Florida Gators basketball (12-11, 5-5 SEC) is on pace for its worst season under head coach Billy Donovan since his first two with the program. It should be no surprise, however, that with Donovan’s track record of immense success and the basketball program’s still-growing national prestige, the Gators continue to invest in the future.
Announced in June with renovations expected to begin in March 2015, the 35-year-old Stephen C. O’Connell Center is set to undergo a massive renovation that will include a “prominent main entrance,” club seating, permanent chair backs, a “center-hung, high-definition video board” with a sound system, concourses and concession stands, offices and locker rooms, and advanced “mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.”
Initially projected to cost $45 million, $10 million of which would be contributed by the University of Florida, the updated price tag is $60 million, athletic director Jeremy Foley said on Monday. UF and the University Athletic Association have contributed with the rest of the $60 million committed via donations.
But that is not all Florida is doing for the basketball program. The Gators are also planning to expand the weight room in the Basketball Practice Complex, a $10 million facility that was first opened in 2001 and updated in 2007.
“You walk in that facility and it’s served us well for a while. But you have four teams who lift in there – well, really more – men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s basketball. It’s just not big enough right now. So we are going to expand that and maybe we start that this summer,” Foley said.
There are also plans for UF to look at the athletic dorms, which are in dire need of remodeling and upgrades. Florida basketball in particular is going up against sparkling new, premium dorms offered by Kentucky, which put the Gators well behind the standard bearer in the Southeastern Conference.
What is truly the cornerstone of Florida basketball is Donovan himself, and Foley – to no one’s surprise – remains as committed to doing what is necessary in order to ensure Donovan stays with the Gators for long as he wishes.
“I hope he’s here a long, long time. … We’re going to continue to be really proactive with his contract,” said Foley.
“I think he’s very happy here and we’re committed to him. We’ll going to continue to be committed to him. When you talk about peaks and valleys, we’re blessed. If there’s one guy in the country who can figure all this stuff out, it’s that guy right there because he’s as good as I’ve ever seen in every aspect of the game. And I’m not just talking Xs and Os. I’m talking about recruiting, I’m talking about developing chemistry, I’m talking about work ethic, I’m talking about building a staff. He’s special. We’ll continue to be committed to him.”
Foley also reiterated his commitment to Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, who is now in her eighth season with the program but boasts just a 150-105 overall record.
“Obviously we still got some work to do there. I think she inherited a very, very difficult situation. I think internally I might have made the comment when she came in here that I’m not sure it was at ground zero – it may have been less than ground zero,” explained Foley. “Eight years is a long time but Amanda Butler is a grinder and we’ll keep grinding here. Hopefully we get this thing turned around. She’s not happy, obviously our fan base is not happy.”
The Gators have never advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament under her leadership.
“We want to be relevant and we want to be a player in that sport as well. It’s the one sport where we really have not gotten to the point where some of our other sports are or have been. So we have work to do,” Foley continued. “Like I said, I love Amanda Butler. Like I said, she’s a grinder and we’ll keep grinding with her.”