UK basketball notebook: Bill Donovan Sr. always in a sunshine state of mind

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 3, 2012 

Georgia Southern Florida Basketball

Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino and Bill Donovan Sr., father of Florida coach Billy Donovan, enjoyed a Florida victory in 2009.

PHIL SANDLIN — ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a perfect world, the father of Florida Coach Billy Donovan would serve the Southeastern Conference as its roving goodwill ambassador. In this world, Bill Donovan puts the sunshine in Sunshine State as an ever-friendly presence at the Gators' games.

The elder Donovan will be in his place, behind press row across the court from the home bench, when Kentucky plays in Gainesville Sunday. He won't be simply rooting for his son's team, although surely he's hoping Florida wins. He definitely will not be rooting against anyone. As he's done in home and road games since his son's second season at Florida, he will be luxuriating in the game.

"I love basketball," he said last week.

Erving Walker, who gets the Senior Day send-off in the O'Connell Center, spoke of Bill Donovan in a pre-season interview with the GatorZone's Chris Harry.

"He's a cool guy who's full of so much energy," Walker said. "It doesn't matter who you are. He's going to be friendly. He's going to be outgoing. ... and he's going to be loud."

Loud as in exuberant while also careful not to intrude.

In Rupp Arena and other road sites, Bill Donovan sits near the end of the Florida bench. He's the gray-haired man who's been known to wear Florida orange socks.

"When you're a parent and your kids are growing up, there's always a level of sacrifice that goes into raising kids," Billy Donovan said when asked about including his father in his work. "For me, to maybe enrich his life, for us to be able to share (this experience) has meant a lot to me.

"At his age, it gave him something he's passionate about, and we can share in."

Bill Donovan, 71, was introduced to basketball before fourth grade. A cousin took him to a park on Long Island. If Donovan fetched the cousin and his friends sandwiches and drinks (they paid), they let him play. They might even let him score.

"I kind of got bitten by the bug," he said.

Fast forward to the late 1950s and early 1960s when Bill Donovan played for Boston College. He left after the 1961-62 season as the third-leading career scorer in school history with 1,012 points. The Celtics might have taken him with what was then known as a "territorial pick" in the draft. But through mutual acquaintances, Red Auerbach let Donovan know that the Celtics were set in the backcourt with starters Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, backups Sam Jones and K.C. Jones, plus their first-round draft pick, some guy named John Havlicek.

"Tell him not to bother trying out," Auerbach said, Donovan recalled with a laugh.

Donovan's father had built a court for him in the woods behind the family's Merrick, Long Island, home. So Donovan built a back-yard court for his son, the future Florida coach, at their home in Rockville Center, Long Island. The basketball bug bit Billy Donovan, too.

After leading Providence to the 1987 Final Four, Billy Donovan began a career on Wall Street. "Where everybody from our town generally winds up," his father said.

Bill Donovan soon sensed that his son had not found his life's work. "I could just tell he wasn't a happy camper doing this," the elder Donovan said. "As a parent, you know this."

When his college coach, Rick Pitino, took the Kentucky job in 1989, Billy Donovan went to a bedroom by himself to call to ask about joining the staff. Pitino agreed.

"When that happened, he skipped out of the bedroom," the elder Donovan said. "He was his old self again, happy to be getting back to basketball again."

By now, father and son are long-since settled in the shared experience of Florida basketball. Billy Donovan expressed gratitude for the kindness shown his father by SEC coaches. During Florida's national championship seasons of 2005-06 and 2006-07, the elder Donovan began a friendship with future UK coach John Calipari over donut-shop coffee at the Final Fours.

The Florida coach noted how his father has deepened his love for basketball by discovering how to record games.

Said the elder Donovan, "I'm getting into the modern age, finally."

Proud poppa

During halftime of the Georgia game, Brian Miller happily munched popcorn. All was good in the world of UK senior Darius Miller.

The younger Miller was well on the way to a successful Senior Night as an individual and as a UK teammate.

When asked about his son being labeled a "glue-guy" and — to borrow Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury's term — the "fiber" of this Kentucky team, Brian Miller said, "He's always been that guy. He's always been a stat stuffer. He does whatever it takes to win."

If it takes receding into the background, Miller has shown a willingness to concede center stage. When needed, he's risen to the occasion.

"Everybody knows he can go out and score," the elder Miller said. "He does things right. He doesn't look to shoot with three people on him. He doesn't like to force shots."

You only have to sit within earshot of Brian Miller during UK home games to know he'd like to see his son take a few more shots.

Sounding like UK Coach John Calipari, the elder Miller said, "Sometimes he's unselfish to a fault."

Davis/Robinson

If the Player of the Year vote does come down to Anthony Davis of UK or Thomas Robinson of Kansas, voters will have a head-to-head matchup to consider.

Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 in Madison Square Garden in November. Davis got the best of it, especially considering it was only his second collegiate game.

Davis had 14 points, six rebounds and seven blocks.

Robinson, who fouled out, scored 11 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked one shot.

The game also served to illustrate Kansas Coach Bill Self's argument in favor of Robinson as Player of the Year. UK gave Davis more help. Five Cats scored 12 or more points. Tyshawn Taylor, who made only three of 13 shots but converted 15 of 17 free throws, was the only Jayhawk to join Robinson in double figures.

Gone with the Flynn

Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may decide to return to UK next season. But reporters had reason to doubt.

Former Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn serves as a recent example why such declarations should be met with a cautious wait-and-see attitude.

During the final week of the 2009 regular season, Flynn declared his intention to return to Syracuse for the 2009-10 season. He repeated that intention during the Big East Tournament.

Then he again said in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament he would return to Syracuse.

After Syracuse lost in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, Flynn entered his name in the NBA draft.

Trivia

Here's a trivia question to commemorate Kentucky completing a third straight unbeaten home schedule against SEC opponents:

Who are the four active league players who have won at Kentucky as visiting players?

The answer is:

■ Georgia senior guard Dustin Ware. As a freshman, he scored 18 points, handed out five assists and committed six turnovers as the Dawgs won 90-85 on Senior Night 2009. Of course, that is the last home game Kentucky has lost.

■ LSU senior forward Storm Warren. As a freshman, he played 18 minutes (and did not score) in LSU's 73-70 victory. Tasmin Mitchell hit the game-winning shot seconds after then-UK freshman Darius Miller tied it with a three-pointer.

■ Mississippi State senior guard Dee Bost. As a freshman, he scored 10 points and committed only two turnovers in 35 minutes as State beat Kentucky 66-57.

■ One of Bost's teammates was current Cat Twany Beckham. He played five minutes and scored two points in State's victory.

Guilt by association?

Apparently, there's a limit to how UK fans look upon all things Duke with disfavor.

CBS college basketball analyst Jim Spanarkel, a former star at Duke, said UK fans treat him well.

"Well, remember, Kentucky beat us," he said in reference to the 1978 national championship game.

For instance, meetings with former UK coach Joe B. Hall and such stars as Jack Givens and Kyle Macy are "always very cordial," Spanarkel said.

"I wish I could say I made an impact walking through (Lexington Center)," he said. "But I really don't. ... I wish I could say we got the ring and they didn't. But life goes on."

Correction for Cal

We've been over this more than once. But during his radio show last week, UK Coach John Calipari again suggested that Darius Miller was a non-entity as a freshman. This time Calipari wanted to refute the notion that Miller's sizable contributions — such as 1,000-point career scorer — might be diminished because it came over four seasons.

"He didn't play in his freshman year," Calipari said. "He did it in three years."

UK's media guide shows that Miller averaged 21.2 minutes and scored 191 points as a freshman.

Scheduling

When it comes to strength of schedule, Kentucky fits almost exactly in the middle of the SEC pack.

Going into the Georgia game, collegerpi.com rated UK's schedule as the nation's 37th toughest. Surprisingly, Georgia had the league's second-toughest schedule at No. 16. So, yes, the Dawgs scheduled with the expectation of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie being on the front line.

Here, in order, was SEC's order, from strongest to weakest schedule on a national scale:

Vanderbilt (sixth toughest), Georgia (16). Tennessee (34). South Carolina (36). Kentucky (37). Ole Miss (44). Florida (49). LSU (60). Arkansas (62), Mississippi State (67), Auburn (71), Alabama (75).

Derby Festival

The Derby Festival Basketball Classic announced its rosters for this year's game. No UK signees were on the list, but game organizers noted that additions might be made.

Three players in the game are uncommitted: Devonta Pollard, Amile Jefferson and Jakarr Sampson.

Derby Festival organizers haven't given up the hope of having UK recruit Willie Cauley and possible signee Nerlens Noel play in the game.

The game will be played April 6 in Freedom Hall. Tickets, which cost $11 and $16, are available at Ticketmaster or by calling 1-800-745-3000 or 502-367-5144.

Congratulations

In case you missed it, Oak Hill Academy Coach Steve Smith was named Naismith Boys' High School Coach of the Year. That marked the second time Smith has won the award in the last four years.

He is a native of Wilmore.

Looking ahead

Marv Albert of CBS and Steve Kerr of Turner Sports will call Kentucky's game at Florida on Sunday.

Happy birthday

To Tom Leach. The radio play-by-play man for UK basketball and football turned 51 on Saturday. ... To former Louisville Coach Denny Crum. He turned 75 on Friday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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