Young Billy D embracing return home

Coach Billy Donovan elicits a routine response when introduced to the O'Connell Center crowd. The stands roar with cheers, with praise. But when his eldest son, Billy, took the O'Dome for his first introduction wearing an opponent's jersey for an exhibition game last season, young Billy didn't know what to expect. But Florida fans treated him like family, emitting a warm welcome in his hometown.

The next time Donovan will be introduced to his hometown crowd, he'll be donning a different jersey — the one he grew up in.

Tuesday, his father announced the younger Billy Donovan's move from Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University of America to the University of Florida's squad as its newest walk-on.

Donovan said he entered America's capital with a fascination in a political service career path. After a bout of internships — including one with U.S Senator for Florida Marco Rubio — the 20-year-old said he reevaluated his professional dreams. Now, those aspirations line up with the journey his father made.

"I'd like to do something with basketball," he said. "I feel like I could help a lot of people with that."

Last spring, Donovan said he took a step back to figure out the next step for the months to come. With political interests in the past and basketball curiosities crafting his future, his father had a suggestion.

"Why don't you just come back and play for me?" his father asked.

The level of play the Gators are immersed in was enticing for Donovan.

"Being around the top coaches, being around the top players — it's something that has been a dream of mine for a while," he said.

Donovan said his time away from home in Washington D.C. allowed for him to experience life for himself. However, it came at a cost. He said there were plenty of things he missed with the family. In fact, the main reason he pinned to his transfer is "personal, family reasons." Not surprisingly, Donovan said his mother is happy with his return to Gainesville. Of course, Dad is, too.

"A lot of times as a parent, your kid goes off to college, outside of some infrequent visits, you barely get to see them," coach Donovan said. "But I get a chance to be around him every single day in a different light. For me, that will be a lot of fun."

While Donovan will sit out during the upcoming season, he'll still practice with his new teammates — who have been welcoming him with open arms.

"He's really cool — a nice kid to hang out with," junior forward Will Yeguete said. "(He's) really laid back. He works hard. He's just enjoying life. He's a nice guy to be around."

Fellow Gator Patric Young said he was able to develop a special rapport with Donovan over the summer. The two were on a weightlifting program called German Body Composition Training — an hour-long workout consisting of 400-500 reps of exercises including squats, pull-ups, step-ups and lat pulls, all with no rest in between. "He and I went through torture together," Young said. "We have a special bond. He fits right in. I can't wait to get him back out here."

Forward Cody Larson said Donovan is meshing in well with the team — and the fact that he's the coach's son doesn't change a thing.

"He's just like any other player on our team," Larson said.

While Donovan knows his new coach as Dad, he said it'll be neat to see his father call the shots on the court. Donovan said he even sees his father treating his players like sons. However, just because the new Gator actually shares blood with the man holding the clipboard doesn't mean he'll get preferential treatment.

"As soon as he starts yelling at you, it's like everybody else," he said. "You get used to it."

Though Donovan will be with his father on the sidelines this season, he said he's eager to help the Gators in whatever ways he can. In the classroom, Donovan said he will continue to finish his degree in politics since he's already half-way finished.

He said he's still trying to discover what he wants to do in life and admitted that following in his father's footsteps in coaching basketball "may be a possibility."

In the mean time, he'll be sporting an orange and blue jersey in an arena he knows all too well. "There's nothing like home — I truly believe that," he said.

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