Whether or not Florida coach Billy Donovan wants to scratch his NBA itch will depend on a number of factors.
But there’s an opening in Oklahoma City, and Thunder general manager Sam Presti thinks highly of him. No interviews have been set up yet, but unlike UConn’s Kevin Ollie, Donovan has not issued any denials in regards to his interest or any assurances he’s staying in Gainesville.
But if Donovan decides to make the jump to NBA a month shy of his 50th birthday, he should know by now what he’s getting into. NBA coaches are often hired to be fired, especially ones coming from the college ranks. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens has broken the mold of late, leading the Boston Celtics to the playoffs in his second season.
One NBA source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, thinks that Donovan could have similar success.
“There aren’t a lot of coaches I’m high on from college making the jump, but Billy is one of them,” the source said. “I think he’s smart. I think his offense would work well and I think he understands it’s a players league and the importance of relationships with players.”
Another factor is Donovan’s ability to teach intangibles that go into winning. There are 10 former Gators in the NBA playoffs, more than any other program. Donovan not only develops players from a skill standpoint, but finds ways for players to accept and thrive in roles that promote the greater good of the team over the individual.
Larry Brown (with Kansas in 1988 and the Detroit Pistons in 2004) is the only coach in history to lead teams to both an NCAA and NBA title. But Brown started his career as a professional coach in the ABA. For coaches who started their career in college, reaching the mountaintop of the NBA has been a futile climb.
Here’s a look at some recent college coaches who tried (and didn’t fully succeed) in the NBA:
Rick Pitino — Pitino had a career mark of 192-220 in six seasons with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. Coming from Providence, Pition led the Knicks to two playoff seasons with a 6-7 playoff record before leaving for Kentucky after the 1989 season. When Pitino returned as coach and president of the Boston Celtics, he struggled, with no playoff appearances in four seasons and no seasons in which the Celtics won more than 36 games.
Leonard Hamilton — After leading Miami to a Sweet 16, Hamilton was hired by Michael Jordan to coach the Washington Wizards. It turned out to be a short stint. Hamilton lasted just one season in Washington, going 19-63 before being fired.
Lon Kruger — Kruger, who led UF to its first Final Four in school history in 1994, left Illinois in 2000 for a three-season stint with the Atlanta Hawks. Kruger went 69-122 and was fired just 27 games into his third season with the Hawks.
Mike Montgomery — Montgomery left Stanford in 2004 to coach the nearby Golden State Warriors. He lasted just two seasons, going 68-96.
P.J. Carlesimo — Carlesimo left Seton Hall for the Portland Trail Blazers in 1994. In nine seasons, with four different NBA franchises, Carlesimo posted a 239-315 record. Carlesimo led teams to the playoffs four times, but a 6-13 playoff record was his undoing.
John Calipari — After leading UMass to a Final Four in 1996, Calipari was hired by the New Jersey Nets. Calipari had a 72-112 record in two-plus seasons with the Nets. He led New Jersey to the playoffs in 1998, but the Nets were swept in three games by the eventual NBA champion Chicago Bulls. The following season, Calipari was fired after the Nets started the strike-shortened year 3-17.
Jerry Tarkanian — After leading UNLV to a national title in 1990 and a Final Four appearance in 1991, Tarkanian gave the NBA a try in 1992 with the San Antonio Spurs. But the 62-year-old lasted just 20 games, going 9-11 before resigning due to health reasons.
Fordham transfer forward Eric Paschall, who visited the UF campus earlier this month and had interest in the Gators, has opted to transfer for Villanova instead.
Former Gator and current Dallas Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons has pulled himself out of the Mavs’ playoff series with the Houston Rockets and is out for the remainder of the season with a recurring knee injury. Parsons is reportedly exploring offseason surgery as an option to fix the knee problem.