- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Joakim Noah is a compelling figure of long hair and arms and high energy and deep resolve who now stands before the George Mason University basketball team.

Noah has put his fingerprints all over this NCAA tournament in leading Florida to the Final Four and a date with the Patriots tomorrow. Noah is the most formidable challenge yet before the Patriots in the tournament.

Noah, the son of a tennis champion and a beauty pageant mother, is a 7-footer, or thereabouts, with a hard-nosed tenacity and a small forward’s versatility about him.

The Patriots have no one to counter Noah, no one to nullify what he does, which is stuff the box score with hustle plays, athletic plays and refined plays that have commanded the microscopic dissection of NBA scouts.

Noah has morphed from celebrity offspring to the potential No. 1 pick overall in the NBA Draft this June if he elects to leave the Gators after two seasons of college basketball.

He professes not to be in a hurry to play in the NBA. Not that leaving a campus after two years qualifies as being in a hurry in today’s basketball marketplace.

Noah is four or five inches taller than Jai Lewis and Will Thomas, the two starting post players of the Patriots who have used their grit and smarts to overcome their height disadvantage in the tournament.

In addition to those two qualities, Lewis is almost as wide as he is tall, and he employs his derriere as a blunt instrument, reducing so many opponents to 98-pound weaklings.

The blunt instrument is about to meet the hyperkinetic one.

Noah comes at you with a joy and will that was conspicuously absent in Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone, the two Connecticut post players who failed to exploit the undersized dimension of the Patriots in the Washington, D.C., Region final.

Armstrong and Boone performed with seeming indifference against the Patriots, as if the school’s name would be sufficient enough to sway the proceedings in their favor.

That is not likely to be the case with Noah, whose athletic hunger has not been stunted by a life spent in privilege or by a prep career as a basketball prodigy.

He might have been destined to attend an Ivy League school if not for a growth spurt and a slow-forming impression at a summer basketball camp following his junior year.

His freshman season at Florida was unremarkable, fashioned as a limited role player whose playing time decreased as the season progressed. His name was not among the top collegians going into this season.

But now he has emerged as somebody special, eclipsing the two, Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick, who dominated the regular season before their respective pursuits ended in a puddle of much-discussed tears.

Noah runs the floor like a guard. His pedal is always pressed to the metal. He has a fire in his belly and a passion that sometimes results in primal celebrations. He blocks shots and goes after every errant shot. He is a highly springy player who provides the intangibles as well as the defining numbers.

The Gators are not merely Noah. They are as balanced as the Patriots, only in the manner of a power conference program. But Noah, because of his size and athletic gifts, is the one element drawing the extra attention of Jim Larranaga and the George Mason coaching staff this week.

Noah has been, arguably, the No. 1 player in the tournament, and no disrespect intended to Louisiana State’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who is endeavoring to be a taller version of Charles Barkley if he eventually enhances the muscle tone of his 6-9, 310-pound frame.

Being that Davis is from LSU, the alternate concern is Stanley Roberts. Or John Williams, the one-time bane of the Bullets who came to be known as Hot Plate.

The long-term upside goes to Noah.

And he is the difference-maker the Patriots must attempt to neutralize.

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