The Florida Gators take on Marquette this Thursday (3/22) in Phoenix AZ.
Pre-game rolls at 9:40pm! Tip-off 10:17pm!
NCAA tournament coverage continues Thursday (3/22) on Sports Radio 930 at 7:00 pm and continues all weekend!!
Thursday, March 22 one game Starting at 7:00pm and Gators at 10:17pm
Friday, March 23 two games Starting at 7:00pm
Saturday, March 24 two games Starting at 4:00pm
Sunday, March 25 two games Starting at 2:00pm
PRINTABLE (PDF) Bracket: Click Here
Florida has a basketball team in the Sweet 16 once again under head coach Billy Donovan. Yes this Gators team is not only very much alive, but if you ask their opponents, they are doing a lot of kicking you know what at the same time.
Many of the opinion makers feel Florida has received a free pass to this next round of games because of Norfolk State's upset of the No. 2-seeded Missouri Tigers. The fact is, if Missouri had won the Norfolk State game, they would have had to defeat a rowdy bunch of reptiles that are on a mission to end up in New Orleans at the Final Four.
The Gators have not only exceeded a lot of expectations, but they are also in a position to upset a lot of other peoples’ prognostications. Very few think Florida can go any further. It certainly isn’t going to get easier, but it is well within the capabilities of this team to break a lot of fans’ tournament brackets and win the next two games.
READ MORE: Click Here
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The day Billy Donovan showed up for his first day at work, Donnie Jones could have walked by in the hallway and Donovan would not have known.
The two had spoken on the phone, but that was the extent of their relationship when Donovan took over the Marshall program in 1994. Donovan was a hot-shot assistant at Kentucky taking over his first program. They mostly called him Billy the Kid back then.
Jones was an unknown, having spent the previous four years at Marshall, two as a graduate assistant and two as a full-time assistant. Soon, Donovan realized that Jones was his kind of guy.
“He was the one that really kept everything intact,’’ Donovan said Tuesday. “Really for about a three- or four-week period, Donnie was unbelievable. Any time I had a question or needed an answer … he knew everything that was going on.’’
Donovan knew that Anthony Grant and John Pelphrey were joining his staff at Marshall, but he offered another colleague at Kentucky a chance to join him as well. That would likely mean saying goodbye to Jones.
Donovan looked back with a smile.
“Probably the best thing that happened for me was that that guy turned down the job,’’ he said.
Jones spent two years on Donovan’s staff at Marshall, and when Donovan was hired at Florida in 1996, Jones came with him. Jones spent 11 years with Donovan in Gainesville before leaving after the 2007 season to return to Marshall as head coach.
The two square off as opposing head coaches for the first time on Wednesday night in Orlando when the Gators face UCF at Amway Arena in the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout. In Jones’ first season at UCF, the Knights are 5-0 including a win over USF.
Donovan will look down the bench and be reminded of a lot of good memories, including the ribbing he used to give Jones for wearing the same two suits so often during their early days together at Marshall. Since those days, both have come a long way in the coaching profession, highlighted by winning back-to-back national titles with the Gators in 2006 and 2007.
“I feel like I’m getting old,’’ Donovan said. “There is a lot of substance to him. Coming here, I had all the confidence in the world in him. He played a big part in us winning two national championships and getting to three championship games.’’
Jones and Donovan remain close.
When Jones was contemplating leaving Marshall after three seasons and returning to Florida to take over the UCF program – both Marshall and UCF are Conference USA schools – he called Donovan for advice.
Jones decided moving to Orlando was the best move, and he is thankful that Donovan agreed to play the Knights on Wednesday in the first college basketball game in the new home of the Orlando Magic. Donovan spent a day with Jones earlier this year, taking a tour of UCF’s facilities and catching up with his old friend.
However, Jones won’t be calling Donovan for any suggestions this week.
“I can’t call and ask advice on this game because I know he won’t give me the right advice,’’ Jones said Tuesday. “But he’s always there for me. He is still a mentor and a great friend.’’
Jones was hired March 29 to replace Kirk Speraw, who led UCF to 279 wins and four NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 seasons. However, after building a new on-campus arena and practice facility in 2007, the school decided to go in another direction following a 15-17 season.
Jones sees a lot of similarities in his new job that he saw at Florida when Donovan took over the program nearly 15 years ago. He hopes he can have the same success at UCF and views a chance to face Florida so early in his tenure as a boost.
“We are obviously trying to rebuild our program here and I think that any time you’ve got a chance to play on a national stage against a great program like Florida and a great coach like Billy, I think it’s good for your team,’’ Jones said. “To have an opportunity to play them here in your backyard, in front of your fans, I think it’s just an incredible opportunity for us.’’
Gators senior forward Chandler Parsons remains close with Jones. Parsons grew up in the Orlando area and spent a lot of time last summer working out at UCF. He got to know the players and let them know what kind of coach they were getting.
“I love him. That was my guy,’’ Parsons said. “He was one of the main guys who recruited me when he was here. It was tough that I didn’t play for him, but I’m glad he’s doing well. He’s always there for me.’’
Jones and Donovan will have another memory to add to their collection after the game. During the game, it will be another story between the two highly competitive friends.
“You hear of siblings having an incredible rivalry and competitiveness growing up,’’ Donovan said. “I think it’s healthy sometimes. It’s not a bad thing. You just hate when you walk off the court that somebody’s has got to lose because you know what kind of guy he is and how hard he works.’’
“It’s fun [playing him] before the game and after the game, but it’s not fun when you actually play the game,’’ Jones said. “My philosophy has been influenced by Coach Donovan, and we’re trying to teach that here. Five games into a season, it’s all new to our players still. Billy has been teaching that system for a long time.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us.’’
BUFFALO -- It seemed like a pipe dream, and at the end of the day Florida coach Billy Donovan almost surely will opt to keep the idyllic lifestyle and exceptional job he has in Gainesville.
But at least the former Providence star from Long Island has listened to the possibility of becoming the next St. John's coach.
Sources told The Post that Donovan talked to a St. John's supporter late Friday and was intrigued by what he heard. Whether it's enough to lure Billy the Kid away from his $3.5 million job at Florida, where he's won two national titles, remains to be seen.
"I am very happy here, and we have a very good team coming back next season," Donovan told the Post in a text message. "St. John's has a great tradition, and I have great respect for that program."
Before St. John's fans start planning their first NCAA tournament party appearance since 2002, consider this: Donovan was breaking down film of his team's first-round NCAA tournament loss to BYU and working on his recruiting plan at his Florida vacation home when he took the call.
St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch said Monday when the university fired Norm Roberts that he would not contact any potential candidate if the candidate's team was still involved in postseason play.
Because the contact with Donovan was not initiated by an employee of St. John's, Monasch has contacted Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley to receive permission to contact Donovan directly.
If Donovan elects to remain at Florida, where he has established a basketball tradition at a football school, St. John's likely will turn its attention to Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg and Hofstra's Tom Pecora.
Hewitt has his Ramblin' Wreck in the NCAA tournament. Greenberg has the Hokies in the NIT. Tech athletic director Jim Weaver told The Post he had not been contacted by St. John's.
As reported exclusively in The Post, St. John's has been working to put together a multi-year deal that would pay about $1.6 million annually. However, a source with knowledge of the finances cautioned that those numbers are not etched in stone.
For a coach of Donovan's status, the numbers could go higher. Because the money mostly will come from the private sector, it will not interfere with university's mission of developing a campus for a national student body.