Gators, Jays have much in common
Published: Thursday, March 20, 2008 at 11:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 at 11:12 p.m.
Creighton coach Dana Altman was surprised to learn that he had just one less career win (282) than the 283 amassed by Florida coach Billy Donovan.
Florida vs. Creighton
What: Second round of NIT
When: Today, 9:30 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
TV/Radio: ESPNU/AM-850, 103.7 FM
"He's got a lot more wins in a lot shorter period of time," Altman said, with a chuckle. "And he's got a lot of meaningful wins."
When Florida hosts Creighton tonight in the second-round National Invitation Tournament game at the O'Connell Center (9:30 p.m., ESPNU), it will match a pair of coaches with a similar history who have faced similar circumstances.
Like Donovan, Altman began his head coaching career at Marshall, spending a season with the Thundering Herd (1989-90) before leaving for Kansas State. Like Donovan, Altman has coached through a rebuilding season that's included some surprise wins and disappointing losses.
And like Donovan, who returned to Florida after accepting an NBA coaching job with the Orlando Magic, Altman faced a gut-wrenching decision when he chose to return for his 14th season at Creighton after accepting the head job last spring at Arkansas.
"It was a crazy period for me and I'm sure it was a crazy period for Billy," Altman said. "Again on a different level, you know, him with the NBA and me just talking to another school. For me, personally, it wasn't anything I really want to remember too much. It was a long week. Fortunately the people at Creighton and Omaha have been really good about it, the team has been really good about it."
Altman returned to Creighton for family reasons to coach a team of four new starters. Donovan returned to coach a team that lost all five starters and SEC sixth-man of the year Chris Richard from his back-to-back national title teams.
Both coaches failed to make the NCAA Tournament, which is about as rare as a comet sighting. Donovan had a string of nine straight NCAA Tournament snapped when Florida lost its first four games in March. Altman has taken Creighton to the NCAA Tournament in seven of his last 10 seasons.
"He's done a terrific job at Creighton," Donovan said. "I think he's one of the better coaches in the country. His teams are always really, really well-prepared, well-coached."
Altman's decision to return to Creighton opened the door for Donovan's former top assistant at Florida and close friend, John Pelphrey, to take the coaching job at Arkansas. Pelphrey will lead the Razorbacks to a first-round NCAA Tournament game today against Indiana.
Had Altman decided to take the Arkansas job, Donovan and Altman would have already faced each other last month.
"He's obviously had a chance to go a few different places, to coach a few different places, but he's really built on the tradition that Creighton has," Donovan said. "He's had some good teams and very, very good players."
Altman is 2-0 lifetime against Donovan, with the last meeting coming on a much bigger stage. In the first round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Creighton beat Florida in double-overtime 83-82 in a game remembered for former Gator (and Gainesville native) Orien Greene being whistled for a five-second violation on a crucial late in-bounds play.
Both coaches share cautious optimism about the future after guiding their teams to near identical records (Creighton 22-10, Florida 22-11). Donovan has been exasperated by the lack of passion and execution at the defensive end of the floor, which led to Florida's late-season collapse.
"Our defense is not where it needs to be and I'm trying to get them collectively, as a group, to understand that," Donovan said.
Creighton, like Florida, starts two freshmen. Just as Florida guard Nick Calathes was named Southeastern Conference co-freshman of the year and SEC newcomer of the year, Creighton freshman guard P'Allen Stinnett was named Missouri Valley Conference freshman/newcomer of the year.
Altman said fans at Creighton have been patient through the rebuilding year, but that his expectations remain high for a program that's produced NBA players Kyle Korver and Rodney Buford under his watch.
"It really depends on how hard they work," Altman said. "It's in their hands because I do like our freshman class. I think they are very talented. But they haven't shown the consistency, they haven't shown the work ethic, they haven't shown some of those things it takes to develop to become good players.
"If these guys work at it, I think we'll have a chance to build a solid nucleus for the next few years. But there's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done."
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