Men's Basketball Headline
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Contributing Writer
ORLANDO -- Mere hours after a certain two-time national championship coach made earth-shattering news on the college football front Monday, his Gainesville neighbor and close friend etched himself further into college basketball history.
And deeper into the hearts of Gators everywhere.
Billy Donovan added to his already sterling resume of dizzying UF digits Monday night in 10th-ranked Florida’s 96-70 defeat of Stetson before 5,843 at the Amway Center, a win that marked the 400th of Donovan’s coaching career.
“It’s hard to believe,” Donovan said. “It’s certainly a reflection that time is moving on.”
In hitting his latest milestone, the 46-year-old Donovan became the youngest active NCAA Division-I coach to reach 400 career wins, replacing 48-year-old Bill Self of Kansas, who reached the mark two seasons ago. Donovan’s career record now stands at 400-168 -- with a school-record 365 victories in 16 seasons at Florida (1996-present), coupled with 35 in two seasons at Marshall (’94-96) -- for an all-time winning percentage of .704.
After the game, UF players doused Donovan with a Gatorade bath in the locker room.
“Knowing Billy, it’s just another game, ‘cause we got some big ones coming up,” said Gators assistant John Pelphrey, who has been at Donovan’s side for eight-plus seasons now. “It’ll be something he looks back on and reflects on at a later time -- but that’s a big number, a really big number.”
As for the night’s box score numbers, freshman guard Bradley Beal had the second double-double of his young career, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, while senior point guard Erving Walker pitched in 21 points and six assists. Forward Will Yeguete, in his second straight start since replacing injured junior Erik Murphy, posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go with four steals.
The win was the third straight for Florida (5-1) since falling at No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 15. The Gators will get a second crack at a top-five team Friday when they travel to Syracuse to face the No. 4 Orangemen in a nationally television ESPN showdown at the Carrier Dome.
“Honestly, I think he’s already focused on Syracuse,” Walker said of his coach. “I’m sure he’s happy, and we congratulated him, but he’s ready to move on.”
Certainly, the pending landmark victory overshadowed the Gators first trip back to Orlando since last year’s upset loss to UCF in this Florida Citrus Shootout. There would be no such drama this time, as UF raced to a 20-point first half lead, and despite allowing the Hatters (3-3) to whittle the margin to nine, the Gators had too much athleticism, speed and firepower for their in-state foe.
“Coming from a guy who’s won three ... 400 seems as far away as you can get,” said first-year Stetson coach Casey Alexander, whose team got 20 points from guard Chris Perez, but shot a dismal 1-for-17 from 3-point range. “But he should be congratulated for his longevity, the way he’s done it and having these kinds of teams year after year after year.”
What Donovan needs to be commended for -- beyond building something special from next-to-nothing -- is the loyalty he has shown the Florida program and athletic directory Jeremy Foley.
Donovan could have ridden those two national champions to a mega-payday. He could have gone to Kentucky and been in the center of the college hoops universe. He did go to the NBA, only to realize very quickly he’d made a mistake by agreeing to coach the Orlando Magic.
So he came back to the Gators and -- Are you listening up there in Columbus? -- managed to strike a balance with his family and continue to oversee the very basketball powerhouse he created.
So it was fitting in Monday’s post-game that Donovan, standing in the very arena of the NBA team who he was coach of for all of five days, was asked to relive that stunning decision back in 2007 and equally shocking change of heart.
“After winning two national championships at a non-traditional basketball school, I just thought there was an opportunity and challenge to try and get back to that point again,” Donovan said. ‘It was like, ‘What can we do from here?’ It was an opportunity I felt I may not ever get, especially at a place I had invested so much in over 11 years. I wanted to see what could be done going forward.”
Answer: 400 wins ... and counting.
As for that other guy? The one wearing scarlet and gray? Donovan was asked about him, too.
“Sometimes, unique situations happen,” he said.
Yes, they do. Billy Donovan and Florida basketball are proof of that. And all the Gators that are upset today with the guy who left ought to take time to be thankful for the one who cared enough to stay.