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Photo courtesy of USA Basketball.

Wednesday July 10, 2013Golden Moment in the Donovan Family

Photo courtesy of USA Basketball.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The national anthem of the United States had just echoed through the arena, followed by streamers and confetti falling from the rafters.

From his place atop the gold-medal podium, USA coach Billy Donovan hopped to the floor and began weaving through members of his Under-19 basketball squad as it celebrated, along with assistant coaches and support staff, an 82-68 victory over Serbia and just the third title from the age group in the FIBA World Championships over the last 26 years.

Donovan was looking for the team's manager, who happened to be his oldest son. It didn't take long for the elder Billy to find younger Billy and pull him close for a hug.

That's when the coach lifted the medal from around his neck and draped it over his son's.

"This is for you," the coach said.

How's that for a father-son moment worth its weight -- and then some -- in you-know-what?

"I was not expecting that," young Billy said Wednesday. "I tried to give it back to him, but he told me how much he loved me and how he wanted me to have it. I was just kind of speechless after that."

Whatever needed to be said, had been.

Pretty nice way to tip off what figures to be a unique year in the Donovan household, what with young Billy, the transfer from Catholic University, now eligible to join the 2013-14 Gators and take part in all team activities -- including road game travel -- after sitting out last season under NCAA transfer rules.

Donovan's son originally went to Catholic because of its location in the nation's capital. He had ambitions, perhaps, of working in politics.

But his love for the game (and his family) brought him home. Donovan now thinks his future may be as a teacher and coach, so he has a head start -- and nice trinket -- on experiencing the game firsthand alongside his future Hall of Fame father.

Dad is very happy about it.

"My parents never missed any of my games, but because of my job I've missed a lot of my kids' things -- and sometimes I feel bad about it," Coach Donovan said. "I love that he's here, and I loved that he was able to be with us over there."

That would be Prague, Czech Republic, site of the FIBA Worlds. As manager, young Billy had the normal (and often inglorious) duties and chores -- doing laundry, sweeping floors, fetching Gatorade -- but he also was privy to all practices, team meetings and coaching skull sessions, which featured his father huddling with Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart and Virginia's Tony Bennett, who served as Donovan's two assistants.

"He was knee-deep in it all," father said.

And took advantage of it.

From the tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo. (where Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim were among the USA selection committee) to the mini-camp in Washington (at the NBA Wizards' headquarters) and for the two weeks in Prague, young Billy Donovan soaked up the basketball like a sweaty towel. He kept a daily journal of his time with the USA team, jotting down observations from Smart's thoughts on the press to Bennett's takes on his trademark defense, to his father's pre-game words of wisdom and anything else he felt noteworthy.

"I had enough to write a three-page reflection after the whole experience; just for myself," he said. "Something I can cherish and remember."

One of the many.

Meanwhile, Donovan, the dad, is receiving mega-praise among the USA Basketball community for his handling of the team and how the players embraced his message and style of play.

The U19 Americans had won just two of the previous seven FIBA World tournaments, dating to 1987, in good part because the 19-year-old threshold comes when really good college players are turning pro while opposing national teams have, in some cases, played together for months; even years.

But Donovan, Smart and Bennett took a two-week-old team featuring four or five likely future first-round draft picks -- including slam-dunk 2014 lottery point guard Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State -- and got them to play for the flag.

"What we were able to do was use the depth and athleticism of all 12 guys to press, get turnovers, get to the offensive glass and rebound," said Coach Donovan, who along with last year's gold-medal performance in the U18 FIBA Tournament of the Americas is now 14-0 in international play. "And the one thing I'll say about our guys -- who were a joy to coach, one through 12 -- was they all had good motors and really good energy. Winning to them was really important.

"And I give them credit because every single one of those guys is a high-profile player, and they all knew going in there would be some form of sacrifice that would have to take place for us to win. No one was going to score 25 points. No one was going to play 35 minutes. It was going to be a collective effort and their buying into that was really tremendous."

Better than that, it was golden.

"If you listen, some people are already calling it the best 19-and-under team the US has ever had," said young Billy, whose mother will frame his medal. "To be there and to think you were part of something so special, I'm going to have to let that sink in for a while."

 

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