With a Fourth Final Four in Hand, Billy Donovan Continues to Deflect All Praise | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / July 7.
  • With a Fourth Final Four in Hand, Billy Donovan Continues to Deflect All Praise

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    Florida Gators v UCLA BruinsBy JOSH NEWMAN

    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    With 13 seasons under his belt at the University of Florida and at the age of only 47, Gators head coach Billy Donovan is considered by many to be a coaching icon.

    The Long Island native has steered the Gators to four Final Fours, back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, and has 486 career victories to his credit. His current version of the Gators has won 29 games in a row going into a national semifinal Saturday night against Connecticut and remain the favorite to cut down the nets in Dallas on Monday night.

    In this current landscape, Donovan is undoubtedly among the heavyweights of his profession. However, if you ask the man himself about his place among the coaching elite, he’ll do what all great coaches do. He gives the credit to his players.

    “There’s a lot of great coaches out there that have never had a chance to get to a Final Four that are great coaches,” Donovan said via conference call on Monday afternoon. “For me, I almost look at it as the players have allowed me to coach them and have allowed me to implement a style and a system for how we want to play. They really have bought into that.”

    “I’ve been really blessed, one, to be at a place for 18 years. Two, I’ve been very, very blessed to have a chance to coach some good players and some great kids. I think as a coach, you’re only as good as your players are.”

    Donovan has had more than his share of 5-star recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans, but Florida’s perch built as one college basketball’s perennial powers has come on the backs of previously-unheralded players as well.

    SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, twice suspended by Donovan for team rules infractions, has paced Florida to this Final Four. So, too, has fellow-senior and 3-star recruit Will Yeguete helped in that effort after the Gators lost in the Elite Eight each of the last three seasons.

    Those 2006 and 2007 teams are arguably Donovan’s most famous. The anchor of those teams, Chicago Bulls big man Joakim Noah, was far from the best in that recruiting class, which featured Corey Brewer and Al Horford. 

    Donovan noted that he looks to up to others in his profession in a very specific way. He looks at how a player talks about those guys as coaches when they played for them.

    Donovan is still a young man in the coaching profession, but 18 years is a long time, so he has his own set of players who surely speak fondly of him. That said, the fact he was coached in the mid-1980’s at Providence College by a young Rick Pitino has given him an interesting vantage point.

    Playing for a Hall of Fame coach in Coach Pitino, he was not a Hall of Fame coach when he coached me at 32 years old,” Donovan said. “At that time, he was a young coach coming up, and regardless of whether or not he would’ve ever been in the Hall of Fame, regardless of whether or not he would’ve been where he’s at today, the impact he made on my life changed me in a lot of ways.”

    “I always think about that when I coach. Can I make the same kind of impact with my players that he made with me?”

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