Donovan is UF's real point man


Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 11:38 p.m.

Let me start out with a caveat before I get too carried away.

It's early. Florida is only six games into the SEC schedule. The NCAA Tournament is still on the bubble. Florida has one significant win this season.

OK, got that out of the way.

Now, listen up.

I don't care that it's early. I don't care that Florida is six games into the SEC schedule. I don't care that the NCAA Tournament is still on the bubble. I don't care that Florida has one significant win this season.

And I'm getting the sense that you don't either.

And that you now consider June 2 to be a Gator National holiday.

That was the day Billy Donovan woke up and realized he needed to be Florida's basketball coach and not Orlando's. That was the day he decided it was worth the public ridicule and cheap jokes to follow his heart.

You have been seeing the fruits of that decision for 21 games, watching a team that looked shaky in November get coached up to the point where it could win twice in the SEC on the road and spank a ranked team in the O'Connell Center.

You have realized what you should have realized a long time ago.

It's not that Florida is 18-3 with a bullet. It's more than wins and losses.

It's about watching the molding of a bunch of freshmen and sophomores into a team that is not only playing well but is fun to watch. It's about watching a brilliant coach at work.

Donovan and his staff have done a marvelous job, especially when you consider that they have had to tweak the practice schedules since October because of the lack of bodies on scholarship. That Donovan has made the adjustment to figure out when he can push the kids and when he can't is another testament to his coaching ability.

There is no doubt in my mind Donovan is at the top of his game as a coach today and that's only until tomorrow. Every day, every week, every month that goes by he picks up something.

This team is a reflection of Donovan because it gets it. These guys understand. They listen not just to hear. Because the coach comes not only with an ability to communicate but with a resume thick with success.

OK, Dooley, enough gushing about the Florida basketball coach. Take off the orange and blue glasses. Hey, is that a Gator ringtone on your cell?

No, it's Tom Petty but thanks for asking. All I'm trying to do is point out the obvious here that Donovan is one of the best coaches in America. And before he's finished, I think he'll be in the conversation about the greatest coaches in college basketball history.

Well, at least its obvious to me. Maybe this season, if it continues like this, it will become obvious to everyone else.

Oh, the national guys get it. Sort of. But around the South, not so much.

After all, we're talking about a guy who has never been SEC coach of the year. And the objective truth is that he could have won it any of the last three years.

The coaches have never voted for Donovan. The writers have never voted for Donovan. I'm sure on his bucket list there is no mention of being named coach of the year in the SEC. But it really is amazing.

There has always been an interesting dynamic surrounding Billy Donovan the coach. For so long, he was known as a guy who could recruit. Then, he was known as a guy who couldn't get out of the first weekend of the tournament. Newspaper archives are filled with venomous columns about One and Done-ovan.

Nobody bothered to point out that Donovan built a program from nothing. When he lost close games, Gator fans questioned his late-game tactics. When he made the Final Four in 2000, it was because of the talent. When he struggled in the postseason from 2001-05, it was because he couldn't coach.

Billy Donovan isn't a great coach because of what happened the last two years. He's not a great coach because of what is happening this season.

He's a great coach because of what happens every season Florida wins 20 and plays in the Big Dance.

Hey, the Magic didn't want Donovan because of his recruiting.

They wanted him because he can coach.

Donovan, 42, is still relatively young for a head coach. And he's not going anywhere for a while.

For that reason, Gator fans should at least pop a cork every June 2.

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