I’m glad that Billy Donovan will still be donning orange and blue next season.
The orange will be a darker hue than the Florida orange — dark enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder media guide to brand it “red,” but don’t let that deceive your eyes — and the blue will be a lighter shade than the Florida blue, but the job he took is an incredible way to finally scratch that itch to coach in the NBA. In Oklahoma City and its dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Donovan inherited a championship contender that is poised to win now and down the line, assuming everyone stays healthy and re-signs with Oklahoma City. If the Thunder can capture that NBA title with Donovan at the helm, he will join Larry Brown as the only coach to win an NBA title and NCAA Championship.
Donovan is already an all-time legend, but that accomplishment would take him to a new stratosphere.
After all that Donovan has accomplished with the Gators, the only thing that’s disappointing about the departure is that his final year in Gainesville was the most down of down years. That’s something that can heal easily with time, though, especially with his record overall in the 19 years he spent with the Gators. The back-to-back national championships, the four Final Fours, the four consecutive Elite Eights between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 seasons, and the SEC’s first 18-0 regular season in 2013-14. All this and more accomplished alongside the Steve Spurrier/Urban Meyer behemoth of a Florida football program.
My personal frame of reference with Donovan at Florida is more limited compared to everyone else. My first exposure to the Billyball was a month after I was accepted into UF in 2007, when he coached the 04s of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Lee Humphery in that second championship run through March Madness. Selfishly, I was glad Donovan turned his back on the Orlando Magic so I could see him coach in person. Although the team struggled in 2007 and 2008, I got to witness the process for myself of how he developed his players over time. The payoff came in the 2010-11 season, my senior year, when Chandler Parsons just took over the SEC and helped lead this band of Gators to the Elite Eight.
But the job that Donovan did with the Class of 2010 will make their senior season squad in 2013-14 one of my favorite sports teams ever. I got to watch Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather at the O’Dome their first two years and they all looked like just good role players. In the two years after I graduated, he crafted that core four to be greater than the sum of its parts, and that work culminated with the Elite Eight appearance with Bradley Beal in 2013 and that wonderful Final Four run in 2014. There was no true star on the 2013-14 team, but those players embodied Donovan’s persistence and tenacity with the way their defense carried them to victories and the SEC record books.
The grittiness of that 2013-14 team is how I’ll choose to remember the Billy Donovan Era at the University of Florida. Donovan built and sustained the basketball program, and that 2013-14 team is as much of a shining example of his coaching and personal work ethic as his championship teams. (Another personal work ethic example: I used to often see him run the Pressly Stadium track in the morning when I lived in Springs and it was always a reminder to myself that if he could make the time go run, then so could I. It helped me my last couple years at UF.)
I doubt that the Chesapeake Energy Arena will be blaring U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name when Donovan coaches his first home game for the Thunder later this fall, but that song (playing alongside a lovely montage by the UAA Marketing team, of course) will be waiting for him at the O’Dome whenever he can return. More than 10,000 Gators in the stands and that hardwood floor at the O’Dome, hopefully with a moniker like “The Billy Donovan Court at the O’Connell Center” affixed to it, will also be there to greet Donovan when he’s ready.
I just hope is that when Donovan returns to Gainesville, he’ll bring back with a couple of orange and blue NBA championship rings to compliment the orange and blue NCAA ones he already has.