Perhaps George Allen said it best: success isn’t forever, and failure isn’t fatal. Florida fans have learned the back end of that quote for themselves several times throughout Billy Donovan’s tenure, but now comes the tougher lesson: no joy is everlasting.
The cumulative highlights of Gator basketball pre-1996 (one Final Four, five NCAA Tournament appearances) could have been shown in three or four vines. Then along came Billy the Kid, fresh out of Marshall and the lowly Southern Conference, who guided the Gators to four Final Fours and back to back national championships. And then, just like that, he’s dearly departed, becoming nothing but a memory.
UPDATE 1:07pm: sources have also confirmed to me that Billy Donovan has agreed to a deal with OKC.
UPDATE 1:03pm: sources have confirmed to Kevin Brockway that Billy Donovan has agreed to a deal with Oklahoma City.
Multiple reports have come out saying that he is finalizing a deal to become the new head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder; we’ll update this when he’s officially announced. Yes, to quote Dumb and Dumber, I’m saying there’s a chance. But for all intents and purposes, he’s gone.
Donovan began talks with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday morning to replace ousted coach Scott Brooks, and now he has accepted their offer to coach them. It’s a good gig for him; if he learns to adjust to the NBA game and temper his philosophy accordingly, I think he can be very successful. He will get to work with two of the NBA’s top players in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and has an excellent big man in Serge Ibaka to clean up the boards. He also gets the benefit of playing in (at least right now) a weak division; only the division winner, Portland, made the playoffs.
But he leaves behind a Florida program that’s in shambles, and that’s what makes his departure really hurt. The Gators went 16-17 last year, and three of the “key” players from that team (Michael Frazier, Chris Walker and Eli Carter) left school early. Florida is now left with Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith and DeVon Walker as the only three players with any experience at all. And some of that experience is the wrong kind of experience, like Kasey Hill giving away the Miami game last year. So like he did in 2007, Donovan saw a major rebuilding job and left- only this time, I don’t think he’s going to come back.
Florida basketball will miss Donovan more than words can describe. Oh, there are some decent candidates out there to replace him, like Archie Miller, Gregg Marshall and maybe even Larry Shyatt, but Florida has just lost an icon. 40 years from now, Billy Donovan will remain the father of Florida basketball no matter what his successors do, just like Steve Spurrier remains the father of Gator football even though Urban Meyer technically accomplished more. But while this is certainly a day of mourning for Gator Nation, it should also be a day of celebration- a celebration of all that Billy Donovan did for the Gator basketball program.
I’ll defer to NWB for a more in depth and heartfelt goodbye, and I’ll be posting a list of potential replacements next week (Archie Miller is at the top of it), as this is my finals week.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Thank you, coach Donovan, and good luck to you. We love you, in all kinds of weather.