Donovan's coaching tree grows strong with success Print
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Friday, 01 February 2008 12:45
NCAAB Headline News


 GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - After he retires, Florida's Billy Donovan plans to travel the country and watch his former assistants coach.
It could end up being a long trip.
Donovan has three former assistants now serving as head coaches in Division I: John Pelphrey at Arkansas, Anthony Grant at Virginia Commonwealth and Donnie Jones at Marshall.
It's not the legacy of Dean Smith, but it's a growing coaching tree that says as much about Donovan's success as his two national championship rings.
``When you see a couple guys from Florida that were with me, around me, that were able to go on and do this, it's rewarding for me,'' Donovan said.
Donovan will get to see one of them up close Saturday, when the No. 20 Gators (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) play at Arkansas (15-5, 4-2).
Pelphrey remembers his first day on the job with Donovan in 1994. He sat behind his new desk at Marshall, staring at a phone, a legal pad and a pen. He had no idea what to do next, so he gathered his things up and walked into his boss' office.
``I basically spent the next three days in his office trying to figure out what I needed to do recruiting-wise and all those types of things,'' said Pelphrey, who spent eight years coaching under Donovan before getting his first head job at South Alabama. ``He's always been somebody there for me, incredibly giving, teaching. He's just an important guy to me.''
How important?
``As a coach, he basically raised me,'' Pelphrey said. ``Outside of my father, he's probably the most influential male in my life. If I had a male soul mate, he'd be it.''
Donovan, Pelphrey, Grant and Jones essentially grew up coaching together.
Donovan was 23 years old when he became a graduate assistant at Kentucky under Rick Pitino in 1991. Pelphrey, meanwhile, was a senior captain with the Wildcats. Three years later, Donovan got the head coaching job at Marshall and asked Pelphrey, Grant and Jones to join him.
They won 35 games in two seasons at Marshall, then made the leap to Florida. Donovan was a young, fast-talking recruiting machine and Pelphrey, Grant and Jones were his right-hand men.
Together, they made basketball matter in Gainesville.
They led the Gators to the NCAA championship game in 2000 - Donovan's fourth season - and eventually turned a mediocre basketball program into a national power, and they did it at a place where football used to be king.
They played golf and pickup basketball games together, traveled together and even raised families together. It wasn't always easy, either. Donovan, Pelphrey and Grant have children buried next to each other.
``When you are with these guys every day, you see the amount of time and energy they put in and the sacrifices they make,'' Donovan said. ``I think more than anything else, I'm just excited that our program has had enough success that people look at these guys that they're going to potentially be very good coaches, that they've gotten the opportunity to move on.''
Pelphrey, who left Florida in 2002, led South Alabama to the NCAA tournament in his fourth season. But he and Donovan remained close, so much so that Pelphrey even named his daughter, Ann-Marie Grace Donovan, after his longtime mentor.
Grant, instrumental in the development of big men Udonis Haslem, David Lee, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, left after Florida's first national title in 2006. He led Virginia Commonwealth to the NCAA tournament in his first season, and the Rams upset Duke in the opening round.
The Rams are 15-5 (8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) this season, and Grant credits much of his program's success to Donovan.
``A lot of the things we're trying to do with our team here evolved from my experiences with him,'' Grant said. ``Certainly I would always hope that what we do would be a reflection of some of the things that I learned from him.''
Jones stayed with Donovan the longest, working his way from the No. 4 assistant to associate head coach. He left after the second national title last year, returning to coach his alma mater. The Thundering Herd are 11-8 (3-3 Conference USA).
``One of the things I've always done is I've tried to stay out of what they're doing,'' Donovan said. ``They've got their own programs to run. They've got their own decisions to make and I'm not there every single day. Now if they ever want to call and talk about it, their team, certainly I would love to do that.''
They do call, and there's little doubt the Gators will call on one of them to replace Donovan when he retires (athletic director Jeremy Foley had planned to offer the Florida job to Grant last June, but then Donovan changed his mind about the NBA and decided to stick with the Gators).
So Donovan's retirement plan probably will bring him right back to Gainesville.
``Anytime you can help somebody take the next step in their life, it's great to able to be a part of that,'' Donovan said. ``All those guys were extremely loyal and worked very hard and were very close to me and such a part of trying to help build Florida.
``You look at these guys every single day, and when they get the opportunity, it's an incredible thing to be able to sit back and look at that.''
 

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