Has Billy Donovan's Mojo Been Stolen...by Darrin Horn?

Tim PollockSenior Writer IFebruary 17, 2009

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi has an interesting take on Billy Donovan’s recent struggles at Florida: A Magic Jinx.  Since Donovan spurned Orlando, the Magic have become one of the NBA’s best teams under Stan Van Gundy; meanwhile, the Gators just lost to Georgia, a 1-9 SEC team with no coach and an 11-game losing streak before the win over Florida. 

In Bianchi’s words: “Somewhere, somehow, Billy D. has misplaced his mojo.”

I don’t know if I’d take it that far, but it just goes to show you that a few recruiting mistakes can set a program back two years—or more.

Junior Dan Werner and sophomore Chandler Parsons came in with reputations as sharpshooting big men, but neither has shown the ability on the collegiate level.  Parsons appeared to be on his way to breaking out after lighting up Vandy from three, bombing 7-8 triples en route to 27 points.  But since then, Parsons has gone a miserable 3-16 from downtown, brining his season average to just 30 percent.

Werner, meanwhile, is averaging only seven ppg in conference play while shooting 33 percent from three.  And as a starting power forward in a guard-heavy conference, Werner only averages 4.2 rebounds a game. 

When your starting forwards are putting up those numbers—and you can’t go to anyone on the bench—something is wrong.      

It’s hard to believe that Donovan—who took over the FL program at only 31 years of age—is now the “Dean of the SEC” and still only 43 years old.  But Donovan’s image took a hit after his five-day employment at One Magic Place, and he needs to see things through at Florida. 

All of a sudden, Billy the Kid went from winning national championships to turning down Kentucky’s overtures (twice) to signing a huge NBA coaching contract to back full circle to his early days in Gainesville—leading an average Florida team into the tail end of another mediocre season. 

Times, they do change.  And a new young face is on the verge of taking over. 

As the SEC East continues its shift in power, Kentucky’s struggles seem to get compounded by each game.  Once the front runner for the East crown at 5-0, the Cats are now 7-4 after Tuesday night’s loss to Vandy, and with an ailing Patrick Patterson, who knows what Kentucky will put together to close the year. 

Tennessee, meanwhile, has been all over the map and has a difficult stretch to end the season—filled with mainly road games.

And then there is South Carolina, quietly sitting atop the East standings, with a very manageable remaining schedule.  At the helm is new coach Darrin Horn, the upstart 35-year-old fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance coaching his alma mater, Western Kentucky. 

Horn is in prime position to claim not only the East title but also SEC Coach of the Year, if he can hold off LSU’s Trent Johnson.  Horn has entirely changed the culture at South Carolina, and the same team that couldn’t win a close game last year is pulling off miracle wins this season. 

And he isn’t stopping there. 

Horn has become the new Donovan in more ways than one.  In his first year in Columbia, Darrin Horn has the following on the table in front of him: a first place finish in the East, an NCAA tournament bid, an SEC Coach of the Year Award, and a top-flight recruiting class.  

He might also be pondering job offers in the near future as well: Horn grew up in Lexington, KY, and if Billy Gillispie continues to falter, Horn might just replace Donovan as the new target for the Wildcats. 

If Georgia can lure former Florida assistant Anthony Grant to Athens, SEC fans will be in for a treat for a long time coming.