College basketball suffered a major loss. It has been a tough off-season losing the talents of Kevin Durant and Greg Oden to the allure of the NBA.
Now the pros have invaded the coaching ranks and taken away one of the greats of the coaching fraternity, Billy Donovan. The Orlando Magic's gain is the Florida Gators' loss.
Let's not forget the amazing job he did down at Florida. Before he arrived as head coach of the Gators, many people said it was a football school that could be respectable in hoops, but never great. Back then Florida played second fiddle in SEC basketball behind the Kentucky Wildcats.
Donovan didn't buy any of that. He rolled up his sleeves and went to work pulling off some magic in recruiting battles. Florida built up a great environment with the Rowdy Reptiles at the O-Dome and the enthusiasm and excitement created for both basketball and football was special. It all happened under the leadership of one of America's premier athletic directors, Jeremy Foley.
He provided all the necessary resources for his coaches to succeed. There was the new basketball practice facility, first class in every way.
Donovan embraced football and utilized it in a positive way in the world of recruiting. It led to nine NCAA tourney trips in a row; prior to his arrival Florida's longest streak was three straight years under Norm Sloan. Of course those nine appearances included two national championships, the first school to go back-to-back since the Dukies in 1991 and '92.
Success leads to inquiries and you knew the phone calls would come in and as I said during the Final Four, even though it is one of the best jobs around, forget about Donovan going to Kentucky. They have passionate fans and a beautiful facility, but Donovan was not going to go to any other college job in America.
I said at the time that if the NBA called, watch out. He seemed to to be intrigued about the prospects on the pro level and considered making the move a challenge. Of course he also could follow in the footsteps of his mentor Rick Pitino who won a national championship in 1996 and then made it to title game the follwing season before moving on to the Boston Celtics.
I don't want to hear the argument that college coaches are failures at the next level. Many times that happens because there is a lack of talent. If Pitino got Tim Duncan in the 1997 draft I don't think we would see him at Louisville these days! People forget he won 50 games and made the playoffs with the Knicks; he can flat out coach, my friends.
Back to Donovan. He said no to the Memphis Grizzlies but then Orlando called. The Magic offer was too much to turn down, over $27 million. There were other perks included, like a condo in Orlando so that he doesn't have to sell his home in Gainesville and his children can remain in their current school system. The Magic also established a provision where Donovan can hire a number of individuals he is comfortable with, like a training staff and conditioning people.
It is a magical package! Mickey Mouse has arrived in the Donovan household, baby!
How many people get an opportunity like this knowing that if it didn't work out, the phones would be ringing with interested college athletic directors? He would be on the short list of so many; it would happen in a heartbeat.
I feel bad for the college game, which suffered a blow. Donovan has moved uptown and I wish he and his lovely wife Christine all the luck in the world. There aren't too many nicer people in the business than Donovan.
He is a winner, he has love, passion and spirit for the game. Donovan will communicate with today's pro athlete in a special way. Remember, he has something a lot of the other college coaches didn't have in their transition to the pros -- Donovan played on the NBA level, so he is familiar with the lifestyle.
Donovan goes to a team that made the playoffs last season, and there is a foundation to build on named Dwight Howard. He is one of the best young big men in the low post, and the challenge of coaching a future great probably intrigued him as well.
Throw in some young talent like Jameer Nelson and a healthy J.J. Redick with his jump shot, and the nucleus is there. Orlando can be a team of the future.
Donovan made his move, and the big question in Gainesville is simple ... who will take over the Gators? My gut feeling is former Florida assistant and current VCU coach Anthony Grant would bring stability to the program. He was like Donovan was when he came out of Marshall. I feel he's an ideal choice.
Assistant coach Larry Shyatt will likely join Donovan in Orlando and Donovan will also possibly hire two assistant coaches with NBA experience in addition to Shyatt.
You don't have to tell Foley what to do. He found Urban Meyer for the football team and he got Donovan and look how well those two hires worked out. With Foley in charge, you can expect something positive.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.