So you thought Billy Donovan trading sunny Gainesville for a front-row seat at the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook Thunder show meant an inevitable regression in the fortunes of Florida basketball.
Not so fast, Gators haters.
Of all the postseason SEC basketball hires — we're talking a bumper crop of upgrades, by the way — Florida AD Jeremy Foley saved the best for last.
After Donovan officially crossed the Rubicon from college basketball icon to NBA newbie, accepting the challenge of coaching Oklahoma City, Foley quickly snapped up Louisiana Tech Coach Michael White.
Who is Michael White? He's a 38-year-old rising star who led the Bulldogs to a 101-40 record during his four seasons in Ruston. White was the WAC Coach of the Year in 2012-13 and the C-USA Coach of the Year last season. His teams were 50-16 in conference play and reached the NIT quarterfinals each of the past two years.
White has the bloodlines. His father, Kevin White, is the AD at Duke. His brother Danny played at Notre Dame and is the athletics director at Buffalo, where he made a pretty fair coaching hire in Bobby Hurley.
Michael White also has the geographic roots to be a Sunshine State success. He was born in Florida, played high school basketball in New Orleans and college basketball at Ole Miss, where he was a starting point guard and his wife played volleyball. He served seven seasons as Andy Kennedy's assistant in Oxford before taking over LA Tech.
This isn't a knock on White's fellow SEC newcomers. Tennessee, Mississippi State and Alabama all aced their hoops hires. Rick Barnes earned 16 NCAA Tournament bids in 17 years at Texas before landing in Knoxville. In Ben Howland, Mississippi State hired a coach who took UCLA to three straight Final Fours. In Tuscaloosa, the Tide should capitalize on Avery Johnson's NBA background.
White isn't an upgrade over the departed Donovan. Few current coaches could claim that distinction. Billy D. did one of the best building jobs in college basketball history, turning an afterthought into not just a league power but a consistent national title contender.
We're talking football-mad Florida here. In 19 years under Donovan, Florida earned 14 NCAA Tournament bids, won or shared seven SEC titles — compared to one in the pre-Donovan Era — reached four Final Fours and won two national titles.
Donovan turns 50 on May 30. He's accomplished about everything you can accomplish in college basketball. He's established a USA Basketball profile as coach of the U19 team. Given the ridiculous, sleazy and never-ending demands of college basketball recruiting, it should not be a surprise when any college coach decides to give the NBA a shot.
As proof of just what Billy Donovan did at Florida, it might be better to follow the coach who followed Billy Donovan at Florida.
But where his fellow SEC ADs hired coaches for past performances, Foley banked on a young coach with a bright future — much as when he hired Donovan from Marshall way back in 1996.
Tennessee tried to do the same a year ago when it actively pursued White to replace Cuonzo Martin, who had been chased out of Knoxville because (a) Martin wasn't Bruce Pearl and (b) Martin couldn't recruit. That's the same Martin who welcomes two top-10 recruits — Rivals' No. 3 Jaylen Brown and No. 7 Ivan Rabb — to California's 2015-16 freshman class.
To join the Big Orange, White wanted the security of a six-year contract. Tennessee offered five. Dave Hart settled for Southern Miss-via-Morehead's Donnie Tyndall. That didn't work out so well.
Foley handed White the six-year contract, at $2 million per year. And make no mistake, White will have to earn it.
But the bottom line is Billy Donovan made basketball matter at Florida. Those thinking/hoping it might cease to matter minus Donovan are likely to be disappointed.