In the last 18 or so hours, Billy Donovan officially became the Head Coach of the Orlando Warlocks, and an annoying, bald scream arose from Sarasota that was audible across the land. Dick Vitale is surely in shock this morning after having patted Donovan on the head repeatedly following Donovan’s spurning of the Kentucky job to remain in Florida. Vitale and others stroked Donovan incessantly for “staying true to himself”, “remaining at the place he built”, and “keeping the better job” and lauding him for not chasing the money. Surely, it was thought, this was a Dean Smith scenario, where Billy would spend the next forty years in Gainesville and be buried in an orange and blue coffin. However, Billy’s business cards will now read, “Head Coach, Orlando Magic”.
First, let me say that I don’t blame him. If he truly wants to give the NBA a go, then I say God bless him. Devote your time and energy to it, and perhaps you’ll go down as the only coach to be wildly successful in both college and professional basketball (don’t start with any Larry Brown stuff). Don’t feel bad for the University of Florida, because they didn’t necessarily have the tradition of the Yankees pre-Donovan, and are now in a position to continue as a national power under someone new (Anthony Grant if they’re smart). Nor should you feel bad for the Florida recruits; they knew Donovan was a hot commodity and was flirting with the NBA, and there are enough instances where coaches have told players “I will be here for four years” that such a phrase should be taken with less than a grain of salt (maybe a molecule of salt?).
What, then, is my problem? Well, it begins with a quote put forward by Jai Lucas this morning to Ben Volin of the Cox News Service. “…things happen, and I’m sure if he (Donovan) does take it, it’s the best thing he could do for his family.” In all the times that Jai has interacted with any of us at Kentucky Sports Radio (or whatever the parent company is called, now–Altria, maybe?) Jai has always said the right thing and handled himself better than most thirty year olds. This quote was no different. After having originally signed up for what he thought were going to be four years at Florida with Patrick Patterson and Billy Donovan, he is now presented with a much different landscape as he enters college. His response? Exactly what you would expect from a media-savvy, intelligent professional twice his age. Or at least that’s what I hope. Surely Jai was disappointed, but was able to calmly offer the politically correct response. Right? He can’t truly believe that Donovan was doing this in the best interest of his family. Can he? Because if this is the case, and that is what Donovan is telling recruits and players, then it is a farce. ( For the record, I hope UK gets Lucas, now)
Donovan wasn’t exactly making meager wages at the University of Florida. His contract paid him millions of dollars a year, his daughter had horses, and his wife was able to look for pieces of property in Lexington freely, so I doubt that his leaving for Orlando was the result of his family imploring him to get them out of their dire straits. No, the reason that Billy D. chose the Magic is because it is a new challenge, albeit with plenty of extra money (pillows have to be stuffed with something). What would the challenge be at the University of Florida? A three-peet (I had to spell it that way so Pat Riley doesn’t sue)? Billy has already reached the pinnacle of college basketball and the only remaining challenge would be to try to win it again. With the Orlando Magic, he gets to mold a young team on the verge of playoff success, and gets to do so with a young player poised to blossom into one of the game’s biggest names (not J.J. Redick). No, this is not about more money; Billy simply saw nothing else to accomplish in Gainesville. I, for one, will be much more impressed with Billy Donovan if he makes clear that this is his reason for leaving, and refrains from any Latrell Sprewell-like explanations about putting food on the family’s table. Good luck in Orlando, Billy Donovan. Beating Florida will be less fun without you on the sidelines.