Florida Naming Its Basketball Court After Billy Donovan is a Top 3 Decision In The Stricklin Era
Nineteen years. Over 500 wins. Back-to-back national championships.
This is the resume of Billy Donovan during his time at Florida. He is inarguably the best basketball coach in the history of UF basketball, and he is in the conversation for best coach in the history of Florida sports.
Now, in Gainesville, basketball will never mean as much as football. It just won't. And we know this. But before Donovan arrived in 1996, it didn't matter at all.
But when then-athletic director Jeremy Foley announced Donovan as the next head coach of Florida basketball, that program would never be the same. Four years later, Donovan's squad of future NBA players like Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Matt Bonner played in the Final Four.
At the time, a program like Florida in the final four was unheard of. Was it just a fluke? Or did Foley absolutely nail a coaching hire? How can we find out?
How about back-to-back national titles?
2006 to 2008 at UF was the best athletic run in the history of collegiate athletics between the two major sports of football and men's basketball. In that span, Urban Meyer and the football team claimed two national titles while Donovan and his hoops team collected two more.
And let me ask you: When you think Florida hoops, who do you think of?
Do you think of Bradley Beal or Jason Williams? Probably the two best NBA players to ever come out of Florida? Do you think Bonner, Miller or Haslem? Who have seven NBA championships between them?
No. You think of Joakim Noah. You think of Al Horford. You think of Corey Brewer and you think of Lee Humphries and Taurean Green.
Why? They claimed the rings. That group hoisted two trophies in a row and are responsible for the two national championship banners that hang in the O'Connell Center.
And now, those banners will smile down on the coach that made it all happen. They will smile down on the no name hire from Marshall in 1996 that put together an all-time run in college basketball.
And perhaps more impressive than actually winning those titles in '06 and '07, was how Donovan and his squad did it.
Nobody expected anything out of that 2006 team. Noah wasn't considered skilled enough to be a championship-level big man. Green was too small and Humphries wasn't athletic enough.
Well, they did it anyway. Despite nobody seeing them coming, that team was the last one standing in early April. And the next year, the target was draped all over their backs.
Donovan convinced all of his guys to stay for the next season, somehow. In an era where guys simply don't stay in college with legitimate NBA opportunity, his group all stayed. Noah could've potentially been the first overall pick, but he wanted another run with his team in Gainesville.
Everyone came for Florida that year. Everyone hated the Gators largely because of how outspoken Noah was. Donovan had one of the most difficult tasks any basketball coach can ever have" managing superstars.
And he did it masterfully. He showed why he is worthy of having that court named after him. And don't get me wrong, there were obviously other great years in the Donovan era, but the national championship seasons are tattooed in the brains of Gator faithful, and will always make fans have a special place in their heart for Billy Donovan.
To me, the best decision made by Scott Stricklin so far in his tenure as Florida's athletic director is hiring Dan Mullen to be the head football coach. The second best is the overall commitment to upgrading facilities everywhere such as the new baseball stadium and the indoor football facility.
But outside of that, this is Stricklin's best move as A.D. Sometimes it can be rare for an A.D. to show that kind of respect and admiration towards a coach they never hired and they never worked with. But Stricklin gets it.
He gets how much this man means to the Gator Nation. He gets how monumental this is and how deserving Donovan is.
So hats off to you, Scott Stricklin. And to Billy Donovan, well deserved.