Donovan set to face former assistant Jones


Marshall coach Donnie Jones gestures during the first half of Marshall's basketball game against West Virginia on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008, in Charleston, W.Va. West Virginia won 66-64. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.

Billy Donovan and Donnie Jones reached three Final Fours and won two national championships during their 11 years coaching together at Florida.

Facts

At a glance

Who: No. 18 Florida Gators (5-1) vs. UCF Knights (5-0)
When: 7 tonight
Where: Amway Center, Orlando
Gainesville TV: FSN
Gainesville radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 So. 15.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg
G Erving Walker 5-8 Jr. 12.3 ppg, 4.0 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Sr. 11.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 Sr. 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Sr. 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

UCF PROBABLE STARTERS

G Marcus Jordan 6-3 So. 16.8 ppg, 2.6 apg
G A.J. Rompza 5-9 Jr. 7.2 ppg, 4.6 apg
F David Diakite 6-6 So. 5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg
F Keith Clanton 6-8 So. 16.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg
C Dwight McCombs 6-8 Jr. 4.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Notes:Florida will play the first collegiate event in the $380 million Amway Center tonight. ... The Gators also played the first collegiate event at the old Amway Arena, losing 84-69 to Stanford on Feb. 6, 1989. ... Florida is 9-0 all-time against UCF. ... UCF enters the game averaging 85.8 points per game, shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range. ... Sophomore Marcus Jordan, the son of Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan, leads the Knights in scoring. ... Florida has out-rebounded five of its first six opponents and are out-rebounding the opposition by 8.2 per game. ... The Gators are 77-20 in November under Billy Donovan.

— Kevin Brockway

Yet the chance union between Donovan and his former longtime assistant almost never happened. Donovan was set to hire a graduate assistant from Kentucky when he took over as head coach at Marshall in 1994. Jones, already an assistant from the previous Marshall regime, was peddling resumes during the Final Four that April.

When the graduate assistant chose to stay in Kentucky and coach high schools instead, Donovan kept Jones on his staff.

"Probably the best thing that happened for me was that guy turned down the job," Donovan said.

Florida and UCF will play the first college basketball game at the recently built Amway Center in downtown Orlando. Yet the storyline will center on the first-ever meeting between Donovan and Jones, who took over as UCF's head coach this season after two seasons coaching at Marshall.

"Obviously, our experiences together have been like family," Jones said. "His dad is like my dad. Our families, we vacationed together in St. Augustine again during the summer. There is a bond there, a closeness there."

Jones recalled Donovan as being "very focused, very serious" when he took his first head coaching job at Marshall. Unsure of his future, Jones said he kept working, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

"He was the one who actually kept everything intact," Donovan said. "It's like anything else, when you take over a job sometimes you don't realize the problems that are inside the job until you get there. There were definitely some issues academically with some of those guys, and some eligibility issues and different things. And for really about a three- or four-week period, Donnie was unbelievable."

Donovan said Jones never asked for any assurances of a job during the four-week period he was in limbo.

"The one thing I've always respected about Donnie is there is a lot of substance to him, a lot of character there," Donovan said.

Donovan rewarded Jones' hard work by keeping him on staff. But that didn't stop Donovan from taking some good-natured jabs at his new assistant. Jones said that Donovan used to get on him for wearing the same suits all of the time. There was the black one and the blue one.

"We needed to help him with his wardrobe," Donovan said. "What happened was, I had a TV show back then. It was more (funded by) sponsors, so he used to create sponsors. So sometimes a restaurant would sponsor and they would give our staff food or a clothing store or whatever. But Donnie did a pretty good job using up all the money for the clothing store or the restaurant stuff, so I never got a chance to use any of that."

Donovan said he had no doubts about Jones' loyalty two years later when he brought him to Florida in 1996. By then, Donovan had surrounded himself with a talented and hard-working staff that included Jones, current Alabama coach Anthony Grant and current Arkansas coach John Pelphrey.

The four toiled 12- to 14-hour days at a Residence Inn in Gainesville in an effort to build a perennial Top 25 program. Big-time recruits Mike Miller, Teddy Dupay and Brett Nelson signed, signalling a change in how Florida basketball was perceived nationally.

"It's just kind of where we started," Jones said. "The early years, we were trying to build the Florida brand, trying to build a consistent winner. There were players that went on to the pros, but there were also players that went to graduate and become successful. You cherish all of those relationships."

There were trying times, too. Donovan, Grant and Pelphrey all lost stillborn and infant children during a three-year period.

"I lost a daughter," Donovan said. "Anthony Grant lost a son, John Pelphrey lost a son. They are all buried (at Forest Meadows Cemetery) on 43rd (Street) together. All their graves are right there, together. So there are things that have happened over a 13, 14, 15-year period for the four of us that will be forever interwoven in terms of relationships, things that happened."

Pelphrey was the first assistant to leave, taking the head coaching job at South Alabama in 2002. Grant left for his first head coaching job at Virginia Commonwealth in 2006. Jones left to return to Marshall as head coach in 2007.

Donovan is 5-1 against his former assistants, with his lone loss coming against Pelphrey at Arkansas during the 2007-08 season.

"You just hate when you walk off the court that somebody's got to lose because you know what kind of guy he is and how hard he works," Donovan said. "That's more the hard part when one end loses, when you've got two people that are close."

Donovan said Jones talked to him before leaving Marshall for UCF last March. Jones has won his first five games with the Knights.

"He's going to do a great job and has done a great job," Donovan said. "He's gotten his team off to a great start. I always think there's that sentiment leading up to the game, more a level of awareness because we do so many similar things both offensively and defensively. I've always said that it's always hard when you go against a guy that's worked with you and has done such a great job for us here at Florida.

"But I also think the game is about the kids. Those are going to be the ones that are playing in between the lines."

Jones said he's leaned on Donovan early this season for advice, but has kept phone calls to a minimum this week.

"It's a great opportunity for us," Jones said. "You want your program to reach the level of a Florida someday. Obviously we have a long way to go to get there, but we're trying to build in that direction."

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 So. 15.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Jr. 12.3 ppg, 4.0 apg

F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Sr. 11.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg

F Alex Tyus 6-8 Sr. 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg

C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Sr. 7.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

UCF PROBABLE STARTERS

G Marcus Jordan 6-3 So. 16.8 ppg, 2.6 apg

G A.J. Rompza 5-9 Jr. 7.2 ppg, 4.6 apg

F David Diakite 6-6 So. 5.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg

F Keith Clanton 6-8 So. 16.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg

C Dwight McCombs 6-8 Jr. 4.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Notes: Florida will play the first collegiate event in the $380 million Amway Center tonight. ... The Gators also played the first collegiate event at the old Amway Arena, losing 84-69 to Stanford on Feb. 6, 1989. ... Florida is 9-0 all-time against UCF. ... UCF enters the game averaging 85.8 points per game, shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range. ... Sophomore Marcus Jordan, the son of Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan, leads the Knights in scoring. ... Florida has outrebounded five of its first six opponents and are outrebounding the opposition by 8.2 per game. ... The Gators are 77-20 in November under Billy Donovan.

— Kevin Brockway

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