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Archive for Saturday, June 2, 2007

Donovan to take ‘passion’ to NBA in Orlando

June 2, 2007

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— For Billy Donovan, it's the perfect mix: the money, the team, the location.

After leading Florida to two straight NCAA titles and building a budding dynasty in 11 years at the school, he's off to the NBA, ready to coach the Orlando Magic.

"I feel like I've got great passion," Donovan said Friday. "I feel like I've got a tremendous work ethic. I feel like I love the game. I know I'm going to work very, very hard at that, and I am excited about that kind of challenge."

Now he has a five-year, $27.5 million contract and is not far from home as he tries to fashion a winner out of young talent.

Donovan, whose Gators became the first back-to-back champions in 15 years, said the decision was a struggle.

"I felt like the future for me was how do I grow as a coach, as a person? How do I get better?" Donovan said at a news conference. "And I think the way you get better is taking on different challenges."

Donovan was the country's hottest college coach, and the Magic weren't the first to run at him. In April, Donovan declined an offer at Kentucky, where he began as an assistant 17 years ago. He also was linked to the Memphis Grizzlies job.

But Orlando was the right fit. The 42-year-old coach has four children, and they can stay in Gainesville for now. He'll make the 115-mile trip from Orlando to see them when he can. Orlando is coming off its first playoff appearance in four years and is on the cusp of securing public funding for a new arena.

"Certainly, I could've stayed at Florida. ... It was a comfortable decision with four children and our family being happy there," Donovan said. "I know the athletic director. We've obviously had tremendous success. I could have just stayed and waited. ... I think in this day and age with so much the publicity and so much attention on college and professional basketball now, it's really hard to stay at place for a long, long period of time. I'm talking about 20, 25, 30 years."

Already, Donovan's star power is selling tickets. The Magic took orders for more than 200 season packages within 24 hours of his hiring.

He replaces Brian Hill, who was fired after two consecutive losing seasons. Hill's ouster followed the Magic's first playoff appearance in four years, which ended in the first round against Detroit.

Donovan has been a head coach for 13 seasons - two at Marshall and the past 11 with the Gators. He played in the NBA, but only for a year before leaving to join Rick Pitino's staff at Kentucky.

In Orlando, Donovan will try convert that college success into a pro championship - a difficult feat in the all-business pros.

Donovan said one priority was finding a player who can score from the perimeter to help All-Star Dwight Howard and 7-footer Darko Milicic. Donovan said he knows several of the Magic players, having unsuccessfully recruited the likes of Howard, Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick while at Florida.

"Certainly it's going to be an adjustment, but I've got to coach to my personality and how I feel comfortable," Donovan said. "A lot of guys on the team right now, there is some prior relationship."

General manager Otis Smith said he was looking for "someone who was going to help our young team become better basketball players." Smith said Donovan still wasn't a sure thing as of Thursday, and the sides continued back and forth as reports filtered out the deal was made.

Donovan said Pitino, his mentor, urged him to consider the move.

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