GAINESVILLE — Speculation about the future of Billy Donovan always seems to start when Florida has big NCAA Tournament runs. But Florida Today has learned that Donovan made a long-term commitment to the school last month that could keep him in Gainesville well into his 50s.
Donovan, who will be 49 in May, has been the head coach at Florida for 18 seasons and recently passed Dale Brown for No. 2 on the SEC’s all-time list of victories by a basketball coach, trailing only Adolph Rupp.
The top-ranked Gators (34-2) play UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. Some have already started wondering if the New York Knicks could be in his future. Donovan briefly took the Orlando job in 2007 before changing his mind almost immediately.
As part of the agreement for being allowed to return to Florida, a non-compete clause required Donovan to refrain from coaching in the NBA for five years as one of the terms of his release from the Magic contract.
Donovan agreed to terms on a three-year extension last summer, but the deal was not finalized and executed until last month. The contract will run through 2018-19 and remains at the current value of about $3.5 million a year, making the extension — which includes bonuses and incentives — worth potentially more than $20 million.
This was Donovan’s first full season at Florida since the Orlando agreement had expired, releasing him to talk to another NBA team if he wants after the Gators’ current season ends. And last week, during South Region play in the arena where he would have coached in the NBA, the subject came up again.
He didn’t end that speculation by what he had to say.
“I got into coaching because of the basketball piece of it, and there is an intrigue as it relates to (the NBA),’’ Donovan said. “When you try to project where your future is, where you’re going to be, and you don’t know because I don’t have a crystal ball, all I can say is I am happy here at Florida. I love being here.
“The NBA part of it, the intrigue part of it for me, is just the fact that it’s basketball 24 hours a day. That’s all you’re dealing with is basketball.”
He hedged at saying he planned to stay at Florida and in the college game as a “lifer.’’
“When you say a lifer, that means to me I’m never, ever going to go anywhere and be there,” he said. “Who knows? They may get sick of me at Florida and want me to move on. But I don’t like coming out making bold predictions or statements. I would say I’m extremely happy with my life right now at the University of Florida.’’
Donovan grew up a huge New York Knicks fan, which would make a possible job offer tough for him to turn down.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who had his own tough tenures in the NBA with New York and Boston and hasn’t been a big fan of Donovan leaving for the pros in the past, said at the regional where the Cardinals were also playing that he wouldn’t rule out Donovan giving it a try.
“Do I think Billy will ever coach in the NBA?’’ Pitino said last Friday. “He’s like a son to me, but I couldn’t answer that question. The last time around, his dad and his wife were all for him going to the Magic, which was shocking to me. I was the only one against it, I think, in his inner circle.’’
A UF official recently confirmed the school is contemplating naming its court after Donovan before next season, with a renovation of the O’Connell Center being planned and fundraising on-going.