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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Florida’s future still up in air

April 4, 2007

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— Coach Billy Donovan spent several hours after the national championship game mingling with family and friends, and socializing with school officials.

Sorry Florida fans, he didn't agree to a new contract.

He didn't talk to Kentucky, either. But it could happen soon.

Donovan's future - along with those of stars Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah - took center stage Tuesday, just a few hours after the Gators etched their names on another national championship trophy and secured a spot in NCAA history with an 84-75 victory against Ohio State.

"I haven't talked to anybody, and everybody's looking for answers from me like I'm having all these behind-the-scenes conversations and I'm working these angles," Donovan said Tuesday. "None of that is going on."

Donovan acknowledged his agent could have talked to the Wildcats, and he expressed admiration for the storied program in the Bluegrass State.

But he also said he intends to stay at Florida. He talked about his loyalty to the Gators and athletic director Jeremy Foley and his desire to "build tradition over a period of time" in Gainesville.

In short, he gave fans in Florida and Kentucky hope.

"It's hard for me to comment about anything," Donovan said. "I think people maybe feel like I'm being coy or trying to move around the questions. I'm not doing that. There's nothing for me to say at all. I haven't spoken to anybody, so my intentions are to be at the University of Florida and coach their basketball team, and I'm happy there."

The Gators, behind a barrage of 3-pointers and Donovan's astute game plan, became the first team to win consecutive championships since Duke in 1992.

Normally, it would mean a contract extension for Donovan.

This time, though, it could result in a change of scenery.

Since Tubby Smith left Kentucky to take the head job at Minnesota, speculation has grown that Donovan is the Wildcats' top choice to replace him.

Donovan spent five years as an assistant under Rick Pitino in Lexington, quickly learning about Kentucky's unrivaled fan base and unrealistic expectations.

"There's a feeling in my heart that's very strong about Kentucky because I had my first opportunity to coach there through coach Pitino, and my time there was very, very enjoyable," Donovan said. "But that was a while ago - 13 years. It's not like I'm removed two years.

"For me, I obviously know Tubby and I know some of the people that are still there, but a lot over 13 years has changed that I'm not familiar with."

Donovan is much more familiar with Florida, the once-mediocre basketball program he turned into a national power, and at a place where football used to be king.

He has spent 11 years in Gainesville, putting down roots with his wife and four children.

Donovan has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.7 million a season. School president Bernie Machen and Foley have been working on a new deal for Donovan since last year. Negotiations began during Florida's title run, but Donovan postponed sealing the deal because he didn't want to send the wrong message to the players who unselfishly turned down NBA riches to stay in school.

The coach probably won't have that problem this time around.

Brewer, Horford and Noah are not likely to do it again, especially after talking all postseason about how difficult the journey was the second time.

"Honestly, I'm not worried about that," Noah said following the game. "I don't know. Right now I just can't wait to go out with my boys and talk about it and chill and just relax."

Some believe Noah could use another year in college to hone his post skills. The 6-foot-11 forward probably would have been the No. 1 pick in last summer's NBA draft, but his stock has dropped some this season.

Horford and Brewer, though, probably improved their status significantly. Horford had 26 points and 29 rebounds in two Final Four games, showing range and post moves. Brewer had 31 points and 10 boards, was 7-of-13 from 3-point range and earned the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award.

Even Green is getting mentioned as a possible NBA draft candidate - creating the possibility that Donovan could lose his top six players off the title team.

"We're not even thinking about that at all," Green said. "We're enjoying this championship. It's our second time doing this again. You really can't explain how you feel but it's a great, great, great feeling."

Donovan's assistants could benefit from Florida's run, too.

Larry Shyatt, a former head coach at Wyoming and Clemson, has been mentioned as a candidate for several open jobs.

And Donnie Jones appears to be the leading candidate to replace fired coach Ron Jirsa at Marshall. Jones and his wife grew up in West Virginia. Jones got his masters degree from Marshall in 1992, then spent six years coaching there under Dwight Freeman and then Donovan.

Jones also runs a basketball camp there every summer.

"I think Donnie would be a great candidate," Donovan said. "He's a West Virginia guy. He went to Marshall and got a graduate degree from there. He coached there before I got there and then he coached with me for two years. I think he would be terrific."

Still, the biggest questions surround Donovan.

"It's amazing to me how we fast forward into the future all the time," Donovan said. "Everybody wants to talk about repeating, repeating, repeating. All of a sudden we repeated less than 24 hours ago and we're on to the next thing again. At what point do we sit there and say, 'OK, let's live in the moment of what's going on?'

"Everybody's so far down the road it becomes difficult sometimes to enjoy. All those things we're talking about are going to happen in due time."

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