To the Great Donovan, Who Could Have Called Out the Machetes

  • I cannot praise Billy Donovan too highly. Each season I am more and more impressed with his character and his skill. Each season that passes, it becomes more and more apparent that his back to back titles were accomplishments of a great basketball mind and man, and that he is a credit to the game and so to Rick Pitino, his oft misunderstood mentor. Billy Donovan hired Norm Roberts when Norm was radioactive in recruiting. Billy Donovan turned down the Kentucky job, and the NBA, apparently the two greatest temptations of the soul of any college basketball coach. Billy Donovan has built Florida into a respected name in basketball. Billy Donovan is the only coach in the post-modern era to win back to back national titles (and he did it without a super player and that is what everyone forgets). Billy Donovan walked into the Phog with a flipping bitter pill in his past having played on the UK team that was thrashed mercilessly by KU back before Roy knew better than to kick an opponent, when he was down. If ever there were a coach on this earth that would have been tempted to pulverize KU in last night’s game anyway possible, Billy Donovan was that man, and last night’s KU-Florida game in Allen Field House was that moment. And for a half it seemed that Donovan’s Gators would stage Kentucky 2.0 on Self’s outmanned Jayhawks. But then everything that could go wrong for UF did go wrong. A huge half time lead evaporated not so much on KU’s defense, or the greatest sixth man in basketball—Allen Field House fillled to capacity, or KU’s butt chewing restoration coach—Bill Self, or to the ghosts of Jimmy, W.L., Phog, Dick, Ted, Larry, and Roy, or to Wilt reaching down from basketball heaven and rim protecting that second half, as he most assuredly did, but to a now typically young and talented elite team getting over confident at the same moment that the iron at its end of the floor grew small as a bull’s butt at fly time, as the ‘Bate’s beloved Marine Corp Major father used to like to say to the chagrin of the the “Bate’s dearly beloved and departed Miss Priss mother. Anyone, anyone, and I mean anyone can be gracious and professional in a win or a moral victory. Even Coach K leaves the XTReme Cheap Shots in the old olive green, US Military Academy machete scabbord he carries under his Brooks Brothers suit coat, when he wins. Ratso Izzo can and does keep the brass knuckles and black jacks and shivs pocketed in a win and afterwards grins his every-good-boy-deserves-favor smile and says, “Thank you, father for this bread thou hast bestowed upon me and my boys.” But when either of those basketball pirhannas gets ten down with ten to go, their lips stretch back tightly over their gums and reveal fangs that look a cross between Count Dracula, a coiled Diamond Back, and a lathered Doberman. And then the cheap shotting and thug stuff starts until either the other team and referees are intimidated back under ten points, or five, or three, depending on how near the game is to the air, or the referees blow whistles and their opponents MAKE a slew of FTs and put the game completely out of reach. Not Billy Donovan. Not Bill Self either. If the opposing coach pulls out a gun at a knife fight, then Donovan, or Self, will eventually answer in kind, if the refs don’t put a stop to it. Billy Donovan is tough as nails. You can see it in his demeanor, you can hear it in his voice. He is everything good about the words “ferocious competitor.” And there is no doubt that his Irish can get up on him, even when he wishes that it would not. But he appears able to control himself, to direct himself toward "the right way,” win or lose. I have never learned more from a coach that lost than I learned from Billy Donovan last night in KU’s miraculous come from behind victory. Donovan has a super team. It is a team sure to be there at the end of the season. He is an absolutely dynamic point guard. He has length. He has strength. His only problems are youth and some slightly slow footed bigs and he will remedy those issues by March. And in an era, when the klieg lights and the Big Brother arena scoreboards heat up the desire to win at any cost to attract the next bunch of overhyped, OAD wannabes, most of the old and many of the new coaches, when down with five to go, suddenly stand—after a huddle–with arms folded, blank faced, and watch as their players carry out violent acts–in the greatest non-contact game ever invented—in order to intimidate their ways into a win they could not get otherwise. Bob Knight’s teams appeared to do it. Coach K’s teams appeared to do it. Rats Izzo’s teams appeared to do it. Rick Barnes teams appear to do it. John Thompson 1.0 and 2.0 have appeared to do it. BUT NOT BILLY DONOVAN’S TEAMS. AND BILLY DONOVAN’S TEAMS HAVE WON MORE RINGS BACK TO BACK THAN ANY OF THE COACHES JUST MENTIONED. Billy Donovan is a man’s man. He is a coach’s coach. If he were an Irish Catholic, which I suspect he is, he would be a credit to Irish Catholicism and a man doing good work, who, if he keeps it up, ought to be considered for basketball sainthood, anyway. Donovan had every temptation last night that a basketball coach could have to order a series of cheap shots to turn Bill Self’s kiddy dwarfs into crying school boys that would have allowed Donovan and his ice cold Gators to walk out of Allen Field House winners “the wrong way.” And there is no doubt in my mind that had Bill Self used such tactics when KU was down at half time, Donovan would have brought out the team machetes and left a couple KU players in the morgue. But Self did not, and Donovan did not, and their is basketball (and human) honor in this beyond any victory, or loss, that the “wrong way” men can glean by gaining victory, or averting loss, with basketball black ops. What we witnessed last night was not one coach out coaching another. What we saw were two "right way” coaches—the two greatest “right way” coaches of their generations—coaching painfully young teams through the outrageous fortunes that painfully young teams are heirs to. Each team played a superb half and an abysmal half. A young Florida was on the road in one of the toughest arenas to win on the road in. A young KU, still largely oblivious at the start of the game how hard D1 players have to play to compete against the best, came out as Self said, “like spoiled brats.” Not quite like “babies.” They weren’t quite that pathetic. But Self knows his similies and his team well. KU started as if it knew what it were doing, when it did not. Florida started as if it knew what it should do and did it. And then the half came. And though we were not privy to the exactitudes that occurred in the ridiculously posh locker rooms, we can reasonably infer that the Great Donovan—for that is what I shall call him henceforth, and deservedly so—counseled firmly, but positively, to stay focused, expect a furious rush from KU’s soon-to-be-butt-chewed mighty mites. And of course his young team listened but could not process the gravity of his counsel. In the other locker room, Bill Self, the other middle aged, increasingly wise and sage coach in the building last night, did exactly what Donovan would have done had their positions been reversed. He flew into a blind, red-faced rage threatening the body parts hanging uselessly suspended between his team’s until then essentially untaxed defensive legs. Self, the other “right way” coach in the building, apparently nearly infarcted as he contemplated not only not playing The Big Red Dog, but also sending him and Snacks both back to The Windy City to let the Almighty Hawk blow both into the backward flowing Chicago River in a snow storm to die of exposure and heavy metals poisoning. Both young teams came out exactly as young teams do in such circumstances. The second half played out exactly as such halves can play out on those rare occasions where the stars of two “right way” men meet head on with youthful talent blowing hot one have and ice cold the next. The only rare thing about how this gam played out was derived from the fact that not one, but two “right way” guys were coaching. Neither coach resorted to thug ball to “get a W”—to sign the next Lebron—to sign the “it” kid. The two right way coaches “let them play” the right way…the whole game. No thugging. No face punching. No stiff screens. No Adam’s Apple chops. No wind pipe smashes. No tripping. No up-ending at the rim. No flopping and lying to the refs. Just the usual contact among great athletes moving at high speeds at impossible angles for mere mortals to comprehend. A few mistakes from competitive fury unleashed by youth. A little ref baiting to counter act the few unintended excesses. Two great fight managers managing two young fighters with potential—neither one giving in to the guys down town with the bent noses and strong arm palookas asking everyone to take a dive or else. The Great Donovan staring down the short end of randomness and refusing to give in to his baser instincts—I will carry it with me the rest of my life and I will tell it to my son, and I will recall it to every young man I meet. The Great Donovan did NOT give in. To put this in final and proper perspective, had the situation been reversed, had the game been in Gainesville, had KU come out and played an insanely great first half, and laid an unpolished turd the second half, Florida would have won this game for sure. Because The Great Self would have played it exactly the way The Great Donovan did in Lawrence. These were two young teams still searching for “who they were.” Florida had way more talent inside and as much outside. But they got overconfident the wrong half. The only way they could have won on the road that awful second half was to cheap shot and thug. As Knight and Consonants would surely have done, and would surely have walked out of Allen Field House with a W. But not The Great Donovan. Not the man who has won back to back rings, and who will win some more. Not the man who respectfully declined to wade into the muck at his own alma mater. Not the man who turned down the mega bucks offered by The Association. Not the man who hired Norm Roberts when he was radioactive. College basketball was the real winner last night. Not KU. The Great Donovan and the Great Bill Self kept the machetes in the scabbards and all of college basketball ought to take note. Hell is in session in college basketball. Talent is distributed with absurd asymmetry. The wrong way types are preening. They are confident that they have won, as they always are, when they cast their black shadows on the greatest game ever invented. But the right way guys just held a clinic last night in Allen Field Lawrence, Kansas—the basketball equivalent of the Catholic Monasteries of Ireland, where, through out the Dark Ages, the wisdom and intellect of ancient Rome was kept alive in ancient scrolls constantly being copied by dutiful monks until the next renaissance. We know now that the monastery in Lawrence, Kansas, is not the only one. We know now that there is one in Gainesville, Florida, too. And so we dare suspect that there are still more out there we do not know about yet. To The Great Donovan I send this Irish proverb: a friend’s eye is a good mirror. The Jayhawks are friends of The Great Donovan and his Gators, even though we know it will sting like hell, the next time he and they beat us, as surely as it did the last time, and as surely as they must sting this morning. Rock Chalk, Billy, rock chalk!!!

  • @jaybate-1.0Great stuff. Nice post. Donovan is an incredible coach - one of the very best. His offense simply shredded us first half. I am interested in your take on Svi - was the Florida team speed simply too much? It looked like he was very frustrated, and made several poor plays. Graham played much better than him, imo.

  • The problem with Svi is consistency or more accurately the lack thereof. He is young and consistency will come in time; until such time he will be a good player but not a great one.

  • @JayHawkFanToo I agree and disagree with your assessment of Svi. Actually, I think he has been very consistent. Perhaps the most consistent guy on this team. He’s not our first or second or third option. But I think the way you use consistency is referring to scoring. Perhaps a better term is “production.” He has not consistently produced points – not consistent production. Is that fair?

    He was at a quickness deficit when he got stuck on Hill. He did a nice job shutting off drives when he guarded bigger guys.

    But he made two real nice plays – at 8:10 in the first half, in the middle of UF’s run, he had a nice drive and dish to Ellis for a bucket. Then, in the second half, at 18:50, he drew a key charge.

    I can’t stand the use of the term “glue guy” – that denotes to me lack of production. But he’s in that phase now where his production is going to be inconsistent – good not great as you say.

    I was surprised when I saw the box and he played 24 minutes. I expected about 18 minutes. The best is yet to come.

  • Nice work, Jaybate. Donovan is a guy I dont know much about, since I dont watch FL bball. I know he killed us last year with a 1-3-1 + traps…I, mean, it was such a thorough & masterful destruction of Tharpe’sCrew, that I heard the fat lady singing “Taps”…but this year he plays us predominantly m2m. A very versatile coach. And it have no qualms in saying if WildBill ever rides off to SanAntonio…I’d put Donovan at the top of my list. A recruiter who also can coach.

  • Hello everyone. Infrequent poster, but avid reader. This was great stuff, as always Jaybate, but I am interested in your reverse case scenario. I’m not so sure that Florida would have come away with a win, because I am not sure any two of their players would have stepped up to the line and hit free throws like the two frosh did. That was beautiful to watch. I have pneumonia and am not supposed to exert myself too much. I did a lot of pounding the sofa cushions last night! Too old for games like this. Donovan is a class act.

  • FL offense 1st half: spread out & drive it. Maddening that KU defenders would “help”, and leave their man so alone that he might need an antidepressant…how many times we got burned by that repetetive sequence? This is where I wonder why elite athletes cant stay in front of their guy. Maybe Graham did this better than Svi?

    I dont know, other than I’ve got this ridiculous ear2ear GRIN (Joker-like), because my man Wayne Selden finally showed up in true McDAA fashion, and proceeded to look like an NBA prospect once-and-for-all. With his court vision, assists, and all-around prowess on D and O, he will go lotto next year (although I’d love to have him longer. His mindset is faultless right now.)

  • Wayne Selden showed why he is an NBA prospect. He’s a true 2 guard in a league that doesn’t have many true 2 guards anymore. He can defend, shoot and pass. Last night he put it all together.

    Would like to see one of the Svi/Greene/Oubre trio be able to produce nightly. They have to get something from the 3 spot.

    Alexander starting to come into his own. Look out. That’s all I can say.

    The only troubling thing was first half D. That was our issue last season and it showed up again last night. Something to monitor going forward.

  • @ralster I hope Selden comes back next season too

  • @HighEliteMajor

    Fair enough. He is fundamentally so sound and even when he misses the shot, the motion is text book perfect. Maybe he needs to start taking more mid-range jumpers instead of threes until he gets his confidence and rhythm As I said before, Svi is not yet a 3-point shooter. maybe in time he will be but at this time he needs to use the tools he has at hand, namely slashing and mid-range jumpers.

  • @ralster

    Florida moved the ball masterfully in the first half. It looked that in just about every possession there was Florida player wide open; it drove me nuts, and I ma sure Coach Self was not pleased either. Much like Coach Williams before him, Coach Self is a master at making half time adjustments…not many teams beat KU in the second half, UK notwithstanding.

  • I know Self has a reason for everything. I’m not questioning any moves, but when Frank went down with the ankle and the ref made him sit out until a time out, Greene came in as Frank’s replacement. With Coach playing most of the second half with Graham and the other ball handlers, why not have Svi go in. Svi even seemed surprised on the bench when that happened. Svi did have two bad turnovers earlier though. Others have earned the ability to stay in after a screw up. Like Wayne’s back to back that cost us 5 points. Svi apparently hasn’t earned his (stay in the game card) yet.

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  • @lincase

    Sorry about that damned pneu. Those things suck and nag. Take your ABs even if its viral, because they will control the ancillary infection, according to jaybate’s almanac and patent medicine dictionary. 🙂 Get well soon.

    I really think at Gainesville, without the Phog and with Donovan getting to give the butt chewing at half time, the game would have favored Florida that second half. They are a way long team inside, and down the stretch an angry long team with raw rumps just seems like it would have been too tough for our guys in the second half suffering from overconfidence from a great first half.

    But it is a counter factual scenario, so your take is just as defensible as mine; that’s for sure.

  • In the last 7 minutes of the game KU scored 21 points and 17 came from the free throw line; in that time Selden and Ellis had 1 FG a piece, the last with 3 and half minute left. Basically from the time KU got within 3, Florida’s strategy was to foul and send KU to the line; it backfired big time.

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