The Silver Lining for March 24 on Billy Donovan, NBA interest and Florida Gators basketball

By Adam Silverstein
March 24, 2015

You never say ‘never,’ and you never say ‘forever’ either

With the end to another college basketball season comes another offseason of questions about the future of Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan.

A two-time national champion who has led Florida to four Final Fours and 10 SEC titles (six regular season, four tournament) over the last 16 seasons, Donovan has spurned overtures from other programs (Kentucky – twice, NC State, etc.) and the NBA (Orlando Magic) to remain with Gators.

His second stint with Florida – if you consider his six days as Orlando’s coach to be a break of sorts – has included Donovan taking on additional challenges, such as serving as the head coach of USA Basketball’s Under-18 and Under-19 National Teams, to fill the void of not coaching basketball year-round.

Donovan’s international record? Just 19-0 with three gold medals and an average margin of victory of 43.7 points per game. He is returning to coach the U19 team this summer.

But back to that void. Donovan has long stated and never shied away from the fact that he has felt the lure of the NBA – not simply because he wants to test himself on a professional stage (he does) or coach the best athletes in the world (that too) but due to the fact that the NBA is all basketball, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Some of the NBA stuff, as I’ve said before, is intriguing in a lot of ways – the basketball part of it,” Donovan told the Orlando Sentinel last May.


Yet it is important to remember, as was written here on OnlyGators.com on May 28, 2014, that Donovan’s long-held honesty about his NBA interest has never been indicative of his imminent departure from the Gators.

Yet the concept is still floating around in his head. Coaching in the NBA is seen as reaching the pinnacle in his chosen profession. Others have turned down the lure – Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo – but neither played in the league.

Donovan did.

And so he accepts the phone calls from NBA team presidents and general managers, listens to the pitches, wonders how his life will be different if he gave up the program he has built – like he did for six days in 2007 before realizing the mistake he made – to undertake a new challenge.

Suffice to say, nothing has changed over the last 10 months. Since Donovan’s five-year promise to not take an NBA job as condition of his release by the Magic concluded after the 2011-12 season, more than a half dozen NBA teams have reached out to Donovan (and/or his representatives) – some teams more often than others – to gauge his interest about moving into the professional ranks. He admitted as much last May, noting that he received calls from teams in the offseason but insisted “that’s really it” as far as his interest went in making the jump.

But things change and another call may soon come.

Donovan could get the proverbial offer he cannot refuse. Perhaps a team he respects, with an ownership he trusts, offers him not only the roster control he desires but also the chance to oversee basketball operations for an entire franchise.

He could remain with the Gators for the 2014-15 season and be faced with a completely different set of personal and professional circumstances in a year or a decade.

You never say “never” in life – or coaching – and you never say “forever,” either.

On Friday, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that “there is a growing sense in NBA coaching circles” that Donovan “will give renewed consideration to making a move to the pros.”

One day earlier, former NBA guard Jalen Rose discussed Donovan in specific terms during a Grantland podcast.

“Look at Billy Donovan. There’s an opening in Orlando. He took the job a few years ago, it didn’t work out, so maybe Billy Donovan and Orlando for the Magic,” he said in a tone that indicated he potentially knew more than he was letting on. “Who’s going to replace him with the Gators? Possibly Shaka Smart. … Don’t be surprised if you start to hear Shaka Smart’s name come into play as it relates to the Florida job.”

At this moment, though Stein’s report is indeed accurate, Donovan has not decided to move on from Florida. He has been recruiting his tail off for the Gators, a smart move especially at a time when his colleagues are still vying for a national title.

But Donovan not having decided to leave Florida on March 24 does not mean he hasn’t discussed the possibility with colleagues or can’t change his mind in two months, one year or 10 years from now.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, Donovan’s former coach, a close friend and a mentor, said last year at the Final Four that his pupil “always gets cold feet at the end because with him it’s always been about team and family.” He continued: “More than any person I’ve met in my life and encountered in my 40 years of coaching, Billy Donovan has his priorities more in line than any person I’ve ever met.”

The Donovans love living in Gainesville. His father, 74-year-old Bill Donovan Sr., moved into town years ago and attends as many games as possible. His son is on the Gators’ support staff and learning to become a coach under his dad’s thumb.

Donovan’s third child, Bryan, will soon be a senior at St. Francis Catholic High School; his fourth child, Connor, will enroll there next year. Donovan was instrumental in the school getting off the ground in 2004 and helped it expand in 2008 by leading a fundraiser that eventually collected $1.2 million.

(These things can be mitigated, of course. The aforementioned potential of Orlando having an opening is attractive as the short drive [and even shorter private jet trip] would allow his family to stay in Gainesville. But the Magic have front office and roster problems. Other opportunities like Oklahoma City – a perfect fit if there ever was one and an organization that has already shown its appreciation for Donovan’s methods – are quite far from his home base and present their own set of issues. The Thunder, for example, have an injured superstar who will enter next season on the last year of his contract and is purportedly interested in leaving the franchise; then again, when has Donovan shied away from developing talent? But I digress…)

Florida basketball, which can be deemed as pushing out successful teams over for the vast majority of his 20 seasons with the program, just had its most disappointing campaign in his 19-year tenure. Though the talent is greater and the program’s prestige is undoubtedly higher, one could rightfully say that the results the Gators got on the court in 2014-15 were in line with how the program performed when Donovan started.

Is that a note you would want to end a legacy on, especially two years before – in all likelihood – there will be a court or section of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center either named after or honoring you? Not to mention that Donovan is also committed to his country this summer as he leads the U19 team through training camp (June, NBA Draft) and international games (July, summer league).

So trust me when I tell you that if Donovan ever leaves Florida, it will not be due to the community or the school or the athletic department or the players or the fans.

It will be because he is tired of the industry that is college basketball recruiting, wants to coach basketball year-round and has a desire to test himself and succeed – where Pitino himself failed – at the next level.

To say Donovan has decided to moved on from the Gators is not accurate – today – but things can most certainly change. This offseason presents the most likely possibility of him making such a move since he left Florida only to do an about face in 2007.

And that is why one – especially a man as principled as Donovan – never says “never” in life (or coaching) and never says “forever,” either.

“I think when you start making guarantees about life and start making guarantees about where you’re going to be, that’s not good,” Donovan explained last May.

“If for some reason I ever change my mind and did something, I wouldn’t want [people] saying, ‘Well, he promised, he guaranteed, he said this on record.’ I just think when you start doing that, that’s a mistake.

“I’ve seen a lot of coaches over the years come out and say, ‘No, no, no, no, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere,’ and then all of a sudden they go somewhere and it’s like, ‘Well, this guy is a complete liar.’ I don’t want to get into that situation.”

So when you see rumors, reports or news about Donovan, judge them with a sharp eye. Has Donovan already decided to leave the Gators? No. Is he going to replace Tom Crean (if/when he gets fired) at Indiana? No. Is he giving legitimate consideration – perhaps the most in eight years – to going to the NBA? Probably. Are there NBA teams that would fire their coach today to hire Donovan in two months? Yes.

Locker room after Donovan’s 500th win

Nearly one month ago, Donovan became the second-youngest coach in Division I college basketball history to reach 500 career victories and just the second to do so before 50 years of age. Florida took down Tennessee 66-49, playing its most complete game of the season to that point. When the Gators left the court, Donovan was honored by the fans, which chanted his name.

For some reason, OnlyGators.com never got around to posting video of what happened in the post-game locker room, so check this out via Florida.

Not Only Gators: The Late Late Show with James Cordon

I stayed up Monday night to check out the new host of The Late Late Show on CBS and was pleasantly surprised with how the show has been repackaged. James Cordon, a comedian from Great Britain, was not an expected choice to fill the slot and the format of his show certainly followed suit.

His guests – Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis – were interviewed together. Cordon came out from behind the standard late night talk show desk for a more intimate interview, and the interaction between the guests was a unique dynamic. The interview segment was also split in half with a skit (performed with Hanks) in between, giving the viewer a nice break from the normal format of these programs.

Cordon kicked things off the right way, with an heartfelt introduction, before using a cameo-filled, boot camp-like vignette to bring some comedy. He also closed the show with a song about the show itself and the night’s guests.

It will be interesting to see how much of this gets replicated on Tuesday and in subsequent shows, but the format adjustments and unique style he brought to the program certainly make it worth watching again. Of course, only time will tell how successful Corbon may be in the slot, but episode one was already better than anything Seth Meyers has done (I give him no credit for the Parks & Recreation roundtable).

This Week’s Movie Trailer

Ted 2:

The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…

Mark Wahlberg acting roles:
1. Micky Ward, The Fighter
2. Dignam, The Departed
3. Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor
4. Eddie Adams, Boogie Knights
5a. Troy Barlow, Three Kings
5b. Pvt. Tommy Lee Haywood, Renaissance Man

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments below.

5 Comments

  1. SaraGator says:

    The thought of BillyD leaving makes me sad.

  2. Ken (CA) says:

    Maybe because I know Marcus, but I believe Marcus was his best acting job to date.

    As far as Billy D. I know the lure of the NBA could get him at some point, I would be sad if a down year were the year he chose to leave rather than another championship, but at least we won’t be caught off guard on a move if it happens. I firmly believe (on no information whatsoever other than general information), that he won’t leave while his dad is still around and his kids aren’t all in college, especially with wanting to prove to these kids he won’t quit on them just because it was a rough year. They didn’t play well, but it never once appeared as if he lost them as a team, even when some of their play mystified him, they still were there waiting to learn and be coached.

    Whether he stays or goes, he will always be remembered and loved by most as one of the greatest coaches in Gator history.

    On another topic, Haven’t heard anything about Chris Walker. Is it possible that he has seen the light and realized even if he may be a lottery pick he is absolutely not NBA ready yet? If the answer is he decides to stay another year, who would the Gators take a scholarship from on the assumption he would be leaving and being over the limit?

  3. Michael Jones says:

    I agree with SaraGator and Ken (CA). It would be sad to see him go and Billy D. will definitely be remembered and loved by me as one of the greatest coaches in Gator history. I personally put him just a little bit below Spurrier, but not by much and maybe in part because football is my favorite sport and the biggest thing going in Gator Nation IMO.

    I will add that if he does go, however, and Jalen Rose is right about Shaka Smart, then I would also be pretty excited about the brand of bassketball that Shaka would be bringing to UF. I have always loved the tenacity with which his teams have played. He’s another guy who does more with less.

  4. SW FL Joe says:

    While I’ll agree Smart’s name will be in the discussion if the Florida job opens up, I think Foley’s first call will be to Anthony Grant.

    • gatorboi352 says:

      I thought that too, before he took the Bama job. Not so much any more. Smart is the guy for Florida. Gators didn’t miss a beat after Grant left in 06.

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