Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

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4/12: Donovan on assistants leaving, new hires, recent arrests, playing in Canada

In addition to announcing the hiring of two new assistant basketball coaches, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Tuesday to discuss a number of topics about his team including 2010-11 assistants leaving, the potential of playing in Canada and how he is going to deal with the recent arrests hovering over the team.

OUT WITH THE OLD…

No matter the situation, it is difficult for any head coach to lose his entire staff – especially when it occurs over a two week period with a pair of assistants moving on in a two-day span. However, Donovan understands that Richard Pitino and Rob Lanier both had opportunities that they could not pass up.

“The last 40 hours have been kind of crazy. Sometimes in coaching you never know about timing and how things are going to happen. About 10 days ago I lost a really, really dear friend and a great coach in Larry Shyatt, and then here over the weekend two situations came up for both Richard Pitino and Rob Lanier,” he explained. “Richard’s got an opportunity right now to go back to Louisville as the associate head coach with an opportunity to possibly be the coach-in-waiting there. That’s been discussed with him. […] Rob Lanier – he and his wife have very strong ties in Austin, TX. Kind of the same situation in Texas, they’ve maybe done this before in football, but there’s a strong possibility he can maybe be coach-in-waiting in Texas. They’ve talked about that.”

Both moves are not only professional but personal as well. “Everybody knows my relationship with Coach [Rick] Pitino, his father, and the way I feel about him,” Donovan said. “With Richard having a baby here any week, the opportunity for him to go back home and be with his family was something that was very, very important to him. He did a great job, and I feel sad that his stay was only for two years. I’ve known him since he was four-years-old, and our relationship has been close. To get an opportunity to work with him like that meant a lot to me, but I’m also excited for him that he will be reunited with his family and be reunited with his dad.” He shared similar information about Lanier. “Another thing for him was the family dynamic of his wife playing a large factor in this decision. As all wives do in this coaching profession, they make incredible sacrifices for their husbands to be able to coach. The opportunity to go back to a lot of very, very dear friends and close friends – and the opportunity to possibly be the head coach at Texas someday – was an opportunity Rob really felt like he needed to take.”

…IN WITH THE (KIND OF) NEW

With a completely empty staff in such a short time period, Donovan had to act fast. The first hire was easy, bringing back longtime assistant and former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John Pelphrey. Already in town on Tuesday, Pelphrey brings a sense of stability to the program. “One of the things I felt like I needed was familiarity,” Donovan said. “Bringing some familiarity in someone back here that knows me, knows Florida, understands the SEC and understands the program is important.”

Next he reached out to former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts, who was working for SportsNet New York last season after being fired in 2010. “Norm is a terrific recruiter, very high character person, very well-respected. He will be great for our program, our team, our kids,” Donovan said. “He has an impeccable reputation and is a great guy. […] He’ll be a tremendous influence on a lot of these guys with the team.” Roberts will be in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday to begin work.

THIRD ASSISTANT POSITION REMAINS VACANT

Asked if he was prepared to hire someone for the third assistant job, Donovan said he has plenty of work to do in order to narrow the extensive list of candidates down and eventually choose someone. “I’m looking at a lot of other people in that third spot. I don’t know who that’s going to be right now,” he said. “I wanted to get two people in place right away that I thought could make a great impact. There’s a lot of good coaches out there. The one thing that’s been somewhat overwhelming and really positive is the amount of interest there’s been, especially when Larry left.”

The recruiting period begins on Friday and both Pelphrey and Roberts will hit the road immediately. Donovan will not rush to hire someone just to keep the seat warm. “That’s one thing about this profession. Sometimes you never know about timing and opportunities,” he said.

DISAPPOINTED IN MURPHY, LARSON FOR ARRESTS

Before discussing the coaching changes, Donovan made a statement about the recent third-degree burglary arrests of forwards sophomore Erik Murphy and Cody Larson. “I know there was some very unfortunate events, that I was very disappointed in, that took place this weekend with Cody Larson and Erik Murphy,” he said. “I made a statement that both guys are suspended right now from our team. I really can’t take any questions and cannot talk about it because obviously it’s ongoing. All I can say is I’m disappointed in those guys. They’re disappointed in themselves. And we’ll have to wait and see what happens going forward.”

Though he mostly refused to discuss the situation in detail, he expanded on his comments at the end of the press conference. “I want to find out if what was out there, how that plays itself out. I don’t know where I’m at until I find out more,” Donovan said. “I talked to both of them yesterday and told them upfront that I was not in a position to talk about what they were going through. They’ll have to get legal representation. They’re going to have to make some family decisions and do some things. I’ve got to see the way all this plays out. Certainly the decision they made was very disappointing. The fact that they were arrested was very disappointing. For that, they’re going to be suspended here from all activities. That will probably be something I’ll have to make a decision on once all that’s settled.

“The kids know how I feel. We’ve been fortunate here that we haven’t had a lot of that kind of stuff. Sometimes those things happen. At the end of this process, I believe the truth is going to come out exactly what happened. And then from that truth, I’ll have a chance to react a little bit.”

OH, CANADA

In order to get some extra (NCAA-acceptable) practice in over the summer, Donovan said he may take the team on a trip to Canada in August. Teams are allowed to take a trip out of the country once every four years, according to NCAA regulations. Florida would get 10 practices beginning in the end of July, something Donovan believes could help in the transition period of losing three starters and gaining (by then) three new coaches.

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Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

A familiar face and an old friend will be joining Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan in Gainesville, FL next season. On Tuesday, the University of Florida announced that a pair of former head coaches – John Pelphrey and Norm Roberts – have been hired as assistants for the basketball team.

“Having John back will be a great addition to our program,’’ Donovan said in a school release. “Obviously, he has a level of familiarity with me and with the University of Florida makes this a great fit. John’s a great coach, he’s a great friend and has a love for Florida, and we’re excited to bring him back. Being from New York, I’ve known Norm for a long [time]. He’s an outstanding coach, he’s a great recruiter, has high character and integrity and I’m thrilled to have him on our staff here at Florida.”

An assistant at Florida for six seasons (1996-2002), Pelphrey will be reunited with his close friend and mentor. He played under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and head coach Rick Pitino with the Kentucky Wildcats and served as an assistant on Donovan’s first coaching staff for two seasons with the Marshall Thundering Herd (1994-96). He joined Donovan when he was hired by UF, helping lead the Gators to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Pelphrey left in 2002 for a head coaching gig with the South Alabama Jaguars, where he led the team for five seasons. He won the Sun Belt Championship, was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and brought his squad to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. USA would end up falling to Florida in the first round.

Noticing his success at a smaller school, Arkansas hired him to lead their program in 2007. Pelphrey brought the Razorbacks their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1999 in his first season but failed to replicate his success over the following three. He was fired by Arkansas on March 13 even though he had a top-tier recruiting class on its way in.

Roberts, who does not have any direct coaching connection to Donovan, is – like his new boss – a native New Yorker. He most recently served as head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm from 2004-10 but was fired on March 19, 2010, after leading the team to an unimpressive 81-101 record in six seasons.

Donovan is in the middle of reshaping his coaching staff as he has now lost all three of his 2010-11 assistants in one offseason. Long-time cohort Larry Shyatt accepted the top job at Wyoming, assistant Rob Lanier is returning to coach at Texas, and assistant Richard Pitino will join his father’s staff at Louisville.

OGGOA learned on April 3 that Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall is a top candidate to fill a role on Donovan’s revamped coaching staff. Another option is former Florida player Brett Nelson, who coached under Pelphrey at Arkansas last season.

Photo Credit: Unknown, Chris Trotman/Getty Images

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Billy Donovan on Shipman, recruiting, coaching

From falling to the Brigham Young Cougars in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament and losing sophomore guard Ray Shipman to transfer to being a name rumored in two head coaching openings (St. Johns, Oregon) while recruiting players for his 2010 and 2011 classes, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan has had plenty on his mind in recent weeks.

Speaking with the media Wednesday, Donovan appeared somewhat distraught at losing Shipman, a “great kid” who he empathizes with and would take back “in a heartbeat.”

Read what Donovan said about Shipman and the team’s future after the break!
Continue Reading » Billy Donovan on Shipman, recruiting, coaching

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Donovan turns down St. John’s, UF disagrees

On Sunday, the New York Post and New York Daily News reported that St. John’s University had made initial contact University of Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan about filling their job opening. According to the Post’s sources, Donovan spoke with a Red Storm booster late Friday and “was intrigued by what he heard.”

The Post also claimed that St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch had already requested permission from Florida AD Jeremy Foley to speak with Donovan directly about the position and even had Donovan quoted as saying the following via text message in response to the story: “I am very happy here, and we have a very good team coming back next season. St. John’s has a great tradition, and I have great respect for that program.”

However, Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun said respective statements from Foley and Donovan refuted that story. Foley contended that he had yet to be contacted by Monasch, while Donovan claimed that he could not control what is being written about him in the press and that he had only briefly spoken with a school alumnus who happens to be close to the Post.

Now, two days later, the Daily News is reporting that Donovan has put a halt to the Red Storm’s overtures by turning down “a contract in excess of $3 million per year.” Their source claims Donovan denied the offer with a: “Thank you so much but no thank you.”

“Billy was hugely flattered about being offered a job with such potential,” the Daily News’ source said. “But he and his family have something great going on in Gainesville.”

The Gators are once again denying this report, with a Florida spokesman and Foley himself saying there is “no truth” to the story.

Pete Thamel of the New York Times spoke with Foley, who said he would certainly be aware if an offer was made to Donovan. “There’s no way he’s talking to other schools and getting a contract offer and he’s not talking to me,” Foley said. “He doesn’t operate that way.” He also indicated that no one from the university had contacted him for the opportunity to speak with his coach.

OGGOA will continue updating this item as more information is made available.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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St. John’s makes initial contact with Donovan

The New York Post confirmed Sunday that St. John’s University has indeed made initial contact University of Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan about filling their job opening. According to the Post’s sources, Donovan spoke with a Red Storm booster late Friday and “was intrigued by what he heard.”

Nevertheless, it would take a lot (and certainly a contract exceeding his current $3.5 million per season) to lure Donovan away from Gainesville, FL. Currently, the school is looking to spend under $2 million per year for a coach, though it could raise plenty of additional money through private donations.

“I am very happy here, and we have a very good team coming back next season,” Donovan told the Post via text message. “St. John’s has a great tradition, and I have great respect for that program.”

Donovan, who is already “breaking down film of his team’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to BYU and working on his recruiting plan” for Florida, is doing exactly what one would expect a coach to do in preparation for remaining at his job next season.

The Post also reported that Red Storm athletic director Chris Monasch already requested permission from Gators AD Jeremy Foley to speak with Donovan directly about the position, though that information is being disputed by Foley (see below).

UPDATE: In text messages he received from Donovan and Foley, respectively, Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun reports that the Post’s story is not 100 percent accurate. Donovan told Dooley that he cannot control what is being written about him in the press and that he has only spoken with a school alumnus who is close to the Post, while Foley contends that he has not yet been contacted by Monasch.

OGGOA will continue updating this breaking story.

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FOUR BITS: Billy D to St. John’s? Allen’s recovery.

1 » OGGOA was going back-and-forth with Tommy Dee of The Knicks Blog during the Florida Gators’ first round 2010 NCAA Tournament game about the potential future move of head coach Billy Donovan to the St. John’s Red Storm. Citing the fact that St. John’s is now willing to spend money on a coach, Dee thought it was possible that a move could happen. Throwing gasoline on that fire is Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News, who claims that Donovan is the “answer to St. John’s coaching needs.” From his time at Providence and with the New York Knicks to his continued ability to recruit out of the northeast, Weiss says the Red Storm should start and end their search with Donovan because “he is the perfect choice for this job.”

2 » On Oct. 16 and exactly one month later on Nov. 16, OGGOA reported that Gators redshirt sophomore forward Adam Allen’s career was likely over after a third surgery on his knee. Allen’s chronic knee, which was thought to be a bone bruise but turned out to be an MCL injury with a “loose” kneecap, appeared to be career-threatening. That is until he met with Dr. Lonnie Paulos at the Andrews Institute, who gave him some encouraging news, according to Gator Country. “[He] said he could probably do some stuff to it,” Allen said. “I had the surgery and after the surgery, he was pretty confident that I would be able to come back.” He hopes to get support from the NCAA to remain a sophomore since one injury has kept him out two seasons.

More on basketball and a National Coach of the Year winner after the jump!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Billy D to St. John’s? Allen’s recovery.

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Gators take on No. 2 Spartans in Legends Classic

Facing their toughest test on the court since the 2006-2007 season, the Florida Gators basketball team (4-0) will take on the No. 2/2 Michigan State Spartans (4-0) in the opening game of the 2009 Legends Classic on Friday at 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, NJ. Florida will then face either the UMass Minutemen or Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.

This is the sixth meeting between the Gators and Spartans, with Michigan State holding a 3-2 lead in the series. The Spartans won the last meeting 68-56 in Tampa in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament and also defeated the Gators 89-76 in the 2000 National Championship. Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo are contemporaries, having known each other since the early 1990s.

Much more on the Florida vs. Michigan State game as well as some notes on women’s basketball and volleyball after the jump…
Continue Reading » Gators take on No. 2 Spartans in Legends Classic

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