- Billy Donovan
- 19 Years at Florida (Record following 2014-15: 467-185, .715)
- 21 Years overall (Record following 2014-15: 502-206, .709)
- 2006 and 2007 National Champions
- 2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014 SEC Champions
- 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2011 SEC East Champions
- 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014 SEC Tournament Champions
- 2000 NCAA runner-up
- 2000, 2006, 2007 and 2014 Final Four
- 2011, 2013 and 2014 SEC Coach of the Year
Over the course of 19 seasons, Billy Donovan has taken a program that previously experienced small pockets of success and has made history.
Two National Championships and three appearances in the title game.
Four Final Fours.
Six SEC Championships.
Three consecutive SEC Tournament titles from 2005-07 and adding a fourth in 2014.
The No. 1 ranking in the nation in five different seasons, including starting and finishing the 2006-07 season in that spot.
Sixteen straight 20-win seasons, three 30-win seasons, including school records of 36 wins and a 30-game winning streak in 2013-14.
Seventeen consecutive postseason appearances.
There was a time when any of these goals seemed unattainable for the University of Florida basketball program – until March 27, 1996, when Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley hired the up-and-coming Donovan who has turned the Gators into a perennial national power.
Under Donovan, the once unattainable goals of the program have become a reality, as he has taken the University of Florida and established it among a very short list of elite programs in the nation. He has joined the greats in his profession and elevated the University of Florida to be mentioned among the great programs in college basketball.
On Feb. 28, 2015, Donovan became just the second coach in college basketball history to pick up his 500th Division I win before his 50th birthday, joining Bob Knight in that exclusive club.
In 2007, the Gators became just the seventh team in NCAA history and the first in 15 years to win back-to-back titles. He joined Adolph Rupp as only the second coach in SEC history to guide his team to multiple national titles. In 2013, he surpassed Rupp with his 31st NCAA Tournament win, most by any SEC coach in the history of the conference, and now sits at 35. In April 2010, he became the youngest recipient ever of the Wooden Award’s “Legends of Coaching” honor. In July 2014, ESPN.com ranked the top 50 college basketball coaches and named Donovan the nation’s best.
For those who have followed Donovan’s career it should come as no surprise that he has made Florida basketball a winner.
He was a winner at Providence College, where he led the Friars to their best season in school history and a trip to the Final Four in 1987. He was a winner as a New York Knick playing with the elite athletes in the NBA. He was a winner in five years as an assistant at Kentucky and was part of the Wildcats’ Final Four run in 1993. He was a winner as a head coach when he inherited a struggling Marshall program and in two short years won more than 60 percent of his games and put fans back in the seats. Now he has created hoop hysteria in Gainesville. Donovan is one of only two people in the history of Division I college basketball who have played in a Final Four, served as an assistant coach on a Final Four team and participated in the Final Four as a head coach.
Under Donovan, Florida has set a school record with 17 straight post-season appearances from 1997-2014, including 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and six Elite Eight trips from 2006-2014. The Gators also put together 16 consecutive 20-win seasons from 1998-2014.
UF made the school’s first-ever appearance in the National Championship game in 2000 before winning the title in both 2006 and 2007. Donovan has won 35 NCAA Tournament games, more than any other SEC coach ever has. On Dec. 20, 2006, he became the school’s all-time leader in career wins, posting his 236th at UF, a total that has since risen to 451 and ranks behind only Adolph Rupp in SEC history.
After the school had just one Southeastern Conference championship in 77 seasons prior to his arrival, Donovan has tallied six SEC titles (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014). Florida and Kentucky are the only two SEC schools to capture consecutive league crowns in the past 35 years. The Gators’ run of three outright SEC titles in four seasons (2011, 2013 and 2014) is the first such stretch since Kentucky in 1995-98.
Florida captured five SEC East titles under Donovan (before the league abandoned divisions following the 2010-11 season) and won three straight SEC Tournament titles from 2005-07, the only three in school history until adding a fourth in 2014. In leading the Gators to the SEC crown for the fourth time in 2011, Donovan picked up the first SEC Coach of the Year honor of his career and added the same accolade again following the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Florida won 261 games in the first decade of this century – the fifth-most in the nation and the highest total in the SEC during that span, and nearly 100 wins better than any other decade in UF history.
Donovan’s winning percentage at UF (.715) is the best among all Gator coaches who spent more than one season in Gainesville. He reached the 100-victory mark at UF quicker than any coach in school history, needing just 154 games to reach the century plateau. He won his 200th game at UF on Dec. 3, 2005, and broke the school record for wins (236th) on Dec. 20, 2006, doing so in 92 games fewer than previous record-holder Norm Sloan. In 2008-09, he became the first UF coach to win 300 games, and he added his 400th win at UF with a 31-point victory over Missouri in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 19, 2013.
Donovan’s teams have knocked off 67 ranked opponents during his tenure, including a 14-2 mark during the Gators’ two-year run as NCAA champions. Since 2006, Donovan has led UF to a 25-5 record in NCAA Tournament action. His .745 career winning percentage (35-12) in the NCAA Tournament ranks fifth among active coaches.
In 2010-11, Chandler Parsons became the first Gator to be named the SEC Player of the Year, and Scottie Wilbekin joined that company in 2013-14. In both cases, neither player was Florida’s leading scorer, a testament to Donovan’s team-based style of play.
Eighteen of Donovan’s freshmen have been recognized as among the best in the league, including in 2011-12 when Bradley Beal became the first Gator to be named both SEC All-Freshman and first-team All-SEC. The Gators at least one player on the SEC All-Freshman squad for six straight years from 2008-13.
Nine of Donovan’s players have been first-round draft picks in the NBA Draft, after the school boasted only two before his arrival, and he has inked 16 McDonald’s All-Americans after UF had just three previously. In 2007, the University of Florida became the first school to have three players taken as top-10 picks of the NBA Draft, with Al Horford going third overall, Corey Brewer seventh and Joakim Noah ninth. UF had five players taken in the 2007 NBA Draft and has had six first-round picks since 2005.
Average attendance has topped 10,000 every season since 2000-01 and UF shattered the school record for average attendance in 2006-07 with an 11,826 average per game, including a school record 12,621 in the Gators’ thrashing of Ohio State on Dec. 23, 2006. A record 226,815 fans passed through the turnstiles of the O’Dome in 2007-08.
Off the court, Donovan’s players have excelled in the classroom. In 2002-03, Matt Bonner earned his second consecutive Academic All-American of the Year award while earning First Team Academic All-America honors for the third straight year. Carrying a 3.98 GPA, Bonner is also the only player in school history to be named an Academic All-American three times. Lee Humphrey added to that list, earning second-team Academic All-America honors in 2005-06, while earning first-team honors in 2006-07.
Patric Young became the first player named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year three times, earning the accolade every year from 2012-14. Young also earned third-team Academic All-American status in 2014. Humphrey was a two-time winner of the SEC’s top student-athlete award, and Ray Shipman also won in 2010. In all, a Gator has earned that honor in six of the last nine seasons. Thirty-one of the 35 seniors who have suited up to play for Donovan have graduated from the University of Florida.
Donovan has also become active in the international basketball community, serving as USA Basketball head coach for each of the past three summers. Ge first worked with the American squad at the 2012 U18 FIBA Americas, leading the USA squad to a gold medal in Brazil. He then spearheaded USA Basketball’s gold medal-winning 2013 U19 FIBA World Championships team, which included UF’s Michael Frazier II, in the Czech Republic. Donovan most recently led the 2014 U18 team to another FIBA Americas gold medal, as USA Basketball hosted the event at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The 49-year-old Donovan, Florida’s 17th head coach, has certainly lived up to his national reputation as one of the nation’s top coaches who preaches an up-tempo, full-court, pressing style of play built around a tremendous work ethic.
The work ethic at Florida started in the recruiting trenches. Just eight months into the job in Gainesville, Donovan landed two of the premier prep players in the state (4A Player of the Year Major Parker and 6A Player of the Year Brent Wright). With a full year under his belt, Donovan and his staff pushed themselves even harder and the results showed. Once again, the focus of the recruiting efforts remained in Florida and the Gators got early commitments from four of Florida’s best – Teddy Dupay, LaDarius Halton, Udonis Haslem and Sylbrin Robinson. Those early commitments allowed Donovan and his staff to pursue one of the nation’s most coveted high school stars, South Dakota standout Mike Miller. Miller, who joined Dupay on the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team, chose Florida over Kansas and Kentucky to give the Gators a consensus top-five recruiting class.
Proving that class was no fluke, Donovan put together another consensus top-five recruiting class in 1999. This one landed another pair of McDonald All-Americans (Brett Nelson and Donnell Harvey, who joined Matt Bonner and Justin Hamilton as freshmen in 1999-2000). Florida was the only school in the nation to have multiple selections in the 1998 and 1999 McDonald’s All-American games. The 2000 class included a Parade All-American, Orien Greene. The 2001 class featured a nation’s best three McDonald’s All-Americans – Kwame Brown, David Lee and James White, although Brown declared for the NBA Draft. Donovan’s five-man recruiting class in 2002 – highlighted by another McDonald’s All-American Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh again ranked among the nation’s best. Corey Brewer was the ninth McDonald’s All-American recruited by Donovan’s staff, while Jai Lucas and Nick Calathes became the 10th and 11th. Kenny Boynton was the 12th and went on to a 2,000-point career with the Gators. Patric Young was Donovan’s 13th McDonald’s All-American and 2012 first-round NBA draft pick Bradley Beal was the 14th. Current Gator sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are the 15th and 16th McDonald’s All-Americans to sign with UF out of high school.
The recruiting efforts paid dividends on the floor. After inheriting a squad won just 12 games the year before his arrival, Donovan’s squads have ranked among the nation’s best, averaging 25.1 wins per season and has twice led the nation in wins, chalking up 35 in 2006-07 and 36 in 2013-14.
Despite a down year in 2014-15 as the Gators played the sixth-toughest schedule in the nation according to KenPom, Florida still maintained a top-50 KenPom ranking throughout the season. Florida posted back-to-back last-second wins at Alabama when Dorian Finney-Smith scored the game-winning dunk with 21 seconds remaining and vs. Arkansas when Michael Frazier II hit a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds left to give the Gators a 1-point win. Finney-Smith earned second-team All-SEC honors and Devin Robinson was named SEC All-Freshman, while UF placed seven on the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
The hallmark of the 2013-14 Gators was consistency. Forged around the senior class of Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young, the Gators went 123 days without losing a game en route to a 30-game winning streak that demolished the previous school record of 17 straight victories. Florida reached the Final Four for the fourth time under Donovan and the fifth time in school history, finally getting over the Elite Eight hump where the 2014 senior class had seen its season end each of its first three seasons at UF. The Gators also produced a memorably perfect 18-0 record in SEC competition, becoming just the second school to post an 18-0 record in major-conference play (Indiana, 1974-75 and 1975-76), before topping that off with an SEC Tournament title to go 21-0 overall vs. SEC competition. Despite the doninant record, blowouts were not the norm. Rather, resilience, steady veteran play and big shots when the moment called for it. The Gators posted 3-0 sweeps of SEC rivals Kentucky and Tennessee, marking the first time since 1978-79 that UK suffered three losses to the same opponent in a season.
The Gators’ 2012-13 team built its identity on defense and rode that to an SEC Championship and NCAA Elite Eight appearance with a 29-8 overall record and a 14-4 league record. The Gators’ 54.4 points allowed per game ranked third in the nation, while their +17.0 scoring margin was second. UF held opponents to .382 shooting from the floor, lowest by a Gator team since 1957-58. Florida twice held opponents to 10 points or fewer in the first half (10, South Carolina; 9, Alabama State), and South Carolina’s 36 total points were the fewest by an SEC opponent since 1948. With all the defensive effort, the Gators did not sacrifice on the offensive end of the floor, leading the conference in field goal percentage (.478), 3-point field goal percentage (.378) and 3-pointers per game (8.1).
Despite losing three seniors from the previous season, the 2011-12 team made its second straight trip to the Elite Eight. Florida finished with a 26-11 mark and reached 25 wins for the seventh time in the past 13 seasons, while posting a 10-6 mark in SEC play. The team led the nation in 3-pointers with 9.6 per game and totaled a school-record 357 3-point field goals, which also ranks as the second-highest single-season total in SEC history. Florida hit 10 or more 3-pointers in 22 games, the most ever for a Donovan-coached team. Erving Walker ascended to fourth on the UF all-time scoring list while leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
The 2010-11 Gators had one of the most impressive seasons in school history as UF finished the season with a 29-8 record, the 29 wins tying with the 1994 and 2000 Final Four teams for third-most wins in school history. Along the way, Florida won 13 of 16 SEC games, claiming just the third outright conference title in school history, Donovan was named SEC Coach of the Year for the first time in his career and Parsons became the first Gator to be honored as SEC Player of the Year. The Gators reached the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national finalist Butler.
In 2009-10, the Gators returned to the NCAA Tournament, posting a non-conference win over No. 2-ranked Michigan State along the way. Erving Walker earned Second Team All-SEC honors, while Kenny Boynton earned SEC All-Freshman honors. A relentless team, the Gators rallied from halftime deficits five times on the year.
The 2006-07 squad will go down as one of the great teams in college basketball history, closing out with a 35-5 mark, starting the year as No. 1 in the nation, and finishing the year in the same spot after another convincing NCAA Tournament run. With the pressures of college basketball’s first possible repeat champion in 15 years, Donovan pushed all the right buttons, managing the complex personalities of one of the most talented lineups in the history of college basketball.
Florida dominated the Southeastern Conference, going 13-3 and winning the school’s fourth SEC title and only its second outright title. The Gators demolished the field at the SEC Tournament to win the school’s third straight title in the event.
Each of Florida’s top six players were honored by the league, as Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer earned First Team All-SEC honors, Taurean Green earned Second Team honors, Lee Humphrey was the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year and Chris Richard the Sixth Man of the Year. Noah (Second Team) and Horford (Third Team) earned AP All-America honors for their tremendous efforts.
The Gators went 8-1 against ranked opponents, including 3-0 against top-five teams. The Gators won their first six games of the season before dropping two out of three with a depleted roster. Donovan then led the team to its third 17-game winning streak in the last two years, as the Gators held the No. 1 spot from Jan. 15 until Feb. 19, the longest continuous run in school history.
After winning the SEC regular season title, the Gators shifted into another gear as the postseason approached. Florida won each of its three SEC Tournament games by 17+ points, waltzing to a third straight title behind an MVP performance from Horford.
After dismantling Jackson State in the NCAA Tournament opener, the Gators rallied from a two-point halftime deficit against Purdue to advance to the school’s fourth Sweet 16 in the last nine years. Donovan guided the Gators to wins over Butler and Oregon to advance to the Final Four for the third time in his tenure and the second straight year behind a regional MVP performance from Green.
At the Final Four, the Gators proved to once again be the dominant team in college basketball, easily defeating UCLA in the national semifinal, then completing a dream season with a nine-point victory over Ohio State in the national title game, as Brewer earned MVP honors.
The 2006-07 Gator squad led the nation in field goal percentage (.526) and margin of victory (+17.2), while leading the SEC in seven major categories.
The 2005-06 team was one of the truly special teams in recent basketball history, tearing through the NCAA Tournament field to the Gators’ first NCAA title. Donovan led the Gators to a then-school record 33 wins, including a record 17 straight to start the season. Florida served notice early in the season starting the year unranked and marching to the title of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, beating ranked and much more experienced opponents Wake Forest and Syracuse in the process.
Florida reached New Year’s undefeated for the first time in school history and finished regular season non-conference play a perfect 14-0. After finishing second in the SEC East, Florida turned it up a notch once the calendar turned to March. Florida defeated Kentucky at Rupp Arena for the first time since 1998, taking a 15-point decision on Senior Day. The Gators then stormed Nashville and took home their second straight SEC Tournament title, defeating Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina to claim the crown.
Florida then raced through the NCAA Tournament, demolishing its opponents by an average of 16.0 points per game in its six victories. The Gators opened with 26- and 22-point wins, respectively, over South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then swept Big East opponents Georgetown and Villanova in the Minneapolis Region to advance to the Final Four. Once in Indianapolis at the Final Four, Florida left no doubt that it was the most dominant team in the 2006 tournament, beating George Mason by 15 in the national semifinal, then UCLA by 16 in the national title game. Florida became the first school since UCLA in 1968 under legendary coach John Wooden, to win both the national semifinal and the final by 15+ points.
Joakim Noah earned Final Four MVP and Minneapolis Region MVP honors and was tremendous during the NCAA Tournament. The 6-11 forward averaged 16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and swatted an NCAA Tournament record 29 shots over the six games.
Noah earned First Team All-SEC honors while Donovan’s ideal plan of balance was executed to its fullest potential in 2005-06 as all five starters averaged in double-figures and all five were honored by the SEC. Florida finished second in the nation in field goal percentage and was among the national leaders in assists, as the group took Donovan’s lead, made the extra pass and played the game unselfishly.
During the Gators’ two-year run as national champions, Donovan led the squad to 18 straight postseason wins, the longest by any program since the great UCLA teams of John Wooden won 28 straight games. Donovan’s teams have broken 64 school (individual and team), SEC and NCAA Tournament records over the two years.
The 2004-05 season did nothing but solidify Donovan’s place among the coaching elite, as he guided the Gators to a 24-8 mark and the school’s first SEC Tournament title. Donovan blended a team with returning upperclassmen David Lee, Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and Adrian Moss with a group of talented freshmen and sophomores.
The Gators won 12 games in SEC play for the fourth time under Donovan and led the league in scoring and scoring margin. Most notably, however, the Gators finished third in the league in points per game surrendered, a vast improvement after finishing 11th the year before.
Anthony Roberson was runner-up for SEC Player of the Year, earned Honorable Mention All-America from the Associated Press and First Team All-SEC from both the league coaches and AP. David Lee became the first Gator in 15 years to average a double-double in SEC play and earned Second Team honors across the board while Matt Walsh was a Second Team choice by the league coaches.
The Gators were brilliant down the stretch, winning six of their final seven regular season games, capped with a 53-52 victory over Kentucky on Senior Day before a then-school record crowd of 12,602 fans. The Gators then stormed through Atlanta, taking the toughest route possible. They defeated Mississippi State, a team they had lost to earlier in the year, and SEC West champion Alabama before picking up a 17-point win over Kentucky in the title game. The victory over Kentucky gave Florida two wins over the Wildcats in the span of a week, the first team to beat UK twice within a 10-day stretch since 1920.
Florida reached the NCAA Tournament and held off a solid Ohio team in the opening round before running into Villanova, one of the hottest teams in the nation, in the second round. When it was all said and done the Gators had won 20 games for the seventh straight year, reached the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year, made history in the SEC Tournament and had finished with the fourth most wins in school history.
In 2003-04, Donovan came up with, arguably, one of his finest coaching efforts, molding the third youngest team in the nation into a squad that reached the SEC Tournament Championship game for the first time in a decade.
Eight of the 10 scholarship players at the season’s end were in either their freshman or sophomore years, as Donovan used a combination of seven different starting lineups throughout the season. Staring at 14-8 on Feb. 18, Donovan inspired his team to six wins in its final eight games heading into the NCAA Tournament, as the Gators won 20 games for the sixth straight season and reached the Dance for the sixth straight year.
Anthony Roberson earned Honorable Mention All-American honors and first-team All-SEC honors from both the coaches and Associated Press, while Matt Walsh earned second-team honors from each and David Lee earned Second Team honors from the league coaches and Third Team honors from the AP. Roberson averaged 17.9 points per game, the highest ever by a Donovan-coached player at UF, while Walsh’s 15.8 points per game were then the fifth-best single season average by one of his players.
The season was filled was thrilling finishes, as the Gators defeated third-ranked Arizona at the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., when Bonell Colas cut to the basket and finished a lay-up in the closing seconds, a victory that helped the Gators reach No. 1 in the nation on Dec. 8. Against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, Lee Humphrey hit a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer to give the Gators a thrilling 75-73 overtime victory, while Roberson followed the next day with a 35-point outburst against Vanderbilt, the most points by a Gator in over 20 years.
The 2002-03 team reached uncharted territories in one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Gators established a new school record with 24 regular season wins, while reaching No. 1 in the nation for the first time in school history on Feb. 3, 2003. The Gators earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their highest positioning ever in the postseason, while their 25 wins overall were the third most in school history.
A year after finishing just 2-7 in games decided by five points or less, Donovan’s squad became a gritty bunch that found a way to win the close ones, claiming seven games decided by five points or less in 2002-03. The Gators tied the school record with a 14-game winning streak, while setting a new O’Connell Center record with a 19-game home winning streak that extended over the final four games of the 2001-02 season until the 2002-03 home finale. Florida was ranked wire-to-wire for the fourth straight year, while matching the school record for SEC wins in a 16-game season with 12.
Anthony Roberson earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors, the first Gator to do so in nearly two decades, while Matt Bonner earned First Team All-SEC honors, Honorable Mention All-America honors, was the Verizon Academic All-American of the Year for the second straight year and was honored as the Men’s College Basketball Student Athlete of the Year.
The 2001-02 squad set school records with its fourth consecutive NCAA appearance and a fourth consecutive 20-win season while Donovan led the Gators to a share of their third straight SEC Eastern Division Championship. Florida put together a school-record 14-game winning streak and climbed to a then program-best number two ranking in both polls in the January 14th rankings. Florida posted a final record of 22-9, with the nine losses coming by just an average of 5.0 points per game - the lowest margin of defeat in school history. Florida trailed by more than 10 points just twice all year and seven games came down to the final possession. Florida boasted a league-high five SEC Academic Honor Roll selections and the squad featured the National Academic All-American of the Year (Matt Bonner). In all, the Gator squad set 12 team records, including a then-school-best attendance average of 10,805.
The 2000-01 squad tied a school record with a third straight 20-win season and a third consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament. At the NCAA Tournament, UF won its opening round game for the third straight year for the first time in school history. The final tally showed 24 wins and a share of the Southeastern Conference Championship for the second consecutive year. UF was ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press Poll, the highest finish in school history. Reaching those milestones wasn’t easy. Florida players missed a combined 33 games because of injuries during the season and UF players had four surgeries during the SEC schedule. UF played at full strength for just nine games and none after December 28th. Florida played one game with seven scholarship players, 11 games with eight scholarship players and 10 games with nine scholarship players. Three of Florida’s starters went down with injuries in a week’s span of the SEC schedule, and after a 1-3 start to the SEC slate, the outlook was not good. UF’s character and will prevailed, as the Gators won 11 of its final 12 league games, with the only loss a buzzer beater at Kentucky.
The 1999-2000 squad will go down as one of the greatest in school history. With preseason expectations higher than ever, the squad became the first in school history to be ranked in the national polls wire-to-wire. The season began with a sold out crowd of 12,487 to witness Florida’s 35-point win over Florida State in the O’Connell Center. The season ended with 43,116 fans on hand at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to watch the school’s first-ever appearance in the National Championship game.
In between, there were a lot of other firsts for the Gator hoop program. For the first time in school history, season tickets were sold out before November. The Gators went 12-4 in Southeastern Conference action to share the league championship with Kentucky, Tennessee and LSU - only the second SEC crown in the 81-year history of the program. Florida averaged 9,783 fans and averaged a school record 11,593 fans for SEC home games. The fan support, coupled with UF’s average margin of victory of 31.3 points per game, supported one national magazine’s preseason claim that the O’Dome is the “Scariest Place to Play” in the nation. Florida made a school-record 31 appearances on television, including eight on CBS and six on the ESPN networks. UF faced a school-record 11 ranked opponents during the year and knocked off the nation’s top-ranked team (Duke in the NCAA East Regional Semifinal) for the first time in school history. Two days later UF topped Oklahoma State to advance to the Final Four for the second time in school history and made Donovan just the sixth coach to both play and coach in the Final Four. He then became the fifth of those coaches to appear in the national title game after Florida defeated North Carolina in the National Semifinals.
When the storybook season ended with UF’s highest final ranking in school history (second in the ESPN/Coaches’ Poll), a total of 34 school records were set. Living up to Donovan’s offensive trademark of running and pressing, UF led the SEC in scoring, scoring margin and assists.
Donovan’s third squad won 22 games (the fourth most in school history at the time), advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in school history and averaged 80.3 points per game. UF’s 1998-99 regular-season winning percentage of .731 was the third best in school history and its 10 conference wins were the second most at UF since the league went to a 16-game league format in 1992. En route to setting or tying 30 school records, the 1998-99 Gators became only the second squad in school history to be ranked in the Final Polls (17th in ESPN and 23rd in Associated Press). UF led the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage, 3-pointers per game and steals. For the second consecutive year, Florida led the league with five selections to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
Donovan’s 1997-98 Florida squad made the school’s first postseason appearance in three years and won more games and league contests than the year before despite playing a school-record tying eight ranked opponents. The Gators led the nation in an offensive team category for the first time in school history after posting an NCAA best 9.83 3-pointers per game and also led the Southeastern Conference in 3-point field goal percentage. All told, the 1997-98 team set six single-season records and four game records, while a league-record six student-athletes were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. The Gators defeated No. 7 Kentucky at Rupp Arena to mark the first time in 10 years Florida had defeated a ranked SEC team on the road and ended a 10-game slide to the Wildcats. The win also marked the first time the Gators would defeat an eventual national champion in the regular season.
The first order of business on the court in Donovan’s first season was conditioning. The Gators lost a combined 61 pounds and decreased their body fat by a combined 27.7 percent before he ever coached a game at UF. Despite replacing three starters and more than 50 percent of the scoring from a club that won 12 games the year before and playing with just six scholarship players for over half of the SEC schedule, Donovan’s first Florida squad broke nine school records during the 1996-97 season and won more games than the year before. The Gators ranked 10th nationally and went from worst to first in the league in 3-point shooting percentage as UF led the league in an offensive category for the first time since 1988-89. Every player who scored during the season set or tied career highs in single-game scoring, while seven of the eight players scored more points in 1996-97 than they did in their entire careers entering the season.
Donovan’s work ethic also gave Marshall University, home of Donovan’s first head coaching job in March of 1994, a basketball facelift. Donovan inherited a program that went 9-18 the year before his arrival and turned a nine-man squad into believers. The result was an 18-9 record and a North Division Championship in the Southern Conference. Marshall averaged just 13 victories a season in the six years before Donovan arrived and finished the 1993-94 season as one of the 10 most improved teams in the nation. Along the way, six school records fell as smooth as 3-pointers swishing in the net in Donovan’s fast-paced offense. The Thundering Herd set school records for three pointers in a game (17), 3-point attempts in a game (35), 3-point attempts in a season (693) and 3-pointers made in a season (253). Marshall led the Southern Conference in scoring (84.4), scoring margin (+6.8), free throw percentage (74.2), blocked shots (4.1), steals (11.2), turnover margin (plus-123) and attendance (6,574). Donovan was named the National Rookie Coach of the Year by Basketball Times and added Southern Conference Coach of the Year and West Virginia College Coach of the Year (by West Virginia Sportswriters Association) honors.
It was more of the same in Donovan’s second season in 1994-95. Marshall went 17-11, set five school records and led the league in scoring (91.4), field goal percentage (.495) and 3-pointers per game (10.1). Nationally, the Thundering Herd offense ranked third, while its field goal percentage and 3-pointers a game ranked sixth and second, respectively.
In two short years, his Marshall teams posted an overall mark of 35-20 (.636) and captured a league championship. In 55 games at the helm of the Thundering Herd, his teams averaged 88.8 points a game, shot .472 from the field, .382 from 3-point range and .717 from the line. On the average, his squads attempted 25 3-pointers a game and connected on 9.8 per game. Eleven times his squads had 100-plus points in a game and there was a 2,000-fan increase at the turnstiles during his two-year tenure.
Prior to his coaching job at Marshall, Donovan spent five years on Rick Pitino’s staff at Kentucky. Donovan joined the Kentucky staff as a graduate assistant coach in 1989. Prior to the 1990-91 season he was promoted to assistant coach and then to associate coach before the 1993-94 season. During his five-year stay at Kentucky, the Wildcats posted a 122-38 (.763) record and advanced to the Final Four in 1993. In addition to his duties with on-floor coaching, Donovan also had a hand in recruiting all of the upperclassmen on the 1996 National Championship team.
As much as any assistant has digested and learned from the up-tempo, full-court, pressing philosophy adapted by Pitino, Donovan may have as good a grasp as any. Not only did he spend five years under Pitino at Kentucky, he also played the style under him at Providence and later, with the New York Knicks in the NBA.
A native of Rockville Centre, N.Y., Donovan was a part-time player for the Friars in his first two seasons, averaging just over two points as a freshman and three points as a sophomore. Enter Pitino as head coach at Providence in 1985, and “Billy the Kid” was born. Once considered undersized and underdeveloped, Donovan thrived under the new system and finished his career as one of the premier players in Providence history. As a junior he averaged 15.1 points per game and shot better than 50 percent from the field at the guard spot. Donovan then averaged 20.6 points a game and earned honorable mention All-America honors (UPI) as a senior, capping off a magical ride to the 1987 Final Four by being named the Southeast Regional Most Outstanding Player. Donovan still holds the Providence single-season record for minutes played, with 1,234 in 1986-87, while his 1,328 career points rank in Providence’s top 20 all-time. Donovan was inducted into the Providence College Hall of Fame in June of 1999 and was named to the 10-man All-Time Providence Civic Center Team in January of 1999.
In the 1987 NBA Draft, Donovan was drafted in the third round (68th overall) by the Utah Jazz, where he played in the preseason before being waived. After a brief stint in the CBA with Wyoming, Donovan rejoined Pitino after signing a one-year contract as a free agent with the Knicks. Donovan played in 44 games, averaging 2.4 points and 2.0 assists per game.
After his one-year stint in the NBA, Donovan worked with an investment banking firm on Wall Street for a year before joining Pitino at UK.
Donovan’s work ethic and never-say-die attitude was instilled at a young age when he played at St. Agnes High School in Long Island, New York. Never having enough time at the gym, Donovan was known to prop open the door to the gym before leaving practice so he could return on his own to shoot. On at least one occasion, his worried mother, Joan, found his bed empty at 2 a.m. No worry, said his father, William, who was a standout guard at Boston College and graduated in 1962 as the third-leading scorer in school history. Check the gym, and you will find him. Eventually, the school custodian gave Billy a key to the gym, and later his father built a lighted court in the back yard. The results paid off as Donovan earned first-team All-Long Island honors his last two seasons and led St. Agnes to the Long Island Catholic High School Championship his senior year.
Donovan and his wife, Christine, have four children: Billy, Hasbrouck, Bryan and Connor.