Thunder’s Billy Donovan-led title run should surprise no one, especially Gators fans

By Adam Silverstein
May 24, 2016
Thunder’s Billy Donovan-led title run should surprise no one, especially Gators fans

Image Credit: ESPN Images

What head coach Billy Donovan has accomplished with the Oklahoma City Thunder is not surprising, at least not if you watched him coach the Florida Gators for 19 seasons.

Donovan, he of back-to-back national titles and four Final Four appearances with the Gators, is on the verge of becoming one of the few in history to lead his team to the NBA Finals in his first year of coaching in the league.

What’s remarkable about the whole thing is not that he will do it in the face of tremendous doubt and even greater adversity against the franchise-model San Antonio Spurs and defending-champion, regular-season-record-setting Golden State Warriors.

Rather, Donovan will accomplish this feat by simply being himself: a leader, a confidence-builder and a coach who holds his players accountable and squeezes every drop of talent and ability out of them.

No disrespect whatsoever to Florida’s 2013-14 team, but it should be no surprise that Donovan is set to lead a pair of legitimate NBA superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to the championship series after, just two years ago, directing a team without a single current NBA player to the Final Four on the back of a 30-game winning streak and undefeated 18-0 mark in SEC play.

Durant and Westbrook have been setting the league on fire with their exciting, athletic brand of basketball since 2008. Under Donovan, they’re in their prime playing better than ever, and members of Oklahoma City’s supporting cast are literally laying their bodies on the line each night.

NBA inexperience? Pfft. Donovan went 55-27 in the regular season, posting the third-best mark in the Western Conference only behind the two teams he’s about to take down, consecutively, in the playoffs. Poor end-of-game execution? The Thunder have been closing like champions all postseason as Donovan has improved his playoff record to 11-4, nearly identical to his NCAA Tournament winning percentage at UF.

Durant looking towards free agency? Let’s ponder whether he’s going to leave OKC with Westbrook, Donovan, Oklahoma City’s front office and its strong bench ready to go again next season — win or lose in June.

Donovan attacked his new job with the Thunder like he has everything throughout his successful career: methodically. The NBA has been calling for years, but Donovan did not leave Florida until he was absolutely sure the situation was right. He hired his right-hand man, Anthony Grant, as an assistant but was not stubborn enough to think he could navigate his first year in the NBA without coaches experienced in handling just that. Enter Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks.

Both Cheeks (hip surgery) and Williams (wife’s untimely passing) were forced away from the team. Top reserve Dion Waiters lost his younger brother. Oklahoma City dropped eight of 12 games coming out of the NBA All-Star break.

The referendum on Donovan had been set. He may make it to his second season, but the Thunder will be an early out in the playoffs. Durant will leave. Westbrook will depart a year later, probably for the West Coast.

How did those storylines pan out?

Donovan has been answering questions his whole career, from how he recruited five-star high school standouts while building the Gators to whether his success in 2000 was a fluke or first title in 2006 could actually be replicated in 2007.

Florida fans, as much as they love Donovan, have asked me repeatedly whether he will flame out in the NBA and return to college after two or three years — perhaps even, gasp, at Kentucky or Louisville. (Hint: He’s not going anywhere.)

It’s time to stop posing questions and start making statements.

Billy Donovan — 13 months after making the difficult but correct decision to leave Gainesville, Florida, following two decades of leading, teaching and coaching the Gators — is one win away from playing for the NBA title.

And you know what … he’s probably going to win the whole fucking thing.


  1. Frank Smith says:

    Fantastic article, minus the unnecessary f-bomb. Billy is going to do great things in the NBA.

    • Brad Fleet says:

      Adam if you don’t have the ability to write an article without dropping the F bomb, you need to find another job!

      • Thanks for the comment, Brad. I’ve been running this website for six years and have used one curse word total in nearly 6,400 published stories. While I appreciate you visiting, I’ll leave the editing to myself. 😀

    • David says:

      Calm down Frank, it’s a quote from the movie Major League. It’s meant to drive the point home.

    • Jay says:

      Unnecessary… but I still enjoyed the f-bomb.

      • Gatorcove says:

        The Gators won 21 SEC games in the 13/14 season. 18 regular season + 3 SEC tournament games. Amazing accomplishment for that team. One of the most unselfish, intelligent group of players Donavan ever assembled. Short of the two championship years, of course.

      • Basshole says:

        Agreed. Great article, Adam.

  2. gator 85 says:

    Great article including the F bomb. complainers quit complaining or don’t read it. better yet start your own blog, work it for years and grow a large following

  3. Sam Andreu says:

    Thanks for the cuss word, Silver!

    I knew you could be trusted..

    A winner is a winner in my non-published book!!


  4. rob umland says:

    omg a swear word??? whatever happened to sticks and stones..?? grow som–

  5. Michael Jones says:

    I have to confess that I am surprised Billy is doing so well but happy that he is. I tip my hat to him. He’s got those guys playing great D, hustling for loose balls, somehow being unselfish (rare in the NBA. . see proverbial high-scorer-at-the-cost-of-winning, Carmelo Anthony), and playing with fantastic passion.

    It’s not easy to gain the respect of NBA millionaire players. . but it looks like Billy has done it.

  6. Penelope says:

    I love Billy….just wish he were still stalking the sidelines in the O’Dome!!! I’m so excited for what he’s already accomplished in OKC.

    Adam does a great job with this site. Nevertheless, curse words have no place in professional journalism. And yes, I realize this is a blog.

Join The

Your email address will not be published.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux