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Billy the son, back row, listens to Billy the father speak to the team in Memphis.

Saturday March 29, 2014NCAA Tournament a Donovan Family Affair

Billy the son, back row, listens to Billy the father speak to the team in Memphis.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- One of his first memories of March Madness came years ago when he was a kid visiting his grandfather in Long Island, N.Y., for the summer.

William Conner Donovan and his grandfather, Bill Donovan, would escape back in time to watch William John Donovan -- better known as Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan -- on grainy video tapes.

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan saved games on video of Billy's career at Providence College. On one of those summer vacations to visit his grandparents, little Billy recalls watching his dad torch St. John's in the 1987 Big East Tournament.

Playing at Madison Square Garden, Billy scored a then-Big East Tournament record 34 points in Providence's 80-51 victory over St. John's. Donovan was named to the all-tournament team and over the next three weeks would lead Providence to the Final Four.

Little Billy sat mesmerized watching his dad -- "Billy the Kid" in those days -- make shot after shot.

"I think that is my favorite,'' said little Billy, now a redshirt junior for the Gators. "My grandfather has all his games. I loved watching them."

When March rolls around, basketball becomes a true family affair for the Donovan clan.

In his 18th season at Florida, Billy Donovan has the Gators in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time. The Gators face Dayton here on Saturday in the Elite Eight, Florida's fourth consecutive trip to the round before the Final Four.

Bill Donovan has been a staple around Florida's basketball program since his only son took over the Gators in 1996. He is a regular at the O'Connell Center and on the road during the regular season, often sitting on Florida's bench a few seats down from his grandson as Billy paces up and down the sideline.

He was in Atlanta when the Gators capped a perfect run through the Southeastern Conference to win the conference tournament. He was in Orlando last weekend when the Gators opened the NCAA Tournament with wins over Albany and Pittsburgh.

And Disco -- Billy's nickname for his gregarious dad -- or Mr. D. as most of Florida's traveling party refers to him, will be at FedExForum on Saturday afternoon as the Gators try to earn their first Final Four trip in seven years.

So will Little Billy, a seldom-used guard who transferred from Catholic University prior to last season to play for his father.

Little Billy grew up around his dad's program and watched from the stands at the Gators won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.

"I was always excited about this time of year, missing school and heading down with the family to hang out,'' little Billy said. "Family is very, very important."

Little Billy was unable to travel with the Gators a season ago during their March Madness run due to NCAA transfer rules.

His addition to the program has made this time of year even more special than usual for Billy.

Billy and Christine Donovan

"He's been to a lot of NCAA Tournament games. But now to have him in the locker room and on the court, part of practice every single day, has really been great for me. I'm very thankful I can share these times with him,'' Donovan said. "It's been great for me as a father. When your children go off to college, there's always that wonder of if they will ever come back. Will you see them a lot? Is it going to be a long-distance relationship?"

Donovan's wife Christine and the couple's three other children are also along for the ride. Like her father-in-law, Christine has been a constant part of the program since Donovan arrived.

She prefers to maintain a low profile publicly, but Little Billy said she is a key member of the Donovan team this time of year when the stakes are highest.

"She quiets down a little bit,'' little Billy said. "She is really good with communication and keeps my dad level."

The young Donovan has got to see his dad in a different light the last two years as a member of the team. He was long aware of the time commitment that goes into preparing the Gators this time of year, but to see his dad in action on a daily basis was an eye opener.

"It's totally different,'' he said. "You're definitely not as relaxed. You are just as on edge and as intense as he is. You just don't understand the amount of work that goes into it.

"I definitely think this brings us a lot closer together and I can actually see what he does. The thing I love most about my dad's job is the impact he leaves with these guys. That's something that has inspired me to maybe do the same thing in the future and in some way impact other people."

Bill Donovan calls the March Madness family affair a "godsend."

Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II didn't know what to make of little Billy's transfer to Florida when it happened.

Two years later, he rarely thinks about his head coach's son being on the team.

Little Billy Donovan

"I think Coach D is a little bit harder on his son in practice, but he treats him just like he treats us,'' Frazier said. "If Billy messes up, he's going to let him know. I think they have a great relationship just seeing the way they interact with each other."

During his time at Catholic, Little Billy got to play against the Gators in an exhibition game. He showed his teammates around the UF campus and they gathered at the Donovan home for a big dinner Christine prepared.

He and his father had talked over the years about perhaps one day little Billy playing for the Gators. For a long time he never thought it would happen because he wasn't sure if it was something he wanted.

"I was a little resistant to the idea,'' he said. "It's been a true blessing. I'm just trying to live all this up right now."

Disco, Billy D, Christine and the rest of the Donovans are, too.

 

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