Donovan, Meyer attend gala


Published: Friday, May 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 at 12:25 a.m.

SARASOTA - The goal before the night was done was to raise more than $1 million for cancer research.

With Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan and his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, as keynote speakers for the fourth annual Dick Vitale college basketball coaches gala, fundraising was off to a good start. First came a $50,000 donation from Hooters. Then, Kentucky basketball coach JohnCalipari auctioned off four courtside tickets, transportation and airfare for next season's Kentucky-Louisville game at Rupp Arena. Bidding began at $25,000 and wound up at $50,000

The affair at the Sarasota Ritz Carlton brought dozens from the college basketball and athletic fraternity. Calipari, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, LSU coach Trent Johnson, Villanova coach Jay Wright and Alabama coach Anthony Grant were among the college basketball coaches in attendance. Also there to lend support were Tampa BayBucs coach Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier, Hall of Fame NBA center Bob Lanier and former Super Bowl winning quarterback Doug Williams.

Florida football coach Urban Meyer introduced Donovan for the event. Meyer, Donovan's neighbor and friend, shared a funny story about Donovan singing opera in his boxer shorts and talked about their shared affinity for family.

During Donovan's brief 10 minute speech, he focused on the importance of relationships, how fortunate he was for Pitino to come into his life.

"Sometimes I think about if Coach Pitino hadn't come into my life, how my life would have been different," Donovan said.

Cancer has affected both coaches in different ways. Pitino lost both of his parents to the disease. Donovan said his wife, Christine, lost her best friend to brain cancer four months ago.

"We have a great children's cancer center in Gainesville that we go visit and our team visits," Donovan said. "We had someone close to our program, 12 years old, pass away from leukemia. I think everybody is affected by it one way or another whether it's family, friends or loved ones."

Said Pitino: "We all understand we're going to pass and we try to live our lives as productive as you can. But when you hear children, it just breaks your heart."

Vitale's eyes welled up when he talked about attending Hall of Fame Chuck Daly's funeral and the death of former star Oklahoma and NBA big man Wayman Tisdale. Daly died a week ago at 78 after a bout with pancreatic cancer. Tisdale died Friday of bone cancer, nine months after having part of his right leg amputated due to the disease.

"I remember calling his games," Vitale said. "He was so strong, so young."

The event raised funds for the V Foundation, named after former North Carolina State coach Jimmy Valvano, who succumbed to cancer in 1993. To date, the V Foundation has raised more than $80 million for cancer research in an effort to find a cure.

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