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Wednesday March 27, 2013 Embedded with the Gators: With 3 championships between them since Knicks days, Donovan and Carlisle get reaquainted

Updated: 5:49pm, March 27

Billy & Rick DALLAS -- Billy Donovan (Providence) and Rick Carlisle (Virginia) both helped lead their college teams on improbable runs to the Final Four in the 1980s.

Carlisle managed something of a career in the NBA, logging reserve minutes and winning a championship alongside Larry Bird in Boston.

Donovan’s pro career? Not so much.

But toward the end of their NBA runs as players, both were teammates on the New York Knicks under Coach Rick Pitino his first season and spent a lot of time on the bench together. In fact, during their time off on the road, Donovan and Carlisle would find a local gym to play 1-on-1 for about an hour and a half.

“And then we’d go talk basketball,” Carlisle said Wednesday. “We both had an intellectual curiosity for the game. Both loved the game. We knew our playing days in the pros were numbered and also knew we both had an interest in coaching.”

They’ve done OK for themselves since.

Donovan, of course, has those back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006-07 with the Gators, while Carlisle is the Dallas Mavericks coach who shocked LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Finals in six games.

Donovan and Carlisle have remained close friends the past two decades and they’ve taken advantage of this week’s proximity, with UF facing Florida Gulf Coast in Friday night’s NCAA South Region semifinals at Cowboys Stadium.

Monday night,  the Florida and Dallas staffs went out to dinner and Tuesday the Gators attended the Mavs game -- a 109-102 overtime thriller over the Los Angeles Clippers -- at the American Airlines Arena, where Donovan was a guest in Carlisle’s seats behind the team bench.

On Wednesday, Carlisle attended UF’s afternoon practice at Southern Methodist University and watched Donovan put his team through a spirited workout in anticipation of the Sweet 16 game.

“I’ve been amazed on the impact Billy has had -- not just at Florida, but on all of college basketball,” Carlisle said.  “A lot of the things he does are things that are kind of universally done now and that’s a credit to his hard work over a long period of time.”

Carlisle recalled how Knicks players were resistant to the maniacal, fullcourt-pressuring ways of Pitino when he arrived after guiding Providence (led by Donovan) to the Final Four. In practices, though, Carlisle said it was Donovan -- his hustle, willingness to play hard every possession, ball-handling skills against traps and pressure -- who helped Pitino sell the style to the likes of Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins, etc.

That Knicks team qualified for the playoffs the final game of the season.

Carlisle saw the coach in Donovan then.

“He was one of the smartest players I ever saw,” he said. “Billy had an extremely high level of resourcefulness. His brains and skills were great, but the resourcefulness was what was going to make him a great coach. And it has.”

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