OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thunder coach Billy Donovan called the bribery and fraud scandal rocking college basketball "sad," and he expressed sympathy for Louisville Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, who was placed on administrative leave Wednesday.
"I feel bad," Donovan said. "I wouldn't be standing where I am today without Coach Pitino, the investment he made in my life. I think the values and things that he taught me -- I haven't spoken to him. I don't know all the things that are going on there, but him being a college coach and then working for him for five years, we've always remained very close, and I feel bad for all he's dealing with and Louisville is dealing with right now."
A federal investigation into fraud and corruption in recruiting has connected a number of schools, including Louisville, which was already under probation. The Cardinals' probation for a sex-for-pay scheme run by a Pitino assistant led to Pitino already being suspended for the first five conference games of the upcoming season.
Donovan played for Pitino at Providence as the two engineered an improbable Final Four appearance in 1987. From there, Pitino coached Donovan for 44 games with the New York Knicks and has served as a longtime mentor. After getting cut in the NBA and trying out Wall Street, Donovan was hired by Pitino as a graduate assistant at Kentucky in 1989, kicking off a long and very successful coaching career.
Before being hired by the Thunder in 2015, Donovan spent 21 years as a college head coach, both at Marshall and Florida, where he won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
On Tuesday, the FBI charged 10 men, including a top Adidas executive and four college assistant coaches, with using hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to influence top-rated recruits in their choice of school, shoe sponsor and agents.
"It's sad. It's sad in a lot of ways," Donovan said of the scandal. "You feel bad for so many different people. But I think the unfortunate part is I think for a lot of the kids over the years who are being recruited and going through it, it's unfortunate that whether it's people on the recruiting side or the coaching side getting in the middle of that, because I'm not so sure what kind of message it actually sends to young people. But it's, I think for somebody that's been around college basketball for a long, long time, it's just kind of disappointing in a lot of ways."
Many around the country have seen the investigation as officially uncovering the worst-kept secret in college basketball. As one of the most accomplished coaches in college basketball history, Donovan said finding a solution to the issue isn't as simple as it may appear.
"Well, there's a lot of different variables that go on that a lot of people don't really necessarily know how it works," he said. "I think what you started to see over the last probably 15 years is a lot more of agents and people, sneaker companies getting involved with kids at a much, much earlier age, and it's a very difficult thing for the NCAA to police.
"The part that's disappointing all the way around because I don't know if anybody's actually explained to the kids what the rules are and if they are explaining what the rules are, are they saying that they don't matter," Donovan said. "So, there's a lot of things that a lot of people don't realize that these kids are dealing with when they're 15 years old, and the stuff that's in front of them right away that nobody has any idea of. I don't know what the solution is, but it's really, really challenging for a lot of different variables."