Billy Donovan was Nicknamed ‘Billy the Kid’ by Petino while he played at Providence. Donovan blossomed under a young coach just off a stint with the New Jersey Nets: Rick Pitino. While playing under Pitino the Friars flourished and Donovan averaged 15 points per game as a junior and 20 as a senior. During Donovan’s senior season, the Friars would go to the Final Four.
After graduating with a degree in general social studies, Donovan was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the third round of the 1987 NBA Draft. After being waived by the Jazz, Donovan went to the Wyoming Wildcatters of the CBA and then played for short stint alongside his college coach Rick Pitino with the New York Knicks.
Before joining the professional coaching ranks, Donovan worked for a Wall Street investment firm. In 1989 Donovan would leave investing and join Rick Pitino’s staff at the University of Kentucky as an assistant coach.
After staying on Pitino’s staff until 1994, Donovan was offered the Head coaching position at Marshall University. As head coach of the Thundering Herd Donovan went 35-20. Donovan was then offered the head coaching position at the University of Florida.
In 1996, Donovan signed on at the University of Florida. Over the next 14 seasons Donovan would go 137-87 leading a renaissance in Gainesville. Donovan has lead the Gators to 2 National Championships, 3 Regular Season SEC Championships and 3 SEC Tournament Championships.
Donovan has coached a number of NBA players. This includes Jason Williams, Joakim Noah, Taureen Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and David Lee. It is worth noting, that since 2000 no SEC team has more players drafted into the NBA then Florida, with 10 total 6 being in the first round.
Donovan’s offensive coaching philosophy is up-tempo and high scoring with an emphasis on shooting three point shots. The Gators have taken to the style with ease. The Gators have lead the SEC in scoring 3 of the past 8 years and three-point accuracy five of the last eight years. During the 2006 National Championship season the Gators scored 725 points in transition and Lee Humphrey completed a Gator record 113 3 point field goals. Another trademark of the Donovan teams is unselfishness on the court. On the 2006 and 2007 National championship teams, no player had as many as 10 shots per game, and the entire starting lineup had no more then a 3 point difference in scoring (in 2007). Statistics were similar during the 2006 title run. When asked about the unselfishness of the 2007 team Donovan was quoted as saying “We were the ultimate team. We were unselfish, we passed the ball, everyone made plays and everyone had a part in winning.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Donovan often employs a press defense. This was evident in the 2007 National Championship season when the Gators finished second in the SEC in points allowed.
It is worth noting that these two coaching philosophies are favored by Donovan’s former mentor and coach Rick Pitino.
Donovan features an impressive coaching tree as well. Former members of his staff who are coaching in the NCAA include Anthony Grant (University of Alabama) Donnie Jones (University of Central Florida), John Pelphrey (University of Arkansas) and Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth University).
Donovan almost took a NBA head-coaching job with the Orlando Magic in 2007. After winning the National Championship, Donovan reportedly accepted a offer worth $27.5 million over 5 years. Ironically, Anthony Grant was contacted to replace Donovan at Florida. The Donovan announced himself as head coach on June 1st and then had a change of heart on June 2nd and then rejoined the Gators on June 6th. As part of the agreement to return to the Gators, Donovan is forbidden from taking an NBA position for five years after the agreement.
Recently Donovan has been linked to the head-coaching job at St. John’s University. According to the New York Daily News, Donovan was offered $3 million dollars per year by the New York based university’s alumnus Mike Repole, the founder of Vitaminwater maker, Glaceau. It was reported that Donovan turned down the deal. A similar situation occurred in 2009 when Donovan was rumored to take the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky. The position was eventually taken by John Calipari who left the University of Memphis. Donovan has also been rumored for the head coaching position at the University of Oregon.
Donovan also believes that more young players will elect to go to Europe in order to escape the “one and done” rule by the NCAA. In an interview with tampabay.com Donovan said”I actually had a player, Christian Drejer, who left in the middle of the year,” Donovan said. ” Here’s the thing: our sport is totally different than any other sport that’s being played. There is more opportunity to make money in the game of basketball around the world. You can have kids go to Japan, they can go to Greece, they can go to the Philippines, they can go to Russia. You can go anywhere in the world and you can play and make a living. And I think for a lot of these kids, they are getting a chance to do something they love.” Donovan said that the choice is often a no brainer because it will provide the player with financial freedom, college will always be available, but the potential to male money playing ball will not.
Off the court Donovan worked to increase funds for the Florida Opportunity Scholars. The program is intended to increase the opportunities for academically prepared first-generation students. The program covers books, university fees, meals, housing, transportation and miscellaneous expenses to students who need financial assistance.
In 2008 Donovan was named co chair to the project (partnering with the Gator’s head football coach Urban Meyer) and was assigned to raise $50 million dollars.
Politically, Donovan is a registered Independent who has four children and is a devout Roman Catholic.
Donovan has won 2 National Championships and countless other titles. This season he will be the recipient of the “John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award.” He’s 44 years old and, love him or hate him, will be around for a long time.