Donovan to Face Former Assistant

Billy Donovan is starting to feel old. The more his coaching tree grows, the more he realizes how long he has been coaching. There will be another moment of feeling old Wednesday night when the Gators take on UCF at the Amway Center in Orlando. First-year head coach Donnie Jones, an assistant under Donovan at Florida from 1996-2007, has led the Knights to a 5-0 record to start this season.

The two's relationship goes back further than that. Donovan was named the head coach at Marshall in 1994. He showed up expecting to take multiple members of the Kentucky coaching staff with him.

Jones was on the previous staff at Marshall as an assistant. Donovan offered Jones' position to a graduate assistant at Kentucky who was unsure if he wanted to stay in the college game or coach high school. He eventually turned down Donovan's offer, and Donovan called the decision "the best thing that happened for me."

He was already getting to know Jones and saw how valuable he was to the program. Donovan decided to keep him on at Marshall.

"He was the one that kept everything in tact," Donovan said. "You don't realize the problems inside a job until you get there, and there were definitely some issues academically and eligibility issues. For a three or four-week period, Donnie was unbelievable. He knew everything that was going on and players had unbelievable respect for him."

When Donovan was named the head coach at Florida in 1996, he didn't need to wonder whether bringing Jones with him was the right move. Jones was such a vital piece of their staff at Marshall that Donovan had to bring him along.

"Coming here, I had all the confidence in the world in him," Donovan said. "It was a no-brainer in him coming here. He worked his way up to associate head coach and played a big part in us winning two national championships and getting to three national championship games."

When Jones got the call this offseason about an opening at UCF, there wasn't much hesitation on his end. He was already comfortable with the state of Florida, and the challenge of building up one of the smaller programs in the state was appealing.

He just had to make one phone call. Everything he and Donovan had been through was special to him, and this was no different.

"Donnie knowing the state of Florida and being here at the University of Florida, he talked to me about what an incredible opportunity a place like Central Florida was," Donovan said. "He was very excited about the opportunity."

Florida has already faced a former assistant this season, as Matt McCall is on Mike Jarvis' staff at FAU. They will face two more in SEC when the Gators take on Arkansas and John Pelphrey, plus Alabama and Anthony Grant.

Donovan is proud of the coaches that used to work for him, but there is some insecurity on his part about playing a coach who knows the ins and outs of his teams.

"There's always that sentiment leading up to the game because we do some things similar offensively and defensively," Donovan said. "It's always hard to go against a guy that has worked with you. But the game is about the kids. They're the ones between the lines."

Defense will be a priority for the Gators on Wednesday night. The Knights come into the game with 70% of their baskets coming off assists, so the Gators expect to see a good passing team. They are shooting 55% from the field and 43% for three, which caught Donovan's eye early when looking at the stat sheets.

"That's tremendous, even if no one was guarding you," Donovan said. "I wish our team could shoot on numbers when we do five-on-zero (in practice)."
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