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Ok, I get it. But I don't agree with it. Not one bit. The fact is Saturday's win over UCF --- the 200th for Donovan in Gainesville --- is one of the great coaching accomplishments in UF history.
That Donovan reached that number early in year ten, shows the excellence of Florida Basketball on his watch. Despite only 27 wins his first two seasons, Billy now has the Gators winning 20+ on an annual basis. He has replaced the question, "Can the Gators get a bid?" to "how high a seed can the Gators get?"
Totally Changing a Program
Not often do you get to see first-hand a coach completely change the mindset, image and reputation of a program. I've gotten to see it with both premier programs in Gainesville. Steve Spurrier tossed aside every excuse Florida has relied on for coming up short in its quest for to win a SEC Title and set about making UF a perennial contender. Billy Donovan came to a school that had enjoyed "pockets" of success and set about proving that Gainesville was as good a place as any to win year-in and year-out.
The numbers are mind boggling. Pre-Donovan, 76 seasons, 5 NCAA bids. Under Donovan, 9 seasons, 7 bids. Pre-Donovan, 5 20-win seasons. Under Donovan, 7 20-win seasons.
Of all the numbers that tie in with Florida's wins and Donovan's coaching milestone, my favorite involves the winningest coach in school history. Norm Sloan is the only other Gator coach to win 200 games on the hardwood; and he did it in 82 more games than it took Donovan.
Think about it. Billy Donovan could coach UF to 81 consecutive losses and still have a better won/loss percentage than the first UF coach to reach the 200-win mark. Donovan is now 35 wins shy of Sloan's career total at Florida and most likely will reach that standard next year. Norm Sloan lost 194 games while coaching the Gators. Donovan has only lost 92.
Rebuilding Year? What Rebuilding Year?
Coming into this season, expectations for the Gator Basketball Team were the lowest in at least six years. Lee, Roberson and Walsh had taken their skills to the next level and Florida was left with precious little, or at least that's how many saw it. And with good reason. Florida top returning scorer, Corey Brewer averaged 7.5 a game last season. The only returning senior, Adrian Moss averaged less than eleven minutes a game. The two juniors, Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard combined for just eight points a night. On top of that, Cornelius Ingram decided to focus on football and top recruit Derwin Kitchen did not qualify academically.
Even optimistic Gators wondered if this was a year to step back and pay the piper, so to speak. Many I spoke with thought about a losing season in the SEC and perhaps being a bubble team come tournament time. Others were thinking a 13 or 14-win season was in the offing. Gator fans were worried.
What, me worry? Alfred E. Newman, a.k.a. Billy Donovan has once again confounded those who doubt him. His Gators are off to their best start in 20 years. They have already beaten near-certain NCAA teams Wake Forest and Syracuse away from home. They beat an improved FSU squad and now have their eyes on, perhaps a perfect non-conference record. As for the concerns about offense, Florida is pumping in 79 a game and shooting better than fifty percent from the field. So much for rebuilding, eh?
Future Looks Bright
With only one senior and two juniors seeing meaningful playing time, there seems to be an opportunity here for Donovan and the Gators to become legit NCAA contenders. Four guys coming on board next year in a recruiting class ranked in every top 25 will provide incredible depth. And if the super sophomores can continue to improve at the rate they have been, Florida will be a nationally ranked power late next season when Donovan becomes UF's all-time winningest coach. No doubt, he'll downplay that milestone, too.
But we all know better.
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