Gator fans have hard time believing Donovan is leaving


Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

When rumors started to circulate Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan was accepting the Orlando Magic's lucrative job offer, Gator fans refused to believe the two-time national championship coach was actually leaving.

But as Thursday afternoon progressed and the rumors transformed into fact, fans seemed to share only one sentiment.

"It's a sad day in Gator Nation," University of Florida senior Amanda Edwards said.

Edwards, a Gainesville native, has been attending basketball games since she was a child.

For the past 11 years, Edwards grew up on Billy Ball, so she was dumbfounded when her mother called her to tell her the news.

"I hope he kicks (tail) in the NBA, but I'm still a Gator and I don't know how to process all of this," Edwards said. "It's just going to be kind of hard to go to a game and not see him standing on the sidelines."

Like Edwards, fans around Gainesville had a hard time believing the news.

The Swamp Restaurant was fairly empty at 5 p.m., but Tim Boyett, a 1994 UF graduate and a current Gainesville resident, discussed Donovan's departure with his waitress, Nicole Marchard.

Boyett heard of the news when a friend e-mailed him a "rumor of the day" message, which was a copy of the initial report from the Orlando Sentinel.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is crazy,'" Boyett said. "After he turned down Kentucky, I thought for sure he was staying."

On Florida's campus, sophomore Nathan Krowitz was sporting a T-shirt with the phrase "Billy Ball: The Gator Nation of Domination" in blue lettering with orange trim when he heard the news.

Krowitz received the shirt on April 2 when he went to watch the national championship game at the O'Connell Center.

The political science major didn't really have a problem with Donovan's decision but was more emotional about the marketing concept for his clothing.

"If that's what's best for him, then he should take it," Krowitz said. "I'm actually more (ticked) off that this shirt has his name on it."

The news had a far more reaching affect than in the approximately 54 square miles Gainesville occupies.

Florida junior Lindsey Cull is one of the thousands of students who went home for summer break and was shopping with her mother at the Westfield Brandon Mall in the Tampa Bay area when she heard the news.

Cull's roommate Mandi Radder, also a Florida student, text messaged Cull about Donovan after reading a report on ESPN.com.

"I was in shock," said Cull, who attended this year's national championship game. "I started frantically texting everyone I knew."

Cull said she has family visiting from Boston, and the out-of-towners didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

"I was like, 'Hello! This is a really big part of my life,'" Cull said.

With Donovan gone, Edwards said she isn't so sure about the future of the program or the future of the top-ranked recruiting class Donovan secured.

"What's their motivation to stay now?" Edwards pondered. "Who could possibly replace Billy Donovan?"

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