Billy Donovan is the best coach in college basketball right now.
I can say that unwaveringly and with complete certainty.
Sure, you got Mike Kzryzewski at Duke, Roy Williams at North Carolina, John Calipari at Kentucky and Rick Pitino at Louisville. And they are all good, if not great coaches in their own right.
Kzryzewski has won four championships, and his run of success at Duke has been legendary for that school. Williams, much like Donovan, has won two championships. Calipari and Pitino have both won one championship each but are known for their success on the recruiting trail.
Even with coaches like Tom Crean helping a storied program like Indiana get back to the top of the polls, I’m here to tell you that a New Yorker at an SEC school has been the most impressive basketball coach in college basketball this year.
Just look at the 2012-13 Florida basketball team. You won’t see any big names like Cody Zeller or a Nerlens Noel, but rather names like Will Yeguete and Casey Prather.
For a team that has had as much success at the Gators have had this season, one would expect some of the players to be high on NBA draft boards. That’s not the case with this year’s Florida Gators. In NBADraft.net’s latest mock draft, the first and only Florida Gator to be drafted is junior center Patric Young at No. 37.
And that’s the beauty of Donovan’s abilities as a coach. It’s a testament to his emphasis on team basketball rather than individual success.
After losing one of the program’s best players in Bradley Beal, the Gators came into this season with expectations to compete in the SEC, along with teams like Kentucky and Missouri.
Now 20 games into the season, the Gators are ranked No. 2 in the country with an overall 18-2 record and a perfect mark against eight conference opponents. The media attributes the Gators’ success to the rise of players like Scottie Wilbekin, who has become one of the nation’s toughest defenders or someone like Michael Frazier II, who has made an unforeseen impact as a freshman.
However, that’s where the coaching ability of Donovan comes into play. He’s shown over the years his ability to grow players, who may have been looked over by other major programs, and work them into the national spotlight.
It’s also Donovan’s “no nonsense” coaching style that resonates so well with his players. Last season, Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario was struggling with his attitude and work ethic. So heading into this season, Donovan had enough of the senior guard’s antics and gave him an ultimatum.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Brian Hamilton, Donovan told Rosario if he wanted to play, he would have to meet three conditions: he could not miss any classes, he couldn’t miss any practices if the medical staff said he could play and when he played, Rosario would have to play the right way.
And what did that no nonsense talk from Donovan do for Rosario this year? After 18 games, Rosario is third on the team with 29.7 minutes played per game and is averaging more than 12 points per game, which is nearly six points higher than the year prior.
There’s no denying the Gators are an exciting team to watch this year. They would make UF strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman proud, because they do the little things well. It’s a team that executes the fundamentals with an intensity and determination that is arguably unmatched by any other team in the country.
Donovan eclipsed the 400-win mark back in January with a win over Missouri, but he was quick to direct the attention on the players rather than himself.
“It’s much, much more a reflection on the players I’ve had to coach here,” Donovan said. “That’s really what’s it about. For me to be here and be part of 400 wins, and I don’t look at them at my wins, I look at them as University of Florida wins.”
His desire to compliment his players instead of his own coaching abilities has resonated with the players and further instilled the team dynamic in this year’s squad.
It’s clear, as evidenced by how the Gators’ players uniquely celebrated Donovan’s 400th win, that playing for a coach like Donovan is something that doesn’t come around too often.
“Hopefully, he can get 400 more,” said Florida center Patric Young in an interview with Jacksonville.com. “I think it’s always pretty cool when you get to be part of winning and get to be part of hopefully a future Hall of Fame coach’s career.
“I hope he has the greatest career ever and breaks all the records.”