New York City spurs memories for Donovan

The Jimmy V Classic stirs the emotions of Billy Donovan. Jim Valvano, Madison Square Garden and New York City all bring back important moments throughout his life. Growing up in New York, the aura of Madison Square Garden has stuck with Donovan. On Tuesday night against Memphis, he'll coach in the arena he always admired as a kid.

"It's definitely special," Billy Donovan said. "There's just something special about it to me, it really is. And I think for some of our guys, they really don't understand that part of it. A guy like Casey Prather has never been to New York. There's guys on our team that have never been to New York City."

It's a strange concept for Donovan, who grew up rooting for the New York Knicks before making the team's roster from 1987-1988. Donovan recalled times he went with his mother to New York City, having to find a Knicks shirt. Donovan told stories about meeting Earl Monroe, Walt Frazier and legendary announcer Marv Albert in his time with the Knicks.

But whenever he speaks of New York City, his demeanor changes. Having a chance to take his Florida team there on Tuesday makes it even more special. But playing in the Jimmy V Classic takes it to another level. The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in memory of Jim Valvano and continues to receive support from college basketball.

"In some way or another all of us have been affected by cancer one way or another," Donovan said. "I think they have done an enormous job raising money for cancer research. And the money is going to cancer research."

Donovan had a relationship with Valvano but said the two weren't very close. Most of their talks came when Donovan was just getting into coaching and Valvano moved to the television side of the sport. Donovan first heard Valvano speak as a high schooler, wide-eyed with the reputation the preceded Valvano.

The famous ESPYs speech is what most people think about Valvano, and it's a familiar topic for Donovan.

"I think a lot of times in a lot of things when you're at that point in time where you realize that that part of your life is going to be terminal, the cancer part is going to be terminal," Donovan said. "I think probably a totally different perspective on what's really valuable and important in life."

With the excitement of a return to New York City and the focus being on The V Foundation, Donovan is still anxious for the opportunity presented to his team on Tuesday. No. 16 Florida will face No. 15 Memphis in the final game of a brutal four-game stretch for the Gators.

The Tigers bring an exciting team led by its veteran guards. Memphis starts three senior guards -- Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson -- while bringing Missouri transfer Michael Dixon off the bench. Both Memphis big men -- freshman Austin Nichols and sophomore Shaq Goodwin were heavily recruited by Donovan but decided to play for the Tigers.

"This is a senior-laden team, senior laden in the backcourt with (Chris) Crawford and Joe Jackson and even (Michael) Dixon who transferred from Missouri," Donovan said "And then in the frontcourt they have Shaq Goodwin who is a sophomore who is a very, very good front court player and Austin Nichols, who is really playing extremely well for them.

"It's a team that's got some mixtures of some young guys but really in the backcourt a really senior-laden team, shoot threes, puts it down, very aggressive on defense, a terrific transition offensive team, very explosive, guard very well. This is an outstanding team we'll play tomorrow.''

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