One-on-one with Billy D


Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The sun has just begun to kiss the morning Gainesville sky. The chill in the air will soon be replaced by the warmth of another "winter" day in Florida, and Billy Donovan is wearing one of three uniforms.
If he's coaching the Florida basketball team in a game, he wears a suit. At practice, it's shorts and a T-shirt. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he's wearing his Nike sweats as he drives to give a talk to the Gator Tipoff Club at Savannah Grande. It's one of the two "Breakfasts with Billy" the Florida coach does each year.
He has skipped breakfast at home - which is usually a protein shake - and won't gobble down the eggs and sausage that are served to the Tipoff Club members. It won't be until early afternoon before Donovan ingests his first meal of this day.
As he drives his Sequoia (he also purchased a Mini Cooper after seeing "The Italian Job") to the meeting, the coach of one of the hottest stories in college basketball turns on his iPod and tunes the car radio to an FM channel that allows him to play his favorite music through the speakers.
"My wife gave it to me two Christmases ago," Donovan says later in the day. "But I'm terrible with computers. I couldn't download anything. My nephew was down from New York, and he downloaded everything I needed."
That includes music from U2, R.E.M., Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead.
"I'm a big rock and roll guy," he says. "And alternative music. I love Coldplay."
Donovan arrives at 7:40 a.m. as the employees at the Savannah Grande are trying to find extra chairs and tables to accommodate the overflow crowd. When you're unbeaten halfway through the season, everyone wants to hear what you have to say.
He starts by going over the last two games Florida has played, then opens it up for questions. For 45 minutes, he answers each one with insight and humor. Asked about verbal exchanges with officials during stressful moments of a game, Donovan replies, "We're just making plans for dinner."
A member of the audience has asked about sophomore Corey Brewer.
"Last year, he would come down the court firing up 3-pointers," Donovan says. "He'd come over to the huddle and say, 'Coach, I'm wide open.' I told him, 'Corey, you're wide open for a reason. They're not guarding you.' "
He answers questions about everything from freshman Jimmie Sutton, who is redshirting, to perceived favoritism toward Duke to the NCAA. He defends the Big Three from last year - David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. He says he's in favor of instant replay "if they can do it quickly."
And with the crowd satisfied, he's back in his car and headed to campus.
At 9 a.m., Donovan is climbing the stairs after going through the back door of the UF practice facility to his office for the next half an hour. Sometimes that time is used to call recruits or high school coaches or take calls from other college coaches. On this day, he's answering questions about his daily routine.
This day will be different in one way. At 9:40 a.m., Donovan retreats to the locker room to put on a black suit. The Florida team picture will be taken on the practice facility court. It's unusual to take a team picture halfway through the season, but the preseason photo shoot was postponed because freshman guard Walter Hodge's brother was killed in Puerto Rico. Hodge left the team then to go home, and the picture was re-scheduled.
From 10 a.m. to noon, Donovan meets with his coaches - Anthony Grant, Donnie Young and Larry Shyatt - about what transpired in the last game. He gives them Sundays off to be with their families, but the head coach studies tape in his office at home.
"I never watch college basketball," he says. "Shyatt called me Sunday to see if I was watching Ohio State-Michigan State. I was watching tape of our game with Auburn. But I did see the end of the Colts-Steelers game."
The Donovan schedule is only altered when the Gators play a late night road game.
"If we get in at 3 a.m. or something, by the time I get home I'm not going to get any sleep anyway," he says. "So, I'll just pull an all-nighter. I have so much in my head I have a hard time sleeping anyway. My sleep patterns are always changing. They aren't good. I wake up every two hours."
During the meeting with his three assistant coaches, different ideas are thrown out about things the Gators need to work on. They talk about specific players and necessary improvement. They add new plays, new wrinkles.
"It doesn't matter what the name is on the other uniforms," Donovan says of Florida's Wednesday opponent Savannah State. "We're going to get better."
They watch tape, broken down by categories. One tape shows every time the Gators were in transition defense against Auburn. Another shows every half-court offensive possession for UF.
It's a far cry from his first years in the business as a Kentucky graduate assistant. Now, he has someone who has everything prepared for the coaches. Then ...
"I remember being in a hotel room with two VCRs on top of each other," he says. "I'd sit there and play one tape and record it on the other and then play the tape and rewind the other tape. I had stacks of tapes and I'd have to put everything in order."
At 12:40 p.m., Donovan heads back downstairs for a brief television interview, then over to the Women's' Club for the weekly Media Day. For the second time on this day, he answers questions about the strength of the conference, his scheduling and his team.
"We as a team collectively have played about as well as we can play," he says. "But we have areas where we can get better."
The news conference lasts 30 minutes but Donovan stops on his walk back to the practice facility to answer questions from a French journalist about Joakim Noah. Finally, back in his office, it's time for a quick lunch at his desk.
While dinner is always special, lunch is routine. Almost too routine.
Turkey and swiss from Larry's Subs on 34th Street. A little mayo, a little mustard, a little lettuce.
Donovan finds a lunch he likes and that's all she wrote.
"I've asked him if he wants me to get him something else from Larry's," said basketball office manager Tracy Pfaff, who picks up the sub daily. "But no, turkey and swiss. It has been like this for a few months now."
At 1:45 p.m., Donovan assembles his assistants again, this time to discuss what will happen at the day's practice. What tapes do they want to show the team? What do we want to do in the first 15 minutes? How can they get better? Occasionally, the meeting is interrupted by a phone call Donovan has to take.
The Monday practice when there is a Wednesday game is more about the Gators than about the opponent. That comes Tuesday.
At 2:45 p.m., Donovan pulls point guard Taurean Green into his office to watch some tape of the Auburn game. Often, Donovan will have a quick one-on-one session with a player so he can show him individual things.
At 3 p.m., the team reports to the weight room for a half-hour of lifting. Donovan reviews some more tape.
"People might think it sounds boring to watch all of this tape," he says, "but I enjoy it. Especially with what is basically a new team, I see something different every time I sit down to watch it."
It is 3:45 p.m. and the team is on the practice floor. Donovan has 15 minutes of tape he wants them to watch from the victory over Auburn that he wants them to watch as a team. That done, they stretch for 15 minutes, then start practice.
By now it is 4:15 and the practice won't end for almost two hours. It's a fine line between pushing his young team and pushing it too hard. Sometimes the coaching staff will come up with entertaining games to play to lighten the mood.
Practice ends at 6 and Donovan is ready for his workout. When the day begins, he never knows for sure when it will come, only that it will. At 6:15, he is on the treadmill.
Three times a week he does cardio work, three times a week he lifts weights. His regular treadmill routine is to alternate between running for five minutes and walking on an incline for five minutes. Occasionally, he'll go across the street to the UF track and run laps.
"People wonder how I can run in circles, but I turn it into a competition with myself," he says. "Is this lap one second faster than the last one?"
After showering at the facility and gathers tapes to watch, Donovan reaches his home in Haile Plantation by 7:30 p.m. His wife Christine and their children have eaten, but he knows a meal will be perfectly prepared for him.
"My wife is a great cook, I mean a great cook," he says, "Every night she has a four-course meal for me."
On this night, it's chicken Marsala over noodles with broccoli and chocolate cake for desert. While he eats at the kitchen counter, Donovan has some precious time with his four children.
This is the hardest part for a coach in season or even in recruiting season - balancing the family and the demands of a high-profile, high-intensity job.
"The thing that becomes hard is the kids' activities," Donovan says. "On Friday night, I left practice and went to Ocala to see my son Billy play basketball. Bryan is in a basketball league. My daughter (Hasbrouck) is riding horses. I try to spend time with them. We're in a carpool so sometimes I drive them to school.
"It's difficult because when I was a kid my dad was at everything I did. I don't know what it's like growing up and your dad's not there. They go off to a tournament or something and the other kids have both parents there.
"My wife is great. There is no question she works just as hard as I do. She's up at 6:15 in the morning with me. She makes Rice Krispies treats and brownies for the players for every road trip. The worst thing that you can have is coming to work knowing your wife and kids aren't happy. I try to help out when I can - give our 3-year-old a bath or put the dishes in the dishwasher, help get the kids to bed."
On this night, Donovan puts 3-year old Connor to bed at 8:15. Fifteen minutes later, a call comes from one of the bedrooms. Bryan asks his father to lay down with him.
"He just wanted to talk about the day each one of us had," Billy says later. "What I did, what he did."
Bryan's day included going to the movie "Glory Road" with his grandfather. His dad, well, now you know what he did.
Once Bryan's tired eyes have closed, the coach of the nation's second-ranked team spends some time with his wife. But there is more work to be done. Donovan makes a few phone calls at 9:30, to high school coaches and his assistants. At 10, the TV in his office is alive again, this time with tapes of both his next opponent and his own team.
By 11:45, Billy Donovan is ready for bed. Another day has been completed, goals accomplished, turkey and swiss and chicken and broccoli consumed.
Another day in the life of the dean of SEC coaches.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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