Billy Donovan happy at Florida, but has not ruled out NBA return
ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Donovan is still intrigued by the NBA.
Donovan briefly left the Gators to take the head coaching job with the Orlando Magic in 2007. He changed his mind a few days later, returned to Gainesville and has been there since.
With Donovan back in Orlando for the NCAA tournament, he has fielded several questions about his decision and what could have been.
While making it clear Friday that he’s happy in Gainesville, he didn’t exactly rule out a potential return to the NBA.
"I got into coaching because of the basketball piece of it, and there is an intrigue as it relates to (the NBA)," Donovan, who led Florida to two national championships, said. "When you try to project where your future is, where you’re going to be, and you don’t know because I don’t have a crystal ball, all I can say is I am happy here at Florida. I love being here.
"The NBA part of it, the intrigue part of it for me, is just the fact that it’s basketball 24 hours a day. That’s all you’re dealing with is basketball."
Donovan said it’s difficult to not be around college players for long stretches during the summer, adding that coaches have "a lot of other things" to deal with all the time.
When asked whether he considers himself a college coach for life, Donovan chose to avoid that label.
"When you say a lifer, that means to me I’m never, ever going to go anywhere and be there," he said. "Who knows? They may get sick of me at Florida and want me to move on. But I don’t like coming out making bold predictions or statements. I would say I’m extremely happy with my life right now at the University of Florida."
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, Donovan’s mentor who coached the New York Knicks (1987-89) and the Boston Celtics (1997-01) before returning to college, advised his former Providence point guard and Kentucky assistant to stay in Gainesville in 2007.
"Do I think Billy will ever coach in the NBA?" Pitino said Friday. "He’s like a son to me, but I couldn’t answer that question. The last time around, his dad and his wife were all for him going to the Magic, which was shocking to me. I was the only one against it, I think, in his inner circle."
Pitino made it clear he would like to see the O’Connell Center court in Gainesville named after Donovan.
"You know, it’s always been, not a dream of Billy’s, but a dream of mine to see a court named ‘Billy Donovan Court,’" Pitino said. "I thought it would happen a while ago, to see his name on the court. I still very much want to see that someday because of what he’s meant to Gator basketball.
"That being said, if he wants to try it someday, that would be great. He’ll be a great pro coach. Billy, if he wanted to do that, will be a terrific pro coach because he’s always thinking of plays, defenses and he’d be great at it. Me personally, you know, I just want what’s best for him and his family. Florida is very lucky to have somebody like that for a long period of time. How many years has it been?"
Eighteen in Gainesville.
"That’s amazing," Pitino said. "I really feel like I just left him in Providence like seven, eight years ago. It’s amazing."