Preston Moves On

Florida basketball will be hiring a new assistant for the third consecutive season, as Lewis Preston has left after two seasons on Billy Donovan's staff to take a similar position at Penn State.

Preston had unsuccessfully attempted to land head coaching positions in each of the past two offseasons, but had not been previously linked to any assistant coaching jobs. The move appears to be a wise one for both parties. Preston gets to continue his career at a Big Ten program, while Donovan gets a chance to make a better hire for his staff.

While Florida is not describing Preston's move as a dismissal, it's reasonable to assume he was encouraged to seek other options by Donovan to avoid that scenario. Almost from Preston's arrival, the word had been that the hire was not working as well as had been hoped. During Donovan's brief flirtation with the Orlando Magic, Preston was the lone member of his staff who was not being invited to make the jump to the NBA with him.

Preston had been a fallback candidate to join the UF staff in the first place, with Donovan having tried unsuccessfully to land Virginia's Rob Lanier before turning to him. When Preston was hired, expectations were that he would focus on developing Florida's big men and might be a boost in their pursuit of Patrick Patterson, a player he'd been targeting for Notre Dame. Neither really happened - Preston wound up largely working with Florida's freshmen his first season and was not a serious factor in Patterson's recruitment.

Notre Dame observers had been critical of Preston's ability to develop big men during his six year tenure there. Players like Torin Francis showed talent but seemed to plateau once they reached South Bend. It's hard to say if that criticism was fair based on Preston's two years at Florida. Players like Al Horford and Joakim Noah were already developed when he arrived and seemed more comfortable calling their former mentor Anthony Grant if they did have concerns about their performance.

Marreese Speights showed skill in limited work as a freshman, but did not make the leap to being a consistent high quality performer this season as a starter. Some factors which led to that, including Speights having the NBA on his mind and UF not having a quality post player for Speights to practice against, were things beyond Preston's direct control.

Before the process which led to Preston's hiring, Donovan had made only one move outside his inner circle to bring in an assistant since he had landed his first head coaching job. Larry Shyatt was targeted for his defensive prowess and his status as a former head coach with a little more experience than Florida's staff had at that point. That hire was made before anyone knew Donovan was even considering a change. After Anthony Grant left for VCU, the combination of outside scrutiny for the search and the desire to still have a minority presence on the staff appear to have led to a rushed hire that didn't work out. Since then, Donovan has been through the process again and successfully landed Rob Lanier on the second try. Having talked to many coaches over the last two seasons, it's likely he has a much better idea who he would like to target this time than he did two years ago.

Just as Donovan went after Lanier a second time, it would surprise no one for him to make an additional run at a pair of candidates he spoke with before the Lanier hire. Russell Springmann of Texas and Jeff Battle of Wake Forest both are considered among the top assistants in the nation. Springmann spent two seasons with Florida early in Donovan's tenure as a basketball office employee and a graduate assistant in the strength and training program. He's landed a number of top talents as an assistant for Rick Barnes, most famously Kevin Durant.

Another name from Donovan's past that could turn up in the search is Tim Maloney. He was associate head coach with Travis Ford's UMass team that ended Florida's 2008 NIT run, but did not opt to move on with Ford to Oklahoma State. Maloney spent five year as member of Donovan's support staff before leaving six years ago to gain on court coaching and recruiting experience. With two commitments for next year's recruiting class already secured, Donovan has plenty of time to make his choice to fill Preston's spot.


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