as a basketball player, student, college graduate, NBA player. Not as the son of Yannick Noah, former top-10 tennis player and French Open champion.

And for Yannick that is the best thing a father can hope for.

Joakim is a 6-foot-11 sophomore and budding star for Florida, which has been the surprise team of this college basketball season with a 14-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking.

Yannick, 45 and the front man for an Afro-Reggae band called Zam Zam, spoke from Paris on Tuesday about Joakim.

"I think the first time I took Joakim to a tennis lesson he felt as if everybody was watching him and already comparing him to me," Yannick said. "From that very moment I believe Joakim decided he wanted to do something else. For him it was always important to be his own person. As a father I am proud of that. He's making his own way."

The Gators' starting center, Joakim is averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. He had a season-high 24 points in Florida's win over Georgia last weekend.

By looks, Joakim is clearly his father's son. The hair is the same mop of unruly curls. His smile reveals the same gapped teeth. His voice is soft and rich, and, but for a more pronounced American accent, Joakim sounds the same as Yannick.

And, like his father, Joakim is a man of the world.

Yannick shuttled between France and Cameroon, where his father was a soccer star and his mother a player for the national women's basketball team.

Joakim's mother, Cecilia Rohde, was a Swedish model. He was born in New York, moved to France when he was 3, and came back to New York when he was in the eighth grade. He spends a few weeks each summer in Cameroon visiting relatives and he has acquired a little Southern twang from his time in Gainesville.

"He's a kid who can talk to anybody about anything," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "He came up to me recently and asked if I had seen Michael Moore's movie "Fahrenheit 9/11." I told him I had not. He asked that if he brought me a copy would I watch it because he wanted to talk about it with me. He wants my opinion of it. He's an inquisitive kid, a smart kid, a talented kid.

"And he adores his father."

Joakim said he was drawn to basketball partly because of his father's friendship with former New York Knick star Patrick Ewing.

"I loved to watch Patrick play," Joakim said. "And because I was living in New York, I loved basketball. New York has a passion for basketball."

Donovan said Noah has a rare, unspoiled quality even though he is the son of a celebrity.

"Joakim wasn't part of our youth basketball system," Donovan said. "He wasn't being told how great he was from the time he was in grade school. He is a great teammate, unselfish on the court, and he's always interested in learning about the backgrounds of his teammates."

Joakim is not the only Gator with an athletically accomplished father. Sophomore forward Al Horford's father, Tito Horford, was an NBA player. Sophomore guard Taurean Green's father, Sidney Green, was a star at Nevada Las Vegas before heading to the NBA.

The Gators were unranked to start this season. They had lost 60% of the scoring from a team that lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Donovan was being called an underachiever. He recruited great talent, he won some games, but come tournament time his teams seemed to flame out, losing in the first round of the 2004 tournament as a fifth-seeded team to No. 12 Manhattan and of the 2002 tournament when, again seeded fifth, they lost to No. 12 Creighton.

"Yes, I know that's out there," Donovan said, "but I think it's a little unfair. You can't judge everything on the NCAA tournament. But I will say this team is a joy. I think we probably deserved to be ranked when the season began, and I think we're ranked a little higher than we should be right now. I like this team, though. They are in it for each other. It is truly a team."

Donovan likes Noah's speed on the court. "He's 6-11," Donovan said, "but he's a terrific runner straight ahead. Generally big guys fatigue pretty quickly, but not Joakim. As graceful as his dad was on the tennis court, that's how graceful Joakim is on the basketball court. Plus, he's got a great work ethic."

Yannick has seen his son play only two or three games at Florida. "My band just finished a 120-city tour," he said. "And I also think it is better to let my son live his life. We talk every day on the phone, but he doesn't need me in the background all the time."

Joakim said he was never comfortable with his father's fame. "I am so proud of him," Noah said, "and he means so much to so many people. But, you know, when you're a kid and everybody is looking at you because of who your dad is, that's hard. I'm proud of his music, but I don't listen to it much. It's just weird to think that's my dad singing, you know?"

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Late Start

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