ATLANTA (AP) - The police escort, the fans and autograph seekers
roaming the hotel - all part of a Final Four welcome to Atlanta for
Florida on Thursday.
Success, of course, has its price. The distracting speculation
surrounding Billy Donovan's future has become the cost the Gators
will pay during this, the final step in their quest for a second
straight national championship.
Soon, both questions will be answered. On the court, the Gators
play UCLA in the semifinals Saturday, a rematch of last year's
title game. Off the court, Donovan's future - whether with Florida
or at a new home in Kentucky - will soon be more clear.
The defending national champs need two more victories to become
the first team since Duke in 1992 to win consecutive titles, the
big reason Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah returned for
"This is what we came back for," Noah said. "We came back to
play in this situation. This is the big stage."
Donovan's future has taken center stage, too.
Since Tubby Smith left Kentucky to take the head job at
Minnesota, speculation has grown that Donovan is at the top of the
list for the Wildcats.
Florida players shrugged off talk about Donovan's future, saying
they expect him to stay put.
"Anybody in their right mind knows he's probably not leaving,"
Brewer said. "But you never know. I don't think (he'll leave). I
hope not. That would be crazy."
Donovan has spent the last 11 years in Gainesville, putting down
roots with his wife and four children. His dad also lives there and
coaches Donovan's oldest son's high school basketball team. The
Donovans have been instrumental in getting a new Catholic high
school up and running.
Oh, and he also turned a mediocre basketball program into a
national power, at a place where football used to be king, defying
the conventional wisdom held by his mentor, Rick Pitino, his
predecessor, Lon Kruger, and dozens of other naysayers around the
"He made all this possible," Noah said. "Why would you want
to be in a position where if you don't win a national title it's a
disappointment? (Kentucky) is a great program, but you have to be
realistic. The expectations there are unrealistic."
Donovan, an assistant under Pitino in Lexington, has had several
opportunities over the past week to take his name out of
consideration for the Kentucky job.
But all Donovan said was that the search "has nothing to do
with me. It has everything to do with Kentucky. I'm not in control
of any their decision-making process. The only thing I'm focused on
right now is our basketball team."
Donovan added Wednesday that he hoped the rumors wouldn't be a
distraction in Atlanta.
"I think there's been distractions all year long for our
basketball team," Donovan said. "If I were to address this right
now ... My focus is on our team, our program and this great
opportunity to play in the Final Four. To me, there is nothing more
to address. I think I've already addressed it."
Florida fans would like more.
University of Florida president Bernie Machen offered some
reassurance last week when he said, "We're not going to lose him
Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley have been working on a
new contract for Donovan since last year. Negotiations began during
Florida's 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 has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $1.7
million a season. His next contract could be worth considerably
more, especially if the Gators win it all again and if Kentucky
"I think he's fine where he is right now," Horford said.
"Nobody really wants that Kentucky job. That's the way I look at
Whether Donovan wants the job remains to be seen. Much like
Florida's shot at history, it won't be answered until after the
team's final game.
"When you've got a great coach, you've got to expect it,"
guard Walter Hodge said. "Hopefully he'll stay."