Special to Gatorsports.com
Florida’s basketball playing court will be named for 19-year head coach Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to two national championships, the school announced Friday after approval from the University of Florida Board of Trustees.
The naming — Billy Donovan Court in Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center — will be formally introduced Saturday, Feb. 15, at the men’s basketball game vs. Vanderbilt with Donovan in attendance over the NBA’s All-Star break.
Donovan was hired by Florida by then-director of athletics Jeremy Foley on March 27, 1996, and proceeded to lead the Gators to a 467-185 (.715) record over the next 19 seasons before moving into the NBA to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015.
Foley and UF athletic director Scott Stricklin informed Donovan about the planned naming in person recently.
“I was totally shocked,” Donovan said of the moment Stricklin and Foley delivered the news. “It was really emotional. I didn’t anticipate this. I’m thankful, I’m honored and just incredibly humbled by it all.”
Donovan led UF to four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, six SEC championships, four SEC Tournament championships and 16 20-win seasons.
“It’s a given,” said UF coach Mike White, who stepped into the role following Donovan in the spring of 2015. “The way people revere him as a human being in this profession says as much about him as the games and championships he won. This is something that definitely needed to happen.”
The 2006 and 2007 national championships remain the only back-to-back titles in men’s basketball over the past 25 years, and Florida reached a No. 1 national ranking in five different seasons under Donovan’s watch, including the 2013-14 team, which posted a program-record 30 consecutive wins.
“It had been on my radar for some time, and Jeremy had made it clear it was something that was important to him,” Stricklin said. “During my time at Kentucky, I had a front-row seat for the impact Billy made, not just on the Florida program, but our league. You saw the kind of coach and person he was, and the respect he had around the country. This was just an obvious way to honor him.”
Foley said, “What Billy accomplished here no one ever could have anticipated. There’s probably a whole generation that thinks Florida basketball has always been on the map. Is that true? The answer to that question is ‘no.’ Pockets of success, yes, but then he came in here and built a program that is recognized as a national brand. Obviously, he did it with an outstanding group of assistant coaches and an incredible support staff, but at the end of the day, Billy Donovan created something very special here.”