UF hoops hosts Arizona


Florida coach Billy Donovan will be opposite Arizona coach and friend Sean Miller as the Wildcats visit the Gators for tonight's game at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. (File photo and The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 12:05 a.m.

Arizona coach Sean Miller recalled the first time he met Florida coach Billy Donovan.

Facts

Today's game

When: Tonight, 7
Where: O'Connell Center, Gainesville
Gainesville TV: ESPN
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM

Miller, a star point guard recruit from outside Pittsburgh, traveled to Providence for an official recruiting visit in the fall of 1986. Donovan was his host.

“I remember watching (former Providence coach) Rick Pitino putting them through a Saturday morning skill drill that was harder than any practice I'd ever witnessed,” Miller said. “Then, Billy went to practice. When I saw him come back Saturday night, he was so exhausted. That's when I knew I wouldn't end up going to school there.”

Miller instead wound up playing at Pittsburgh. But a 20-plus year friendship was forged.

“I obviously wasn't a very good host,” Donovan said with a laugh.

Donovan and Miller will coach against each other for the first time when Florida hosts Arizona tonight at the O'Connell Center. The two former Big East point guards share common coaching mentors and common philosophies on how to build basketball programs.

“I consider him a friend,” Miller said of Donovan. “I respect him in how he goes about building a basketball program, his work ethic. To me, it's more about who he is as a person, what he stands for.”

Miller began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin under Stu Jackson, a former Providence assistant who coached Donovan. Then, Miller moved on to North Carolina State to work under Herb Sendek, another former Providence assistant.

“There have been a lot of ties for he and I in the fact that he's worked for some guys that have coached me,” Donovan said. “You know, I have all the respect in the world for Sean as a person and our relationship goes back a long way.”

Donovan had scheduled a home-and-home series with Xavier when Miller was coach. But before the two teams first met during the 2009-2010 season, Miller left Xavier for Arizona.

It was a tough decision, and Donovan said Miller called him a few times for advice. Donovan went through a similar situation when he returned to Florida in 2007 after briefly accepting the Orlando Magic coaching job.

“He had done such a good job at Xavier, he certainly had a very, very good team coming back,” Donovan said. “But I think the opportunity to go to Arizona, a big-time, big-time basketball program and situation (was appealing).

“Having to pick up and go all the way out West is something a little bit different for him, but he appears very, very happy. He's done a wonderful job. He's done a great job wherever he's been. So you know he's recruited very well. They've got a great class coming in and they'll continue to be successful for a long time.”

Miller led Arizona to a 30-8 season and Elite Eight appearance last season in his second season coaching there. But in many ways, the Wildcats are starting over. Arizona lost its top two scorers from the 2010-11 team. Power forward Derrick Williams left school early and was picked second overall in the NBA draft, while point guard Lamont “Momo” Jones transferred to Iona to be closer to family.

Arizona also received a blow during the offseason when junior swingman Kevin Parrom was shot in the knee three months ago while returning to New York City to visit his sick mother. Parrom is back with the team, but hasn't been the same player since the incident.

Arizona has started the season 6-2, with losses to Mississippi State and San Diego State.

“It's been a very hard November,” said Miller, who announced earlier this week that forward Sidiki Johnson is transferring. ”We've had some setbacks. … With a guy like Derrick, you don't totally realize the impact of losing him until he is gone. So we have a lot of work we need to do to get better.”

Like Florida, Donovan said Arizona has been successful this season with smaller lineups. The Wildcats have been forced to play some three- and four-guard lineups due to losses in the frontcourt.

“They have the ability to alter the look of their team,” Donovan said. “They can go pretty big or they can go very, very small, and they have shown the ability to play small and go on big runs and big spurts.”

Both teams are playing the first of a home-and-home series. Florida will face Arizona at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., next season.

“To play an outstanding Florida program here and to have them play next season at the McKale Center is part of what we need to do to regrow,” Miller said.

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Jr. 19.0 ppg, 3.1 apg

G Erving Walker 5-8 Sr. 14.1 ppg, 5.3 apg

G Bradley Beal 6-3 Fr. 15.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg

F Will Yeguete 6-7 So. 6.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg

C Patric Young 6-9 So. 9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg

ARIZONA PROBABLE STARTERS

G Jordan Mayes 6-2 So. 7.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg

G Kyle Fogg 6-3 Sr. 11.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg

F Solomon Hill 6-6 Jr. 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg

F Jesse Perry 6-7 Sr. 10.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg

C Kyryl Natyazhko 6-11 Jr. 1.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg

Notes: Florida is hosting a Pac-12 opponent on its floor for the first time in school history. The Gators are 10-9 all-time against Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) teams and 7-2 against Pac-12 teams under Billy Donovan. … Florida ranks first in the SEC and fourth in the nation at scoring at 87.6 points per game. … The Gators are third in the nation with 81 3-pointers made, an average of 11.6 per game. … Arizona has relied more on defense with the loss of its top two scorers Derrick Williams (NBA draft) and Lamont Jones (transfer, Iona). … The Wildcats are holding teams to 41.2 percent from the floor and 62.6 points per game.

— Kevin Brockway

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