Billy Donovan was headed to the NBA, it was and just a matter of time. University of Florida Athletic Director, Jeremy Foley, knew it, and so did NBA executives. Donovan spent 19 seasons with the Gators, becoming the all-time winningest coach in UF history, coaching the Gators to more NCAA tournament appearances and SEC titles than all the other coaches in program history combined. Donovan took over a Florida program that hadn’t had much success, being more successful in football, and being renowned as the school to create the popular sports drink, Gatorade. Foley sought a young, talented and energetic coach to take over the program, and that’s exactly what he found in Donovan.
Donovan, sometimes referred to as “The Kid,” brought more success to the Florida basketball program than anyone could have imagined when he was hired in 1996 after Lon Kruger left to be the head coach at the University of Illinois. His path to being a successful coach didn’t begin at there though.
Donovan played point guard at Providence for the legendary Rick Pitino. Donovan helped lead the Friars to the 1987 Final Four before spending time as a backup guard with the Knicks, once again for his coach Rick Pitino. Donovan left the NBA and began his coaching journey. After stops at Kentucky and Marshall, Donovan reached the top of the college basketball world with Florida after winning back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, led by NBA players Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Marreese Speights and Corey Brewer. After Donovan’s core left for the NBA, he decided it was time to make the jump as well.
On June 1, 2007, Donovan accepted the head coach position with the Orlando Magic. The day after the introductory press conference, Donovan informed the Magic he would be heading back 130 miles north to Gainesville, to coach the Gators. The Magic obliged, and Donovan signed a new deal worth $3.5 million, making him the highest paid college coach at the time. Eight years rolled by, and Donovan decided to make the jump to the NBA once again, and he wasn’t going back on the decision this time.
On April 30, 2015, Donovan accepted a $30 million multi-year deal to take over for Scott Brooks and coach the Oklahoma City Thunder. Donovan has taken over a team with two NBA superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with Durant having been named the NBA MVP in 2014. The Thunder currently sit atop the Western Conference in a three-way tie for first place at the beginning of the young season.
On Saturday, Westbrook and Durant combined to score 91 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists in a double overtime win in Orlando, against the team who thought they secured Donovan eight years ago. Westbrook and Durant became the only teammates in NBA history with multiple games both scoring 40 points in the win, which included a near half-court buzzer beater to send the game into overtime from Westbrook.
The Thunder were three wins away from a title in 2012, and have battled injuries and the regret of not getting back since then. Some say the window may be closing with the pending free agency of the two superstars, but one thing is sure, and that is that Donovan is the right fit in Oklahoma City. He took the opportunity anyone would love to have, and won’t look back to Gainesville this time around. He has a chance to make it to the top of the NBA world in his first season behind his new team, his experience and grit. Not to mention, his two superstars that are his voice on the court.