TAMPA, Fla. - Each news conference at the men's NCAA tournament begins with a moderator introducing the players as "student-athletes." In some cases, the term is more appropriate than others.
Matt Bonner, a senior forward at the University of Florida, leads the Gators with 15.7 points a game and a 3.98 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. Chris Hill, a sophomore guard at Michigan State, has the same distinction for the Spartans with a 14-point average and 3.90 GPA.
The brainy basketball stars will face each other today, when Florida plays Michigan State in the second round here.
"I get stereotyped all the time," said Bonner, a business administration major. "When I first got here, the teachers would see I'm a basketball player and think, 'Oh, great, here we go.' To lead the class discussions and get the best grades, that just proves the stereotypes are wrong."
Earlier this month, Bonner was named the nation's academic All-America Player of the Year for the second straight season. Hill, a finance major, was named to the academic All-America third team.
Hill, the fourth Michigan State basketball player to receive the academic honor, developed an appreciation for education from his parents.
His mother is an elementary school teacher in his hometown of Indianapolis, and his father is a sales representative for General Motors.
"It's difficult because basketball takes up so much of your time," Hill said. "In the little time you do have, it's either a social life or academics. So it's just a matter of self-discipline."
For college coaches burdened with the pressures of winning, recruiting and following NCAA guidelines, the presence of an "A" student on the roster means one less potential headache.
Bonner and Hill, apart from being disciplined, are both considered team-first players by their coaches. Hill agreed to switch to point guard for the Spartans at the start of the season even though he's a natural shooting guard. He eventually switched back, and led Michigan State with 84 three-pointers.
Bonner led Florida in scoring and minutes played, and always patiently answered media questions after tough losses. Three weeks ago, Florida coach Billy Donovan told reporters that Bonner was one of the best players ever to wear a Gators uniform.
"Bonner's the glue to that team," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "He's so smart, he seems to always be in the right position. He always knows where to be on the press or on screens."
Growing up in Concord, N.H., Bonner shoveled snow off the family driveway so he could practice shooting. He graduated first in a high school class of 350 and scored 1,350 out of 1,600 on his SAT, prompting Duke, Virginia and others to pursue him before he decided to attend Florida.
Bonner still laments the "B" he got in chemistry as a freshman at Florida, when a professor refused to give him an extension for a test after the Gators returned home from a trip to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.
"When I set a goal, I put 100 percent toward it," Bonner said. "I don't know if I'd call myself a perfectionist. You probably wouldn't think that if you saw my apartment."
Hill, who was a star high school quarterback in Indiana, is already talking about raising his 3.90 average to a 4.0 next year and moving up from third to first-team academic All-America.
It's that relentless focus, Izzo said, that makes him so easy to coach.
"It's the best, because you don't worry about all the intangible things off the court," Izzo said. "You've got a guy who's a model citizen and a good influence on everybody else on the team. Chris is a special kid."