Donovan bolts for NBA job with Magic

Updated: June 2, 2007, 10:38 AM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Billy Donovan beat his players to the NBA.

His core group at Florida held off on the pros until the Gators won a second straight NCAA title. Donovan, however, got there first -- joining the Orlando Magic weeks before his players are even drafted.

In his first appearance as the Magic coach, Donovan said Friday it took the right mix to lure him from his comfort zone at Florida. And Orlando offered the complete package: a young and talented team, proximity to his Gainesville home and, not to be overlooked, a big paycheck.

"I think the easy decision for me personally could've really been to stay at Florida and just try to continue to move on," Donovan said at a news conference. "Well, the next step could be to try to do something that would really challenge me as a person, as a coach and help me grow and help me get better.

"I've always been intrigued by the NBA. I've been intrigued by the just 24 hours of basketball."

Donovan was the country's hottest college coach, and the Magic weren't the first to make a run at him. In April, Donovan declined an offer at Kentucky, where he began as an assistant 17 years ago. He also was linked to the Memphis Grizzlies job.

The 42-year-old coach said he would have left Florida only for the NBA, and only for a special case.

The Magic made the playoffs this season for the first time in four years but got beat in the first round. There is, however, considerable promise. He replaces Brian Hill at Orlando, who was fired after two consecutive losing seasons.

As for family, Donovan's wife and four children will be able to stay in Gainesville for now. He'll make the 115-mile trip from Orlando to see them when he can.

What's more, he didn't know what the future held at Florida.

"I think in this day and age with so much publicity and so much attention on college and professional basketball now, it's really hard to stay at a place for a long, long period of time. I'm talking about 20, 25, 30 years," Donovan said.

He was at Florida 11 years, and in that time led the school to three NCAA championship appearances. The Gators won the last two, the first team in 15 years to repeat.

Donovan's deal is worth $27.5 million over five years, and his former players' payday is coming soon. Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford -- all early entrants as juniors -- could be top-10 draft picks. Three other players from Donovan's two-time champion team -- Taurean Green, Chris Richard and Lee Humphrey -- have a good shot at the NBA.

Already, Donovan's star power is selling Magic tickets. The team took orders for more than 200 season packages within 24 hours of his hiring.

The Gators also are preparing for the transition. Athletic director Jeremy Foley said Friday the school was trying to land a new coach and hoping to keep recruits from leaving. Donovan signed the consensus No. 1 class in the country this year.

Donovan has been a head coach for 13 seasons -- two at Marshall besides his career with the Gators. He played in the NBA, but only for a year before leaving to join Rick Pitino's staff at Kentucky.

In Orlando, Donovan will try convert that college success into a pro championship -- a difficult feat in the all-business pros. He'll bring at least one assistant from Florida, Larry Shyatt.

Donovan said finding a perimeter scorer was a priority for the Magic -- someone to team with All-Star Dwight Howard and 7-footer Darko Milicic. Donovan said he knows several of the Magic players, having unsuccessfully recruited the likes of Howard, Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick while at Florida.

"Certainly it's going to be an adjustment, but I've got to coach to my personality and how I feel comfortable," Donovan said. "A lot of guys on the team right now, there is some prior relationship."

Donovan said Pitino, his mentor, urged him to consider the move.

"He really felt it was a terrific situation," Donovan said. "That's really where I started to really pay attention and really think about this."

Magic general manager Otis Smith and Donovan downplayed the fact that other successful college coaches struggled in the pros.

"Eighty percent of it is communication and relationships," Smith said. "The X's and O's: How many different ways are there to defend a pick and roll? Let's not kid yourself."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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