It's Independence Day and nothing could be more appropriate for Gators on a day we celebrate freedom than Gene Ellenson's letter. Take a moment, click on the link, and read the true story of a great Gator who was a real hero.
Any doubts about where Billy Donovan belonged on the list of the best coaches in all of college basketball were put to an end last season. Take a moment and consider this:
1. Florida made it to a fourth straight Elite Eight and to the Final Four, winning 30 consecutive games along the way.
2. The Gators ran the table in the SEC while winning their third SEC regular season title in the last four years, the first time in history any SEC team has turned in an 18-0 regular season. The Gators capped that by going 3-0 in Atlanta to win the SEC Tournament title.
3. Along the way Florida beat Kentucky, which began the season #1 and a heavy favorite to win the NCAA title, three times.
4. The Gators never fielded a full strength roster. Scottie Wilbekin, who made All-America and was SEC Player of the Year, was suspended the first five games. Dorian Finney-Smith, the SEC Sixth Man of the Year, missed the first two regular season games serving out a suspension. Damontre Harris never played a game and is now gone from the team. Eli Carter tried to play but ended up taking a medical redshirt. Dillon Graham played in one game then took a medical redshirt while undergoing surgery on both hips. Kasey Hill missed five games with injuries. Chris Walker wasn't eligible until the fall semester came to an end.
5. It wasn't until the 12th game of the season that Donovan had as many as eight scholarship players available, yet the only losses during that stretch were a roadie to Wisconsin, which made the Final Four, and another roadie to UConn, which won the national championship.
6. All this was done without a single NBA draft pick.
All these facts figured in the equation when ESPN.com counted down the 50 best college basketball coaches in the country, selecting Billy Donovan #1 over the likes of (2) John Calipari, Kentucky; (3) Tom Izzo, Michigan State; (4) Mike Kryzyzewski, Duke; (5) Rick Pitino, Louisville; and (6) Bill Self, Kansas. Donovan was already equal or superior to all those coaches prior to the 2013-14 season, but the coaching job he did last year only proved he is truly the best in the game today.
If there is one word that best describes Donovan's best talent, it is development. And we're not just talking player development although Casey Prather should be the poster child for what four years of work under Donovan will do for you. Donovan doesn't get a roster full of five star talents biding their time for one year until they are eligible for the NBA Draft. He gets talented players who are willing to subjugate their talents to fit into a system that not only allows the Gators to compete and win against teams with rosters loaded up with what is on paper superior talent, but gets them ready to play professionally, both in the NBA and overseas. There were 10 former Florida players on NBA rosters last season and another 18 former Gators playing overseas.
When we talk about development with Donovan, we also have to take a look at a superb record of graduating his players and taking boys and turning them into men. Just ask Scottie Wilbekin about that.
Back on his last day on the Florida campus before leaving for Las Vegas to train for the 2007 NBA Draft, I spent three hours with Joakim Noah talking about everything under the sun including a little bit of basketball. Jo was his usual animated self, but when the subject turned to Donovan, his mood turned reverent.
"You know what I'm going to miss most?" Jo asked me and before I could ask what, he answered his own question, "Laying down on the couch in Coach Donovan's office and just talking ... talking about life, talking about everything. He always had time for me."
As if I didn't know that Billy was the best already, Noah confirmed it. He is the best basketball coach in the country and the best coach in any sport ever at the University of Florida.
Kentucky thinks so much of John Calipari that it extended his contract by seven years to the tune of $52.5 million. Billy Donovan was given a raise to $3.7 million back in March. Although $3.7 million doesn't go nearly as far as it used to, it's still a lot of money, but the NBA is going to come calling, offering Billy at least double that amount if they haven't already. That he stays in Gainesville has a lot to do with the fact that he's content building Florida into the best and most respected basketball program in the country, but it's time to stop tempting fate and give Billy a contract that will snuff out the temptation to bolt to the NBA.
Donovan has never demanded a huge contract, but he shouldn't have to, particularly after what he's done at Florida the past 18 years. It's time to reward him with a contract of Calipari proportions. With the additional revenue that will be pouring into the UF coffers from the SEC Network and from the college football playoff, money should not be an object. Why not start the negotiations at something like 10 years, $60 million? That sounds about right.
When it came time to select the 68 teams that made it into the NCAA Tournament field last year, only Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee were chosen to represent the SEC. Kentucky made it to the national championship game, Florida made the Final Four and Tennessee was one horrible call by a zebra away from making the Elite Eight. And now ESPN.com names Donovan and Calipari 1-2 among the best coaches in the country. For years Donovan and Cal have told anyone who would listen that the SEC doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves. Now, it's true that there are some SEC teams that build their resumes against orphanages, convents and halfway houses, but the top 5-6 teams in the league can typically compete with the best teams in the country. Certainly, Florida and Kentucky deserve a huge measure of respect for what they have accomplished, but the rest of the league is pretty darn good.
Dorial Green-Beckham, the talented but troubled wide receiver dismissed a couple of months ago by Missouri, has found a new home at Oklahoma. NCAA rules say he will have to sit out the 2014 season, but The Oklahoman has reported that Green-Beckham, who caught 56 passes for 12 touchdowns last season at Missouri, will ask the NCAA for a waiver that will allow him to play immediately. A couple of years ago, Green-Beckham's chances of playing would have been miniscule, but in the last couple of years the NCAA has been issuing waivers left and right in all sports so don't count Beckham out. If the NCAA grants that waiver under the flimsiest of circumstances – and there is a lot of speculation that it will – then there could be good news coming for Florida basketball where Alex Murphy has appealed to play the first semester and John Egbunu could appeal to play without sitting out after transferring from USF.
Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade are likely to take less money to return to the Miami Heat. LeBron James wants more money and his agent is talking to Dallas, New York, Houston and Chicago ... Dirk Nowitzi took a massive paycut to sign for three years and $30 million with Dallas. He's clearing cap room so the Mavs can bring in the players they will need to compete for the NBA title next year. The Mavs are now nearly $17 million under the cap ... Tom Moore, who did a terrific job turning Peyton Manning into a championship level quarterback at Indianapolis, says fear not, Johnny Manziel is going to be a very good NFL quarterback ... Thousands of friends and fans gathered Wednesday night at a memorial service for former Auburn tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen, one of the most popular players ever to play for the Tigers ... Phil Steele believes Terry Bowden is getting the job done at Akron. He's got Akron finishing second behind Bowling Green in the Mid-America Conference East this season ... Offensive tackle Brandon Hill has been released from his scholarship at Alabama. He says he's "leaving by choice" ... Brian Bridgewater, a 6-6, 265-pound power forward, finally got cleared by the NCAA to play at LSU. He sat out all of last season waiting for the Clearinghouse. And here we thought the Clearinghouse dragged its feet with Chris Walker ... It's July and Lane Kiffin hasn't said anything stupid yet ... Baylor's brand new state of the art football stadium includes a recruiting room that has X-Box and a snack bar. The new locker room is 7,500 square feet.
Now that the USA has been eliminated from the World Cup, will you continue to watch the tournament or will you put soccer on the back burner until the next World Cup in four years?
Amy Winehouse has a prominent place on my tragedy list, which is made up of extraordinarily talented singers/musicians whose lives ended much too early. Winehouse battled substance abuse and mental illness most of her adult life before she died of alcohol poisoning in July of 2011. Winehouse's music particularly scored big on the R&B and jazz charts. Her best album was "Back to Black," which won five Grammy Awards 2008 including ones for record of the year and song of the year ("Rehab"). This is the title track from the "Back to Black" album.