Ridaught: Billy Donovan talks NBA, college hoops

Last Friday, May 27, former Gainesville Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley interviewed former Gator basketball and current Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan on his podcast, “Another Dooley Noted Podcast.”

I’ve always enjoyed listening to Pat’s interviews over the years. His Rolodex of guests is among the best in the country.

I knew the “Billy D” interview was one that I couldn’t miss, and the two didn’t disappoint.

From discussing the hiring of new UF basketball coach Todd Golden, to coaching in the NBA, plus Al Horford in the NBA finals and Taurean Green’s new position with the Gators, there were plenty of talking points with the only Gator basketball coach to win a national title at UF.

In fact, he won two—back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Donovan, who had “an incredible 19 seasons in Gainesville,” said he likes the NBA. He feels like he’s “done the college thing.”

Donovan explained that he accomplished almost everything you can accomplish from national titles to SEC tournament titles and an undefeated SEC regular season.

He did say that when he left Oklahoma City that he didn’t know what the future was going to hold, but he hadn’t really thought about going back to college.

Then Chicago called.

He enjoys what he is doing and the people he is working with in the Bulls’ organization.

“I really like the NBA, and enjoy it quite a bit,” he said.

Golden has only been on the job for two months now, so he’s adjusting to all of the changes that come with it.

Donovan said he was not involved in the “process” of hiring the next head coach, but he did receive a phone call from UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin to get his perspective on the job, especially since former Gator coach Mike White was hired by former AD Jeremy Foley.

Donovan said that while he couldn’t talk about the current state of college athletics since he’s been out for many years, he did know what to expect as the head coach at the University of Florida.

“You have to have a lot of energy, high energy,” he said. “You’ve got to do a great job of recruiting in the state of Florida, but also connect with the community and some of the former players. There’s been a lot of great players that have come through there.”

One of those former players is Al Horford, who was a part of those back-to-back national titles and is playing for the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. Horford has waited 15 years for this moment.

“I think Al has had a great impact,” said Donovan, who played against the Celtics in early April. “There is a presence about Al in the locker room that can kind of galvanize a group, and connect a group, and get them playing for one cause and I think his leadership certainly has probably played a major role with their team and what they’ve done from January to now.”

Horford had 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting in a 117-94 rout of the Bulls on April 6.

Oddly enough, I grew up a Celtics fan, and while that waned over the years I’ll definitely be pulling for Boston in the Finals.

All of those guys who wore the orange and blue over 15 years ago hold a special place in my heart.

I can’t explain what it was like to cover the Gators during that NCAA run. But I sat courtside, in the old O’ Dome where you were right on the floor, and it was a magical feeling.

I hope that feeling returns for the Gators.

By all accounts, Donovan feels like Stricklin made the right hire after having a phone conversation with the new Gator head coach.

“He seems like a great guy,” Donovan said about Golden. “All the things that he was doing when we spoke on the phone seemed to me were all like the right things. He’s trying to connect with a lot of former players, he was trying to connect with current players, he was really trying to find his way around the state of Florida to recruit because the state is so big and I really think there are talented players there.” 

They also talked about his former player, Taurean Green, who Donovan hired in Chicago as “a player development guy.”

Green, who was part of the “Oh-Fours” with Horford, Joakim Noah, and Corey Brewer, finished his career at UF by winning 18 straight postseason games.

Florida is the last team to win two straight NCAA titles.

Golden told Donovan that they had this new position that they’re allowing now, which they didn’t have when Donovan was coaching, but you could hire a player development coach and he was very interested in Taurean.

“Taurean was really excited,” Donovan said. “His family is still in Florida. He’s got children and a family, and I think in talking to Todd he felt great about it, and I told Todd that I was all in for whatever was best for Taurean, and Taurean was really excited about being back on campus and working with the program and I think he’ll be able to unify and connect a lot of people and even help Todd with some of the relationships…”

Golden has raved about Green’s return to UF.

Meanwhile, Donovan said that so much has changed in college basketball and college athletics since he left, including the NIL and the transfer portal.

There are some things he misses about college basketball, some things he doesn’t.

“As I got older, the one thing that I struggled with a little bit in the recruiting was, there’s no prizes for second place, you either get a guy or you don’t,” Donovan said. “You look back at all the time that you invest in a guy that more often than not, you’re probably not going to sign.”

There is one thing that Donovan misses about the college game.

“The one thing that I really miss is the practices,” he said. “It’s different because of the level of the player and the experience of the player, you don’t have a lot of practice time (in the NBA).”

Donovan noted that due to an 82-game schedule, you are pretty much playing every other night so there aren’t as many practices at the professional level. A lot of it is walk through or film sessions.

He also explained that people have no idea “the toll” that takes place on the players’ bodies with such a grueling schedule.

“Especially from the perspective of a guy that’s playing 35-36 minutes every single night,” he said.

Donovan, who said it took him a while to “catch up to the pace and the speed of the game,” also talked about the first time he mistook an NBA out of bounds play versus the college rule, plus his comment that the only thing that makes him feel somewhat younger “is that Udonis Haslem is still on the sidelines.”

That’s just some of the stuff you’ll hear on Pat’s podcast with the Hall of Fame coach.

The interview is a must for all Gators, especially Gator basketball fans.

It was a lot about Florida basketball. It was fantastic.

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