Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem cannot lose today when it comes to the NCAA tournament.
Florida, the school Haslem helped lead to the Final Four in 2000, faces South Carolina, the team coached by Frank Martin, who coached Haslem at Miami High and has been one of the biggest influences in his life.
The two will be playing today for a spot in the Final Four.
Haslem is loyal to the Gators, the No. 4 seed in the East that has benefited from the top three seeded teams being upset (two by South Carolina). He played four years for the Gators before going undrafted in 2002 and was part of the 2000 team that lost to Michigan State in the championship game. Haslem lead all scorers with 27 point in the final.
But he also admires Martin, whose second high school head coaching job coincided with Haslem’s time at Miami High. Martin had one more high school stop and was an assistant at three colleges before landing his first head coaching job at Kansas State and moving onto South Carolina in 2012.
Now, after upsetting No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Baylor, Martin has the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in the Elite Eight for the first time.
And Haslem, is, well, excited.
“It’s very exciting, it’s very, very, extremely exciting,” he said Saturday before the Heat left on a three-game road trip that starts today in Boston. “It’s almost too much to handle. I know I can’t lose. I’ll tell you that.”
Haslem congratulated Martin on Twitter following the Duke win with a post that called him a “mentor” and read: “Yes I’m a gator but this man means the world to me.”
“I sent him a text,” Haslem said Saturday. “I didn’t want a response. I just told him before the Baylor game that I was proud of him. I told him to focus on the task at hand.”
With the Heat-Celtics starting at 6 p.m., Haslem should be able to watch Florida-South Carolina, which tips at 2:20 p.m., with few interruptions.
So, the big question, who is Haslem rooting for?
“I’m not leaning nowhere,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Frank, I would have never ended up at Florida. I’m going to be neutral on this one. I just want to see a good basketball game.”