Despite Struggles of Gators Basketball, Billy Donovan Made Right Choice

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMay 31, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 13:  Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators calls a play during the game against the Auburn Tigers during the quaterfinal round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 13, 2009 at The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

With the Orlando Magic clinching a berth in the NBA Finals, it seems obvious that Florida Gators' coach Billy Donovan made the wrong decision two years ago in turning down the Orlando coaching gig.

But that's not the case.

Donovan made the right choice to stay in Gainesville instead of heading down the Florida peninsula to Orlando.

Donovan's mentor, Rick Pitino, learned the hard way when he left arguably the best coaching job in college basketball to coach the Boston Celtics.

Pitino went dancing with Kentucky six consecutive years, reached the Elite Eight in five those of seasons, and won a National Championship. In Boston, Pitino could never reach the .500 mark.

After the 2006-2007 season, Donovan had just won his second consecutive title with Florida and made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past nine seasons.

After 13 seasons and 296 wins, it seemed like the ideal time for Donovan to bolt for the NBA. But the Magic wasn't the ideal situation. Coaching the Gators was, and still is.

Orlando was coming off a season in which it just barely sneaked into the playoffs, riding the stellar play of budding superstar Dwight Howard.

But Superman was a one-man show at the time, as Hedo Turkoglu hadn't emerged as a reliable second scorer and the Magic lacked a consistent point guard.

Orlando also didn't have a high draft pick, because a trip to the playoffs as the eighth seed and first round exit to Detroit meant the Magic wouldn't be in the lottery.

There was room for Orlando to grow, but a new coach wasn't going to turn the Magic instantly into an Eastern Conference contender.

Donovan learned through his mentor's experience in Boston that if the general manager doesn't retool a team, then a coaching change is usually not enough to make a team win.

Orlando's trade for Rashard Lewis happened six weeks after Donovan turned down the job. Turkoglu didn't emerge as a dangerous scorer until Stan Van Gundy became coach.

Orlando's offense has been completely revamped since 2007. It was revamped under Van Gundy's direction, not Donovan's. It's Van Gundy's coaching that turned an improved roster into a title contender.

Donovan showed he can turn not-so-stellar rosters into national title contenders. The 2006 Gators entered the season with a mere 13 preseason votes between the AP and ESPN Polls.

Florida's top three contributors from the previous season were gone, leaving a nucleus of role players.

The Gator offense suddenly became the second most efficient attack in the country, and the defense was the fifth hardest to score on.

Donovan's coaching performances have built him a resume that could eventually make him one of the best college coaches in history. At the age of 42, Donovan had two titles and almost 300 wins. If he sticks around long enough, chances are he'll win more titles and could hit 800 wins.

While at this point Donovan will not be remembered for revolutionary coaching tactics, his teams always excel on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Donovan sends players to the NBA at an excellent rate. Eleven Gators have been drafted during Donovan's tenure in Gainesville (a 12th, Nick Calathes, is heading to Greece to make a small fortune).

With that track record, Donovan was poised for more success after he spurned the NBA. After two disappointing seasons with very young teams, Donovan is still raking in the talent. 

One of the top talents in the country, five-star recruit Kenny Boynton is headed for UF to be Donovan's two-guard. He'll join a half-dozen former four-star recruits that return to Donovan's roster, as well as former five-star recruit Chandler Parsons.

Florida should be headed in the right direction under Donovan.

And Donovan should be headed to Springfield, Mass., if he can continue to win games in Gainesville, the location Donovan should stay for decades.


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