They almost doused him.
Following a win versus Tennessee which simultaneously served as the 500th career win for head coach Billy Donovan, his team was prepared to conduct the obligatory celebration of dumping water or Gatorade over their coach’s head when he entered the locker room.
Senior Jon Horford spoke up though, putting a stop to the plan.
“I was like ‘Look you only give them the Gatorade or the water shower if you win a championship’. I was like ‘You don’t do it for anything else’. You just don’t.”
Donovan thought the same, walking into the locker room and telling his team, “No, it’s only for championships, it’s only for championships.”
Plus, Horford points out “his outfit you know, is probably $1000 plus easy so [not worth ruining].”
It wouldn’t be completely unprecedented though. Just two years ago, on January 19, 2013, Billy Donovan recorded his 400th win as a head coach at the University of Florida with a win over Missouri.
During the post game locker room celebration, Patric Young dumped the cooler of water on Donovan.
So why adhere to the rule now? Was no one as brave enough as Patric Young to soak their coach? Did Billy just stop them in time? Did Jon Horford tie them down?
Dorian Finney-Smith has another explanation.
“We wanted to spray him down but we kinda 14-15, and we want to get our championship.”
Billy Donovan got his 500th win on a night that couldn’t even bring his team above .500 for the season. They have two more regular season games to tilt the scales before heading to the SEC Tournament, and possibly their only postseason berth.
An argument could be made though that, Donovan, now the second youngest head coach to reach .500 wins (and only one besides Bob Knight to do it before turning 50), almost needed to reach this milestone during a season that is down by many standards.
It could have happened on the heels of a championship. It could have come in the midst of a run to the Final Four. But if fans were holding up signs that said 500 wins while Billy was holding up a piece of net, would the accomplishment have held the same magnitude? Some will immediately scoff and say “of course. Then it would’ve shown what a championship coach he is.”
But don’t we already know that?
The man has two national championships, four trips to the Final Four, seven Elite Eights, a current sixteen year streak of 20 win seasons, six SEC regular season championships, four SEC tournament championships, 15 players drafted into the NBA and is a three time SEC coach of the year.
Donovan has always been quick to place the credit on everyone else around him.
“I think all that stuff, to me, is just a reflection on the players that have been around me,” says Donovan. “The coaches that have been around me, the administration and that kind of commitment. I really look at, it necessarily goes on my record so to speak, but there’s a lot of other people that have contributed in a big-time way to all of those things. I’m just a part of it. And I think you’re only as good as the people around you. And I really believe that to be true.”
But at the end of the day, it is a coaching milestone.
And this milestone, this benchmark of what is already sure to be a Hall of Fame career, came during a season where Donovan has had to coach harder than he has since the beginning of his career.
He continues to credit the people around him for the accolades, but the team around him this season at least does not live up to the par that past teams have set.
“As much as I want them to be better now, there’s a process they got to go through,” said Donovan.
Though it be painful to watch working at times (like now) it’s that process which has really earned Billy this accomplishment. Year after year the teams change. Some more talented than others, some more committed than others. But the coach has stayed the same.
Donovan readily admits that his attitude has slightly changed as he’s aged, saying “even 10 years ago, it would have been a little more frustrating than it is now…[but] as a coach, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to help them in their growth, and their growth is not just between the lines on the court.”
Yet overall, his philosophy has remained steady. He explains it as “priding ourselves in guys getting better.”
Living by that philosophy, Donovan and his staff have been able to take each new set of guys, each new team, find the common thread to unite them and put together a run unmatched by many and a run that now includes 500 wins for the man at the helm of the ship.
Yes, the people around him have been talented and supportive, but it is Donovan that has brought them together. Which is what brings us back to this team.
“We’re not an overly talented team,” Donovan said back on January 19.
Guys getting better has been the unquestionable challenge this season, as Donovan has often pointed out; taking a group of kids that came in thinking they had it all figured out, and making them better. It’s been tough and it certainly hasn’t been pretty. Some might even use the word failure…except for one bright spot.
February 28. 66-49.
Florida beats Tennessee.
Billy Donovan gets win number 500.
With nothing much else on their radar, this was something the guys wanted to get for their coach.
Ahead of the Gators game versus Missouri, Donovan was riding an elevator with freshman Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza.
“Coach, we’re going to get that 500 for you,” Robinson told him.
They didn’t get it that night against the Tigers, but then again, thus is the theme of this season. They moved on and prepared for their next shot, a lesson they’ve begun to learn from their coach.
Robinson remembered his promise, as did the others.
“Being out there, being able to fight for a 500th win for coach,” said Eli Carter, “it’s great for us as a team to go out there and get a win on a big night like this. This is a testament to all the hard work he’s put in and all the great players he’s had before us.”
For Horford, it’ll be something he remembers fondly amidst a season that didn’t have to many moments to be fond of.
“I wouldn’t say, this is something necessarily we want to hang our hat on, but we’re definitely proud to be apart of his legacy. It is something we can take away good from this season, but I’d rather us finish to the best of our abilities and hopefully hang our hat on that.”
Sound familiar? It’s straight out of the Billy Donovan handbook of always getting better, which is what he’s been trying to do with his team the past couple of months.
This team should’ve won more than they did…but they also should’ve lost more. They’ve stumbled to their current record, and while the losses are disappointing, they’re proud of those 14 wins, considering this team could have easily given up a month and a half ago. That’s why this accomplishment needed to come this season. It’s as if someone took away the shiny sure-fire NBA talent, brushed off the McDonalds All-American asterisks and peeled back the championship banners. This season has provided us an inside look into the Billy Donovan coaching machine.
With each substitution and timeout and coaching change, we see another facet to the production and learn more about Billy Donovan and his style of coaching than ever before. This is why his 500th win needed to come this season. When ever Gator fans look back in the history books, they’ll see this milestone listed next to an otherwise dismal record; and then remember, when everything else was falling apart, Billy Donovan held this team together. That’s just what a championship coach does.