GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The NBA has called and Billy Donovan has answered.
That’s all the Florida Gators basketball coach would say on the subject Thursday.
"It’s always flattering, but at the same time, I’ve always said that I’m very happy here and like it here," Donovan said during his first meeting with the media since the 2013-14 season ended with a loss to eventual national champion Connecticut at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. "I like where the program is and the direction we’re going."
Pressed on whether he had closed the door on the NBA, Donovan said, "I fully plan on being back next season."
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Utah Jazz are the NBA franchises currently searching for coaches. How specific and lengthy were the conversations, Donovan was asked.
"I’ve got a few calls from a couple NBA teams. I’m going to leave it at that," said Donovan, who famously accepted the the Orlando Magic job in June 2007 — two months after winning the second of back-to-back NCAA championships — only to change his mind two days later and return to UF. "After the Orlando situation, that’s all I’m saying. That’s it. So I’m not going to get into, ‘He’s lying, he’s not being truthful.’ I got a couple of calls, that’s all it is."
As far as hard news goes, that was pretty much was it also. The bulk of Donovan’s 20 or so minutes focused on the arrival of UF’s newest front court additions: 6-foot-10, 250-pound Jon Horford (pictured above), the transfer from Michigan who will be eligible to play in 2014-15 as a post-graduate student, and 6-10, 245-pound sophomore John Egbunu, who will sit out the upcoming season per NCAA rules.
Here’s Donovan on:
* Horford, who is the younger brother of former UF All-American Al Horford and averaged 3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while playing 14 minutes a game as a reserve for the Wolverines: "The thing that he’ll bring to our team is certainly a lot of success at Michigan while he was there. Some very good teams, some deep runs in the tournament. He’s got an understanding of what goes into winning. He’s got a really, really good work ethic. He has natural leadership qualities and leadership abilities. He’s here on campus now. He’s already in school. He’s getting acclimated with the players and what we’re doing here. But I think he gives us maybe a little bit more experience in our front court with the loss of Will [Yeguete] and Pat [Young] and Casey [Prather], another older guy. … Even though he’s only got one year to play, I think the transition for him will be pretty smooth."
* Egbuno, who as a freshman at South Florida averaged 6.2 points and 7.4 rebounds on his way to be named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team. "He has unbelievable upside and potential. He’s really long, he’s athletic. I think this year, sitting out, will be really, really important for him in terms of his development. He did some really great things for South Florida this year. He’s got incredible upside, just his size, his athletic ability. His potential is huge. He wants to be really good player. He knows he needs development in skill. He’s probably not a polished offensive player with his back to the basket, although I think this year could be important in helping him do that."
* On center Damontre Harris, who never played a minute in two years at UF after transferring from South Carolina, and earlier this month left the program for the second time since December. Donovan said encouraging Harris to move on had nothing to do with the former Southeastern Conference All-Defensive Team member being a trouble-maker or disrespectful. "He had to earn his way back and he had every opportunity to do that. He had a whole semester to do that, and just could not do the things he needed to do, [that] we expected him to do. What Scottie Wilbekin had to do [to earn his way back from suspension last summer] was way, way more difficult than what Damontre had to do, because when Scottie’s situation happened it was in the offseason and he was totally removed from our team. This guy was in practice. He was used on the scout team. The things we’re talking about were like going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, lifting, showing up to practice, those kind of things. Basically, we evaluated him over that two and a half, three months over that second semester and clearly nothing had changed at all. And I was just not going to have him come back in this kind of situation."
* On what could be the most pronounced difference in next season’s UF team compared to the one that just went 35-3, including 30 wins in a row. "The group we have coming back right now is not a disciplined group, and in order for them to be successful they’re going to have to get disciplined. I’m not talking about discipline in terms of off-the-court. I’m talking on the court; of doing your job more often than not. And getting that reliability and accountability and responsibility that you are going to do your job. We had [Dorian Finney-Smith], Kasey Hill, Chris Walker, DeVon Walker; all those guys had discipline problems [on the floor] last year. That’s why you saw them up and down. That’s why you saw their minutes during the season up and down; their discipline was up and down. There were moments when Kasey Hill showed us some great flashes of who he can be. And then there were signs of giving up 3-point shots and guys going around him. That never happened to Scottie Wilbekin. Now, Scottie wasn’t always that way. He developed into that. Patric Young developed into that. Kasey Hill needs to develop into that. … Hopefully, they’ve taken from this group how disciplined they were, how connected they were and how they played together."
* This and that: Eli Carter, the Rutgers transfer who sat out last season mending a broken leg suffered his sophomore season, is "probably 80-85 percent" recovered and taking part full-bore in offseason conditioning. Carter was not able to do that last summer. … The UF coaching staff is enthused about adding forward Alex Murphy, the transfer from Duke who comes eligible to take the floor when the fall semester closes in mid-December. Donovan said the 6-9 forward and brother of former UF star Erik Murphy is working to develop to more consistency with his scoring, but is considerably more skilled than Erik. … Guard Dillon Graham is trying to work back from a pair of hip surgeries that sidelined the sophomore all of last season. Graham is not expected to be cleared for any contact work until as late as September or October, which figures to impact his development relative to next season.