PHOENIX – Billy the Kid vs. Rick the Master.
Here we go again – eight years later – as Florida's Billy Donovan faces Louisville's Rick Pitino Saturday in the West Regional final. They're separated by 13 years – Pitino is 59 – but they are linked forever.
Donovan was the heart-and-soul of the 1987 Providence Final Four team coached by Pitino. Both are headed for the Hall of Fame. It is basketball lore wrapped in basketball history surrounded by basketball heaven.
“He is,” Donovan said, “the most influential person in my life.”
Now we've got our storyline for the West Regional final, maybe the storyline of the Elite Eight. The two have met six times. Donovan has never won. Between them, they've got eight Final Fours and three national championships.
Adding to the hype, they have not met since 2004. Louisville assistant Richard Pitino went to Providence and coached under Donovan at Florida. Oh yeah, he's Rick's son who could be seen at the hotel pool Thursday wearing a Florida top and Louisville shorts.
There is also Florida assistant John Pelphrey who played at Kentucky under Pitino and his assistant, Donovan.
At age 46, student may have passed up teacher. Donovan's Gators are the last team to win back-to-back championships. That's one more than Pitino has.
“He still talks to you, still looks you in the eye and says, ‘How are you doing?' Marquette's Buzz Williams said of Donovan. “I appreciate that. There's a lot of guys in our business who don't do that. Sometimes they think they win because of who they are.
“I think he'll be in the Hall of Fame and coach 10 more years. He'll be in the Hall of Fame before he's 55 years old.”
There should be good spicy talking points when that '87 Providence team meets later this year in Miami for its 25th anniversary reunion. Donovan was the chunky guard who wanted to transfer in 1986. But the way Pitino tells it, there weren't any takers.
“Tell you what Billy, we're going to run and press,” Pitino recalled. “I want you to lose 30 pounds. You're 191. I want you to get down to 160.”
Donovan did it and became a star that season scoring 20.6 points per game.
“We put him in a little cowboy hat, spurs and boots and he wouldn't put it on,” Pitino said. “I made him put it on. They put him on the cover of the program. That was the first caption: “Billy the Kid, The Fastest Gun In The Big East.' That was the start of his college legend.”
“I was not happy about doing that,” Donovan said. “And that [cover], I hope that's no longer anywhere to be found."