Marreese “Mo” Speights wasn’t a star. He wasn’t a starter. He wasn’t mentioned for more than a couple sentences in opponents’ scouting reports, either. For the first month and a half of his freshman season at Florida, Speights served as a punching bag for a bunch of upperclassmen bangers named Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard.
The two eventual NBA lottery picks and second-round selection dunked on Speights daily, posting him up and out-hustling him during practice. But Speights didn’t sulk. He sought the trio out for advice and challenged them during drills. “Mo didn’t care who he guarded,” Richard said. “He took on everybody.”
Embracing his backup role for the national-champion Gators, Speights seized the moment no matter how fleeting. He ripped down six boards in five minutes against Arkansas in the title game of the SEC Tournament and poured in 16 points in 10 minutes against Jackson State in the NCAA first round.
“He was always ready,” said Rockets guard Corey Brewer, a former Florida teammate. “He came off the bench and he gave us a spark. He worked his butt off, that was the main thing. He got better and better each day.”
After Horford, Noah and Richard departed for the NBA, Speights was thrust into the spotlight for the Gators the following season. His coaches relished his offensive gifts—the way his soft touch and size could stretch a defense—but they wanted more defensive intensity and competitive drive. Coach Billy Donovan demanded more out of Speights toward the end of the season.
“I think (Donovan) just felt this guy really needs to be pushed to his limit and beyond, more than he even thinks he can give,” said former Florida assistant Larry Shyatt, who is now the head coach at Wyoming. “You’d leave practice and Mo would be laying on the floor exhausted.”
“Mo’s attitude was phenomenal,” Shyatt added. “He kept fighting through it.”
Echoes Donnie Jones, another former assistant, who is the head coach at the University of Central Florida, “He knew everything was about learning. I think that’s the theme of why he’s been able to grow as a player. He’s always about, ‘How can I get better?'” (READ MORE.)