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Thursday July 3, 2014 He's No. 1: countdown of basketball's Top 50 coaches places Billy D at the top

Updated: 11:27am, July 3

Billy D in locker room


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The votes were tallied long before the 2014 NBA Draft last week.

You know, the draft that went two rounds and 60 picks without any of Florida’s four seniors being selected. You know, the four seniors that led the team to a 36-3 record, an historic and unprecedented 21-0 mark against the Southeastern Conference, plus a 30-game winning streak that ended in the Final Four.

Billy Donovan is the No. 1 college basketball coach in the country, according to an ESPN panel of 45 experts spanning the field. began counting down the nation’s Top 50 coaches in May, a list that began with a tie for the No. 50 spot between St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and Baylor’s Scott Drew.

Some names along the way: Georgetown’s John Thompson III (46), Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith (39), Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger (31), Ohio State’s Thad Matta (20), Villanova’s Jay Wright (19), North Carolina’s Roy Williams (16) and VCU’s Shaka Smart (13).

In the last two weeks: Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (12), Arizona’s Sean Miller (11), Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie (10), Michigan’s Jon Beilein (9), Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan (8) and Kansas’s Bill Self (6).

And in the last five days: Louisville’s Rick Pitino (5), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (4), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (3) and Kentucky’s John Calipari (2).

No. 1 was released Thursday.

SEC It’s an excellent tribute to the Donovan, as well as his outstanding assistant coaching staff of John Pelphrey, Rashon Burno and Matt McCall.

Donovan, a 49-year-old icon approaching 500 career victories, is set to enter his 19th season with the Gators and now has to be considered not only the greatest coach in UF history, but the most appreciated and revered in UF history, given his something-from-nothing achievements and loyalty to the university.

I think even Steve Spurrier would agree.

Here’s some excerpted text explaining the panel’s decision to place Billy D at No. 1, courtesy of college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan.

“It's hard to think of a better testament to Donovan's current stature in the sport than this one.

In 2013-14, Donovan led the Gators to a 36-3 overall record with an unbeaten record -- an 18-0 regular-season and a conference tournament title -- in the SEC. The craziest thing about Florida's season was how little intrigue there was in a perfect conference record. Sure, the SEC (save, eventually, Kentucky and Tennessee) was bad. But Florida was also devastatingly good. The Gators held conference opponents to .93 points per possession while scoring 1.14. They averaged the league's highest two-point field goal percentage while simultaneously allowing the lowest.

The reward was the overall No. 1 seed, a champion's place in an overwhelming number of ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets, and, finally, a trip to the Final Four. When they arrived, they were the clear favorites, because they had everything: size, experience, balance and, most importantly, lockdown perimeter defense. That UConn upended the Gators -- and made us all wonder whether SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin wasn't badly injured, given how poorly he played on the defensive end -- may have been the biggest surprise in a tournament full of them.

Disappointing finish or not, 2013-14 was Donovan's master class. In October, the Gators were beset by injuries, illnesses and personnel problems. At the start of the season, the Gators had seven scholarship players available to practice. Wilbekin, after nearly being dismissed over the summer, was serving out an indefinite suspension. Eli Carter and Will Yeguete were still recovering from injuries. Michael Frazier II was being tested for mononucleosis. Chris Walker, the Gators' gem recruit, was academically ineligible. The Gators had forward Patric Young, three-year role player Casey Prather, and a whole lot of unknowns. ...

Billy D on sidelinesWithin a few months, a team that could have been an abject disaster was instead one of Donovan's best. ...

The most impressive thing about all this? The fact that Donovan has done it at Florida. Before Donovan, the Gators' baskteball history was almost nonexistent. In 1932-33, the Gators fielded an SEC basketball team for the first time. For the next 47 years, they finished higher than fourth in the conference standings just four times. The Gators didn't have a full-time coach until 1960, and their only sustained success (under Norm Sloan from 1980 to 1989) led to the Gators' first postseason berths ever, and also a major NCAA scandal.

That was five years before Donovan arrived. Now, 19 years later, Florida is one of the nation's elite college basketball programs. It is a perennial recruiting destination, a near-constant winner. Florida is, and always will be, a football school. Attendance hasn't always been great. But Donovan has been so relentlessly good that even the most stubbornly disinterested alum can't help but sit up and take notice.”

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