Donovan Staying With Gators, Star Players Leaving

By: Mark Long, Associated Press
By: Mark Long, Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Donovan is staying. His star players are leaving.

Donovan spurned a chance to return to Kentucky and take over the tradition-rich program, saying Thursday he hopes to build the same in Gainesville.

He'll have to do it without Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. The four juniors will enter the NBA draft.

Donovan and the foursome led the Gators to consecutive national championships, capping the coach's 11 years and setting the foundation for a program he hopes will someday be mentioned with the likes of Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke and UCLA.

Donovan opened a news conference confirming the four players were headed to the NBA.

"They made a decision to forgo their senior years and enter the draft," Donovan said, looking over to the players sitting to his left. "I do not expect any of them back here next year."

The Gators became the first team to win back-to-back titles since Duke in 1992. But following Monday night's 84-75 victory against Ohio State, Donovan's future had become the biggest question mark surrounding Florida.

Donovan acknowledged interest in the Kentucky job this week, saying he had a lot of admiration for the Wildcats. But he also said he intended to stay in Gainesville.

Kentucky received permission to talk to Donovan about its coaching vacancy Wednesday. The coach and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart spoke early Thursday morning.

Donovan then met with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and agreed to stay put.

It was welcome news for Florida fans and another coup for Foley, who lured football coach Urban Meyer away from tradition-rich Notre Dame before the 2005 season.

Donovan was the top choice to replace Tubby Smith, who left Kentucky last month to take the head job at Minnesota. Donovan was an assistant at Kentucky for five years beginning in 1989.

But he spent the last decade-plus in Gainesville, putting down roots with his wife and four children. He also turned a mediocre basketball program into a national power — at a place where football used to be king — and defied conventional wisdom held by his mentor, Rick Pitino, his predecessor, Lon Kruger. Donovan has a 261-103 record at Florida.

He has two years remaining on his current contract worth $1.7 million annually, but was expected to sign a long-term extension soon.

University of Florida president Bernie Machen and Foley have been working on a new contract for Donovan since last year. Negotiations began during Florida's 2006 title run, but Donovan postponed signing a deal worth about $2 million because he didn't want to send the wrong message to the players who turned down NBA riches to stay in school.

Donovan's next contract could be worth considerably more now.

Without Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah, Donovan's job could be tougher, too.

The four teammates and roommates have been the core of the consecutive titles, winning 68 games the last two seasons, including 18 in a row in the postseason and 12 straight in the NCAA tournament.

Brewer, Horford and Noah could be lottery picks, and Green might get drafted despite somewhat undersized.


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