Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan appeared on The Dan LeBatard Show on 790 The Ticket in South Florida on Wednesday and spent 15 minutes on the air discussing a wide variety of topics with host Dan LeBatard, co-host Stugotz and special guest co-host Stan Van Gundy. Below are the topics that the interview touched on and what Donovan had to say about each.
On if he came back to Florida in order to not screw up being happy
“I don’t really think it was about being happy or trying to be happier. The University of Florida has been great to me. It was just one of those things, deep down inside of my gut, that just did not feel right after I did it. I felt terrible going that far down the road. I was very happy that Orlando could get a quality coach like Stan to go in there. There was just something that just did not sit well with me. I can’t put my finger on it. It was just kind of one of those gut feelings.
“Obviously it’s a tough decision when you make the decision and commit to do it and then all of a sudden you retract. I knew in my heart that it just didn’t seem right for me. I don’t know what it was. That’s really what I did. Obviously it was difficult to make that decision when you’re that far down the road.”
On if doing the about-face on Orlando was embarrassing for him
“I think I put Orlando in a very difficult situation. That organization, they’re great people, they treated me very well. For myself to put them in that situation, I felt bad about that. But I was very excited because I know the quality of coach [that] Stan is, I know how respected he is. You look at the job he did in Orlando. At the end of the day, it ended up working out well for both parties. Surely, going through what I went through, embarrassed or felt bad, you just don’t want to put somebody through that. I don’t think Orlando deserved to go through that, and I felt bad about that.”
Read the rest of what Donovan had to say on the air…after the break!
On whether or not Joakim Noah was a handful all the time
“He obviously was a handful more from an interviewing situation than he was anything else. His persona and when people see him and his hair and his excitement and enthusiasm, it’s really not who he is. He is one of the most unique, caring , loving guys I’ve ever been around. He really wasn’t a handful in a lot of ways. He was very respectful. He did what he was asked to do. Certainly there were some times he may have missed class or come late to something and he had to receive some discipline.
“In terms of being a teammate and being unselfish…the best thing I can tell you about him. I’ll never forget this. When we won the first championship with him and he was the [Most Outstanding Player] and turned down going to the NBA after his sophomore year and he came back, Sports Illustrated was coming in to do a feature story and they wanted to put he and his father on the cover of Sports Illustrated and it was going to be a big spread before the college season started. The writer was coming in from California.
“Joakim Noah, that day, came to my office and said, ‘Coach, I don’t want to do the interview.’ I’m like, ‘Jo, the guy is coming all the way in from California. We should have done this a few days ago.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’m not going to do it.’ I said, ‘Jo, why don’t you want to do it?’ He said, ‘Because it’s not about me; it’s about our team. I’ll do the interview if they will put the whole team on the cover with me.’
“He had as good of an awareness as I’ve ever seen of a kid. He would be in a locker room and he was like a lightning rod. After the media would leave the locker room, he would talk to the guys about, ‘I know I get all this attention, but I don’t want it. You guys are just as important as me, and I never want you guys to ever feel like I think I’m bigger than the team or the program or anything else.’ He was unbelievable about having a personal awareness of how his actions, how he played, how he practiced impacted everybody. He really, in a lot of ways, was as pure of a person of understanding human nature of selfishness, maybe more so than anybody I’ve ever coached.”
On Jason Williams’s behavior on and off the court
Donovan: “He’s a piece of work. I always tell this story about Jason. He missed a class and I got him up one day and I ran him. A couple days later, he came late for a tutor and I ran him again. He had another problem again and I ran him again. So he comes into my office like the next week and says, ‘Coach, how about this. How about I never go to class and I get up every morning and run at 6 a.m.?’
“You want to talk about a handful? Jason was a good handful because he loved the game; he just wasn’t a fan of school all the time. The thing that was interesting with Jason is we would practice and we would finish practice at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. and he would leave practice, go eat dinner and he would go to the recreation center and play basketball for three hours at our student recreation center with all the students on campus for three hours. All the guy wanted to do is play ball.”
Van Gundy: “When he was here in his last year here, the last year of his career, he wasn’t playing much. He was actually playing in a men’s league here in Orlando. I’m dead serious. He would come and practice. We had to tell him he can’t play in the men’s league.”
On if he has ruled out ever coaching in the NBA
“The one thing that I think is always intriguing the older I get is the fact that [the NBA] is just all basketball. I love the practices, I love the games, I love doing individual instruction and breaking down tape and game planning and doing all those things. Sometimes I think, as you get older, there’s a lot of other things that you have to do here in college. For me right now, I love Florida. I think the one thing that I’ve been fortunate of here is I’ve had the same athletic director, Jeremy Foley, since I first came here. He hired me and he’s still here. He’s wonderful and we have a great relationship.
“I don’t know if I ever want to have that opportunity again or to do it, but I think the thing that intrigues any college coach about the NBA is just that it’s all basketball, all basketball all the time. You’re thinking and working about how to get your team better. For any guy that loves the game, that is always intriguing. I have to say, I’m very happy here at Florida and happy with our team. Getting the opportunity to stay at one place for 17 years, having my entire family and my kids to grow up in one environment I think has been healthy. I think so much in coaching now is so hard because it’s very difficult to stay in one place for a long period of time. In those terms, I’ve been very fortunate from that standpoint.”
On what the biggest pain is about coaching in college
“I still have a passion for recruiting. I still enjoy recruiting. I think recruiting in a lot of ways has changed for the worse. It’s not like it was 15-20 years ago. It’s changed. I think that when our season ends, so much of what I do has nothing to do with our team. We’ll finish up the season if we’re fortunate enough to compete in March. April all the way through until we start individual workouts in September, you’re dealing with a lot of different things. It could be going to speak to booster groups or a fundraiser. I don’t necessarily mind doing those things. I feel removed from basketball a lot of times from the time our season ends to when we get started again. … Most of your time is spent recruiting. As I said, I still enjoy recruiting; I love it, there’s some great situations of some kids we recruited this year that have been really great situations, great families. I do think recruiting has changed.
“I think the other thing that has changed is a lot of kids now, when they look at the fact of the amount of money that the NCAA is making off of television, the NCAA Tournament, there is a level of [frustration about] all these rules and regulations all these guys have got to abide by. If they get a meal or something is for free or anything else, there obviously is a penalty to pay in terms of suspension of games and those kind of things. I think there’s some changes that are going to be made because a lot of these kids have an attitude of, I don’t want to use the word ‘exploited,’ but there is a lot of money being made through institutions, college coaches, people because of the athletics departments. These kids obviously don’t get anything.
“Some of the environments these kids are in where they don’t have the opportunity to pay to go to a movie, pay to go out to dinner, there are things set in place to try and help those situations. For some of these guys, the game of basketball is a way to further their career. Nowadays they look at it this way: ‘I can always get my degree. I’ll always be able to get my degree. But my talent, my ability, my health, I’m only going to be able to play the game a certain period of time. … The mentality of college athletics has really changed. It’s not so much what it was really 15-20 years ago because a lot of things have been exposed all the way around.”
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press