In a move befitting their men’s basketball program’s legendary coach, the Florida Gators will officially rename the court of Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center “Billy Donovan Court,” the program announced Friday.
The program also released a short and sweet video tribute to Donovan that I expect might spur some sprinkles from eye sockets.
The long-anticipated and long-awaited move was approved unanimously by the UF Board of Trustees on Friday will happen on February 15 during Florida’s game against Vanderbilt — a date that coincides with the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, and which should facilitate Donovan being in attendance in the middle of his Oklahoma City Thunder’s season.
Chris Harry’s story on the process of getting Donovan’s name on the hardwood reveals that current Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley — who hired Donovan and helped him build a program with next to no history into one that churned out NBA players, made four Final Four trips, and won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007 over a nearly two-decade partnership in Gainesville — ambushed Donovan with Florida’s intent to put his name on the court during an October visit ostensibly about seeing facilities at the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
And in typically Billy Donovan fashion, the future Basketball Hall of Famer was “shocked.”
“I was totally shocked,” Donovan said of the moment both Stricklin and Foley, who hired Donovan in 1996, delivered the news. “It was really emotional. I mean, I didn’t anticipate this. I’ve been gone five years, so I couldn’t believe those guys flew all the way out here for that. I’m thankful, I’m honored and just incredibly humbled by it all.”
Current Florida coach Mike White — whose positioning in Donovan’s shadow has earned him much of the criticism he attracts, fairly or not — is also on board with the renaming, and for a very good reason.
“It’s a given,” said UF coach Mike White, who replaced Donovan upon his exit in the spring of 2015. “To me, the way people revere him as a human being in this profession says as much about him as the games and championships he won. This is something that definitely needed to happen.”
If Florida should lose to Vanderbilt on that day — as it has, more often than not, under White — its current head man might have a different quip at the ready.
But this move has been widely anticipated since Donovan’s tenure stretched into a third decade in Gainesville, with his Gators finding a third peak period in the 2010s after the “Billyball” rise and the title-winning tied “Oh-Fours” even after Donovan’s reneging on an offer to lead the Orlando Magic was followed by relative down years in the O’Dome.
When Florida broke through for Donovan’s fourth Final Four on its a fourth consecutive trip to the Elite Eight in 2014, the question of renaming Billy Donovan Court became a matter of when more than if.
Now we know when.
And if you’re not there to see it? You will regret it.