Most of the press surrounding Billy Donovan over the past weeks hasn't exactly been positive. First, there was the flirtation with the Kentucky job. Next came an only somewhat serious look at the Memphis job. Then, of course the whole Orlando Magic debacle. Hopefully tonight everyone can put those events aside to see just how good of a coach Billy Donovan is.
Before we get started here, I want you to keep in mind that Donovan has achieved his success at a school that was never known for basketball. Prior to Donovan's arrival in 1996, the Gators had made just five appearances in the NCAA tournament, with their best showing being a loss to Duke in the '93'-94 Final Four. The Gators didn't even reach their first NCAA Tournament until the 1986-1987 season, 39 years after the start of the program.
College basketball isn't exactly what it used to be. Many kids just see it as a springboard to the NBA. The ultimate goal is to play well enough in college so that you get drafted into the NBA. Before Billy Donovan the biggest NBA stars to come out of Florida were Neal Walk, Vernon Maxwell, Dwayne Schintzius and Andrew Declerq. Since Donovan took over as head coach he's had four of his players taken in the first round. That's double the amount drafted in the first round since the first Gator basketball player was ever drafted back in 1958.
And he's poised to add three more first round picks to that list, with the possibility of Taurean Green rounding out a total of four Gators drafted overall. You might think that Donovan just recruited 5-star athletes, and that their natural ability made them gifted enough to be possible top-10 NBA draft picks. Well, here's how the "Big Three" were ranked heading into Florida:
Corey Brewer: #7 ranked small forward, #31 overall(rivals.com)
Al Horford: #7 ranked power forward, #36 overall(rivals.com)
Joakim Noah: #19 ranked power forward, #75 overall(rivals.com)
And the fourth:
Taurean Green: #19 ranked point guard, #105 overall(rivals.com)
Sure, Brewer and Horford were ranked in the top 10 at their position, but the class as a whole wasn't in the top 10. However, Donovan coached them into a frontcourt that most college coaches dream about having. He helped Green become the driver of the team, and elevated his draft stock in the process. As an example, Glen Davis was the #3 ranked power forward back in '04. Most NBA analysts have him ranked as the #10 rated NBA power forward prospect, whereas Horford is usually #2.
Coach Donovan has shown the ability since he arrived in Gainesville to recruit good players, and be able to hone their strengths. Tonight's NBA Draft will be a prime example of his handiwork.