Love him or hate him, Billy Donovan turned in a brilliant run at Florida.
There were plenty who really disliked him, including Roy Williams. who accused Donovan of cheating when he recruited Mike Miller to Florida.
Former UNC player and assistant Eddie Fogler also jumped in. Mike Montgomery, then at Stanford, said this: "There's one coach we all know who cheats; everyone knows it. A few years ago, he made the Final Four. His president heard all the accusations, knew his graduation rate was awful and what did he do? He gave him a $1.7 million contract. What kind of message is that?"
He apologized almost immediately.
Nolan Richardson had his say.
Eventually, everyone got over it. Williams eventually patched things up with Donovan and Donovan built Florida to the point where that longtime football school could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky.
Even now it’s a stunning accomplishment.
Donovan’s success at Florida peaked with back-to-back national titles in 2005-06.
In 2007, Donovan pulled a Cremins (a coach who takes a job briefly, regrets it then returns to his original job will always be associated with Bobby Cremins, who legendarily left Georgia Tech for South Carolina, for about 24 hours, before returning to the Tech job and enraging everyone in Columbia) by briefly accepting an offer from the Orlando Magic.
He returned to Gainesville but things were never quite the same - not that living up to back-to-back titles is easy.
He stayed for another eight years and made two NIT tournaments, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, before making it to the Elite eight three years in a row and one final Final Four in 2013-14.
In his final season, Florida finished 16-17 and went nowhere.
It’s nothing to sneer at but he had built expectations of greatness and maintaining Florida’s high point was impossible.
After he left, Florida looked around and found a bright young coach at Louisiana Tech named Michael White. White, as you may know, is the son of Duke A.D. Kevin White.
White finished 21-15 his first season at Florida. His second season, thus far, the Gators are 7-1 and ranked #21.
The Gators have played a reasonable schedule too: Mercer is no pushover program (ahem), Belmont is usually a reliable pain in the ass, Seton Hall has been good recently, some people think that Gonzaga may have its best team ever, Miami is no pushover and North Florida just gave Syracuse a heck of a game at Syracuse.
Only Gonzaga has beaten Florida and only by five.
Florida goes nine deep and has three double digit scorers: 6-2 sophomore KeVaughn Allen leads at 12.4 ppg, 6-6 grad student transfer Canyon Berry is next at 12.1, and 6-8 junior Devin Robinson is close behind at 11.8.
You’ve probably heard Barry’s name on occasion: not only is he the last son of Rick Barry - all of the Barrys played college ball, including Scooter at Kansas, Brent at Oregon and Jon and Drew at Georgia Tech - he has sparked interest in his father’s underhanded free throw technique (last year at Charleston he hit 84.5%; so far this year he’s hitting 81.8% as a Gator).
Barry is a solid addition to the team. He injured his shoulder last season but appears fine now
Allen can be explosive: he had 32 against FSU last year, 27 at Ole Miss and at Vandy last year, he scored 11 points in the last 32 seconds.
Robinson and John Egbunu were both injured last year and it affected their return this season: Robinson had a stress fracture in his foot while Egbunu, a 6-11, 250 lb. junior, tore a ligament in his thumb.
Egbunu is a more limited player but he could improve a good bit.
Robinson is a guy with legitimate NBA aspirations. He might’ve gone last year if not for his injury.
Kasey Hill, a McDonald’s All-American, is the point guard although Chris Chiozza started some last year as well. There won’t be much of a drop off either way.
Kevarrius Hayes could also be a factor. At 6-9, he gives the Gators another big.
What we’re looking at in Florida is a fast and fairly effective turnaround. White has assembled enough talent to compete with most teams and that includes Duke.
Duke has been amazing this year with limited players, a tight rotation and more injuries than most teams see in three seasons.
On Saturday, Duke finally got Jayson Tatum and Marquese Bolden on the floor, even as Grayson Allen and Frank Jackson were rested for foot problems.
Neither of the new arrivals is really in game shape but both will help. Bolden in particular adds some much needed depth and power inside.
Coach K said after the Maine game that Allen isn’t practicing at all right now.
So there are certainly no guarantees, not that there ever are.
Duke has established a certain toughness this season though. Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson, Allen, Jackson and Chase Jeter have all had remarkable seasons to date.
Is Florida capable of winning this game? Absolutely.
If they do win though, they’ll have to earn it. This Duke team has some incredible heart.
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