Donovan's Future Takes Center Stage

Monday, April 2nd 2007, 10:42 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) Billy Donovan roamed the sideline Monday night, yelling, calling plays, directing players and eventually winning a second consecutive national championship.

His jacket had long been removed, exposing a white, sweat-soaked shirt and blue tie.


But, was it Florida blue or Kentucky blue?

That was the biggest question facing the Gators after their 84-75 victory over Ohio State in the title game: Will Donovan leave the Sunshine State for the Kentucky bluegrass?

Donovan's future became a distracting sideshow during Florida's final steps in its quest to repeat. And it was sure to be a hot topic again as Florida celebrated a history-making victory.

The Gators became the first team to win consecutive championships since Duke in 1992.

Normally, it would just mean a contract extension for Donovan.

It could mean a change of scenery.

Since Tubby Smith left Kentucky to take the head job at Minnesota, speculation has grown that Donovan is the Wildcats' top choice to replace him.

Florida players shrugged off talk about Donovan's future, saying they expect him to stay put.

Donovan has spent 11 years in Gainesville, putting down roots with his wife and four children. His dad also lives there and coaches Donovan's oldest son's high school basketball team, and the Donovan's have been instrumental in getting the new school up and running.

Oh, and Donovan also turned a mediocre basketball program into a national power, at a place where football used to be king, defying the conventional wisdom held by his mentor, Rick Pitino, his predecessor, Lon Kruger, and dozens of other naysayers around the country.

Donovan, an assistant under Pitino in Lexington, has had several opportunities over the past week to take his name out of consideration for the Kentucky job.

But all Donovan said was that the search "has nothing to do with me."

Will that change after Florida's 12th straight NCAA tournament victory?

Donovan had said he hoped the rumors wouldn't be a distraction in Atlanta. Some even speculated that Donovan kept the story alive in hopes of taking the pressure off his team's bid and put the brunt of the attention on himself. It might sound strange, but Donovan has tried to shield his team from the constant sky-high expectations that followed the Gators all season.

"I think there's been distractions all year long for our basketball team," Donovan said before the Final Four. "If I were to address this right now ... My focus is on our team, our program and this great opportunity to play in the Final Four. To me, there is nothing more to address. I think I've already addressed it."

Florida fans would like more.

University of Florida president Bernie Machen offered some reassurance last week when he said, "We're not going to lose him to anybody."

Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley have been working on a new contract for Donovan since last year. Negotiations began during Florida's title run, but Donovan postponed signing a deal worth about $2 million because he didn't want to send the wrong message to the players who turned down NBA riches to stay in school.

Donovan has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.7 million a season. His next one could be worth considerably more, especially if the Gators win it all again and if Kentucky comes calling as expected.