There’s been much speculation on whether Billy Donovan would consider a jump to the NBA after 21 seasons as a college coach and 19 seasons at Florida.
On Thursday morning, Donovan’s mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, gave the strongest hint that the UF coach may give the pros a try in the near future.
Appearing on ESPN’s Mike and Mike radio show, Pitino was asked if a college basketball coach could be successful in the NBA. During the answer, Pitino alluded to Donovan: “I think someone like Billy Donovan, I think Billy has looked at it, I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA, a strong desire to coach in the NBA, would like to try it.”
Pitino was Donovan’s coach in college at Providence in 1987 and gave him his start in the coaching profession, hiring him as a graduate assistant at Kentucky in 1990. The two talk during the season on a semi-regular basis.
Donovan signed an extension last December to coach the Gators through the 2020 seasons, which bumped his average salary to $4.067 million. But the buyout on the contract is a relatively minimal $500,000. There’s a window from March 1 to April 1 in which Donovan could leave without paying a buyout, but that just passed.
Donovan’s name has been linked to the opening with the Orlando Magic (again) and possibly with the Oklahoma City Thunder if Scott Brooks is not retained at the end of the season. The veteran UF coach left six days for the Magic in June of 2007, but returned to UF six days later after having second thoughts.
At 16-17, Florida is coming off its worst season since 1997-98, and there are thoughts Donovan may not want to go through another rebuild at UF. After winning back-to-back titles at UF in 2006 and 2007, the Gators followed up with two NIT seasons. But from 2010-14, Donovan got the program back at a high level, guiding UF to three straight Elite Eights and its fifth Final Four appearance in school history.
Last year, when Donovan was asked whether he was a “lifer” at Florida, the veteran coach stated that the NBA still held a level of intrigue because it was 24-7 basketball.