Nearly five years after he left for the NBA, Florida is honoring its former coach who put the Gators program on the map.
Florida will name its basketball court inside the Stephen O’Connell Center after Donavan early next year, permanently commemorating the coach who led Florida to two national championships and four Final Four appearances over nearly two decades.
“I was totally shocked,” Donovan said in a statement. “It was really emotional. I didn’t anticipate this. I’m thankful, I’m honored and just incredibly humbled by it all.”
Donovan, now in his fifth season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, led the Gators for 19 seasons from 1996-2015. He compiled a 467-186 record over that span, reaching the NCAA tournament 14 times and winning seven SEC regular-season championships.
He also led Florida to the national championship in both 2006 and 2007, marking the only back-to-back titles in men’s college basketball in the last 25 years, and the Gators reached the Final Four two other times — most recently in 2014.
Florida will make the move official on Feb. 15, when it hosts Vanderbilt. Donovan will be in attendance, as the NBA will be on its All-Star break.
“It had been on my radar for some time, and [former athletic director Jeremy Foley] had made it clear that it was something that was important to him,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “During my time at Kentucky, I had a front-row seat for the impact Billy made, not just on the Florida program, but our league. You saw the kind of coach and person he was, and the respect he had around the country. This was just an obvious way to honor him.”
The Gators have carried on his legacy in the years since his departure for the NBA, too. While coach Mike White missed the NCAA tournament in his first season in Donovan’s old seat, he reached the Elite Eight that next year and has been to the tournament ever since. The team is off to a 6-2 start this season, too, with losses to No. 17 Florida State and Connecticut.
Honoring Donovan for his work in this way, White said, only made sense.
“It’s a given,” White said in a statement. “To me, the way people revere him as a human being in this profession says as much about him as the games and championships he won. This is something that definitely needed to happen.”
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