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Where Are They Now: Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan is well known as the coach of the Florida Gators but the Big East Conference is where his career began.

Billy Donovan at Providence circa 1987
Billy Donovan at Providence circa 1987
Manny Millan/SI

If you're reading this, you probably know where Billy Donovan is today. He's the highly esteemed head coach of the University of Florida basketball team. Having won two national championships, made four Final Fours, and won four Southeastern Conference championships in Gainesville, Donovan is considered one of the best coaches in the game today. In fact, this past week ESPN named Donovan the number 1 active coach in college basketball.

Before all of the accolades, Billy began his career in the Big East as a Providence Friar under the tutelage Rick Pitino (never heard of the guy). Unless you happen to be a diehard Friars fan you may not know much about Billy Donovan outside of his time with the Gators - at least I didn't - and his rise to the top is a pretty compelling story.

I guess this will really be more of a reverse "Where Are They Now?" More of a "Where Were They Then?", if you will. But I digress...

Billy Donovan, a native of Long Island, New York, first came to Providence College in 1983 to play for coach Joe Mullaney. Donovan was not a starter during his first two years with the Friars and when Pitino was introduced as the head coach in 1985, Donovan wanted out. After not being able to obtain any scholarship offers from other schools, Donovan discussed the situation with coach Pitino who told him to stay and continue to work to get into the starting lineup at Providence. And Billy did just that.

By the end of his junior season, Donovan was the Friars' leading scorer and assist man, averaging 15.1 points and 4.7 assists per game. In his senior season, Donovan again led the team in points and assists and he was named All-Big East First Team. On top of personal achievements during Donovan's senior year, the Friars as a team made it all the way to the Final Four where they lost to Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.

After leaving Providence, Billy tried to make his way onto an NBA roster. Donovan eventually signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks where he was coached once again by Rick Pitino, who had left Providence after their Final Four run to become the head coach of the Knicks.

After riding the pine in Madison Square Garden for a season, Donovan was waived by the organization. He then fled basketball altogether and found a job as a stockbroker at an investment firm in New York City. After realizing that Wall Street was not for him, Donovan called Rick Pitino in 1989 looking for a coaching opportunity. When Pitino took over as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats before the 1989-90 season, he brought in Donovan as a graduate assistant. Over the course of five seasons Donovan rose to become Rick Pitino's associate head coach and right-hand man.

In 1994, Donovan decided to try his hand as a head coach and took the helm of the basketball team at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. At the age of 28, Billy Donovan was the youngest NCAA Division I head basketball coach in the nation.  Age be damned, Donovan compiled a 35-20 record over two seasons with the Thundering Herd and in 1996 he took his current post with the Florida Gators.

After two consecutive losing seasons from 1996 to 1998, Donovan and the Gators went 22-9 during the 1998-99 season and none of Donovan's squads have won less than 20 games in a season ever since. If you're counting, he's up to 16 consecutive 20-win seasons. On top of this remarkable feat, the Gators won back-to-back national championships in '06 and '07 and in the past four seasons Florida has advanced to the Elite Eight every year with a Final Four appearance in this year's tournament.

That brings us to today. Billy Donovan has had an illustrious career as a head coach and at the relatively young age of 49 he surely has many years still ahead of him. Various NBA teams with coaching vacancies have taken an interest in Donovan over the years but he continues to want to stay in Gainesville. There's also been talk that Donovan may take over as the coach of the USA Olympic team when Mike Krzyzewski steps down. He's one of the most highly sought after figures in basketball, college or pro. Realistically, he could do anything that he wants to going forward. But no matter what he does in the future, Billy Donovan's roots will always be in the Big East.