It’s been a week full of emotions for the Florida Gators athletic department and basketball program With Billy Donovan, head coach of the Gators for 19 seasons, leaving for the same position with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA, Florida administration and fans found themselves in a period of flux. Everyone from us here at Gator Country all the way to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley were feeling the emotions as we said goodbye to the man who built that Gator basketball program.
Now, it’s time to move forward.
So let’s talk logistics. What does this mean moving forward?
The players are the first and most important concern.
Junior guard Michael Frazier II and sophomore forward Chris Walker have both opted to leave early for the NBA draft.
Redshirt senior guard Eli Carter has asked for a release to transfer, although it remains to be seen if he actually will.
That leaves Kasey Hill, Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson and Alex Murphy as players returning who have played significant minutes.
Overall though, Donovan is pleased with what he sees there for the next guy.
“I feel like it’s a good team,” Donovan said when addressing the media Monday morning.
“I feel like those guys are going to grow. I think Kasey will be a year older, a year better. DeVon Walker was out with an ACL. But he’s a year older, more mature. I think Dorian Finney‑Smith’s the same thing, John Egbunu has had a chance to sit out, so has Brandone Francis. I think those are four good quality freshmen.
“But coming off last season, this needs to be a high level of growth for those guys. There are great kids in the program, great kids I trust, kids that are committed to being here, committed to Florida and want to grow and get better.
“But I feel good about the team. But starting off last season, being ranked and then probably starting this upcoming season unranked, they’re going to have to prove their way. But I do think what they went through last year will help them move in the right direction.”
The team hopes to be bolstered by incoming recruits like KeVaughn Allen, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes and Noah Dickerson. That group has been positive about Donovan’s taking this NBA opportunity but Billy knows there will be some questions asked in the coming weeks from the Florida signees.
“Yeah, I reached out to all of those guys as well… I basically told them that my feelings to Florida haven’t changed at all. It’s a great, great place. I think probably, I know the national letter of intent says you’re not signing with an institution. I think everybody would agree there is a reason there is a recruiting process because they want to know who they’re playing for. I think they’ll have to go through a little bit of a process themselves to digest this. But as it relates to me talking to them and speaking to them, the one thing I’ve said to them is I have the utmost trust, respect for Jeremy in this process.”
As for who they will be playing for, that remains to be seen and Jeremy Foley says he has no hard deadline yet for when it will be revealed.
“I don’t want to put a timetable on it,” Foley said Monday morning.
“The key is to have something in place obviously sometime in June because July is a huge recruiting month, and you’re not going to hire a coach on July 1.
Foley will meet with his staff at the beginning of the week and then they will decide which direction to move forward with.
While the Gators A.D. says that he hasn’t spoken to anyone (despite rumors that he called out during his press conference), Foley did admit to having somewhat of a list compiled, in his mind at least.
“We’ve been collecting information on a number of coaches. Candidly when Oklahoma City decided to make a change, we paid attention too. We heard some undercurrents that this is a possibility, so we began looking at coaches probably several weeks ago. But we know what Billy has built here, and I think Billy said it himself, we’re not taking a step back. We want to keep this thing going in the right direction.”
Foley says he won’t have to sell the job like he did with Donovan thanks in large part to Donovan and the ways he’s elevated the position of head coach at the University of Florida.
With five Final Four’s, $60 million heading into Stephen C. O’Connell Center renovations and a culture that Billy created, Foley now has a much shiner silver platter to offer to possible candidates. There’s still the stigma though that this is a basketball job at a football school. And Jeremy Foley doesn’t mind hearing that. In fact, it rejuvenates him for the search ahead.
“You know what excites us? When people say I can’t continue because Billy is leaving. It can’t continue because that’s not a great job. I don’t buy that for one second. I’m going to tell you right now, it’s a really good job. The competitive juices get going. But you don’t get reenergized when people leave. You don’t.
You’ve got to take a step back, control your emotions. Let your emotions go, and then a day later or two days later you have a job to do and you go do it. And that’s what we’re doing here.”