As The Basketball Spins ...

FAYETTEVILLE — If things had gone according to plan, Billy Gillispie would be preparing for his first season as Arkansas' basketball coach.

Billy Donovan, meanwhile, would be the most popular man in Kentucky.

And as for John Pelphrey, it's uncertain where he would be right now — had a few breaks not gone his way.

No one can predict how coaching vacancies in the Southeastern Conference will shake out, but there was a possibility a few months ago that things could have looked a lot differently than they do now.

Consider that Donovan was offered Kentucky's coaching job after he led Florida to its second consecutive national championship. Around the same time, Gillispie was believed to be the top candidate to replace Stan Heath at Arkansas.

Neither of those things happened, though.

The dominoes instead fell in such a way that Gillispie is now at Kentucky, Pelphrey is at Arkansas and Donovan is again the coach at Florida — after having a change of heart after briefly taking the Orlando Magic job.

Oh, what an odd tale it has been.

"(With) John, I don't think there was any wavering back and forth of whether or not he wanted to be the coach at Arkansas when the opportunity presented itself," Donovan said Monday during an SEC basketball teleconference.

The chain of events began in late March when Tubby Smith made the unexpected decision to leave Kentucky — despite four years remaining on his contract — to be the new coach at the University of Minnesota.

Donovan was considered Kentucky's first choice, but he turned down a reported $1 million raise to stay at Florida. That opened the door for Gillispie — who had turned around programs at UTEP and Texas A&M — to go to Kentucky.

Gillispie, however, was considered the top candidate to replace Heath, who was fired after Arkansas lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year.

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles reportedly offered Gillispie the job, even though the two men never got a chance to speak.

But Gillispie held out on accepting the Arkansas job, and when Donovan turned down Kentucky's lucrative offer, the Wildcats hired Gillispie to rejuvenate their program.

"When you do change jobs, it's just an enormous task," Gillispie said Monday. "I don't know how other people feel, (but) it really takes about a year and a half for you to really feel any comfort at all (at your new school)."

With Gillispie gone, Broyles decided to hire Creighton coach Dana Altman as Arkansas' basketball coach. But on May 29, one day after being introduced at a news conference at Bud Walton Arena, Altman had a change of heart and decided to return to Creighton.

That cleared the way for Pelphrey, who was South Alabama's coach at the time, to be next in line to replace Heath at Arkansas.

Coincidentally, Pelphrey is a former Kentucky player who is also Donovan's close friend. Pelphrey worked as an assistant for Donovan at Florida.

"South Alabama gave me a blank canvas and they let me paint it how I wanted to," Pelphrey said. "Here at Arkansas right now, they've had a level of success the last few years and I think Stan did an outstanding job (as a coach).

"This basketball team has played in the NCAA Tournament the last two years."

But the coaching saga didn't end with Pelphrey's hire.

Donovan, who had expressed interest in the NBA, agreed in early June to leave Florida to coach the Orlando Magic. But like Altman, Donovan had a sudden change of heart and returned to Gainesville and his old job.

"I know that in my heart I did what was best for Orlando, I did what was best for myself and I think you get the opportunity to learn from that and grow and get better," Donovan said.

"And really at the end of the day, I changed my mind."

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