With top-ranked Florida, Donovan has a chance to become a legend
He's already one of the better coaches in the history of college basketball. But this looks like a turning point for Donovan in terms of making himself a legend.
It's a fraternity of five. Only five people in men's Division I college hoops history have won three national titles or more. Of course John Wooden leads the way with 10, an untouchable record from now through the end of human existence -- or at least for as long as college basketball decides its champion through a massive one-and-done bracket, which should never change. Behind Wooden are Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp, who each own four. With three, Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight. And that's it. It's a special quintent.
Getting to that third title is rare because, of course, it's hard. Super hard. The odds are intrinsically and ever more against you, given the climate of contemporary college hoops. Not that two isn't impressive, but it's a much more populated column. There are nine coaches -- three active -- with two apiece. With two, you're an all-time great. With three, you're an undeniable legend. Currently owning two championships and still coaching are Rick Pitino, Roy Williams and Billy Donovan.
And right now, even though Pitino has the defending national champions at Louisville, Donovan -- a Pitino disciple -- looks to be in the best position to get that third title. His Florida Gators are ranked No. 1 in the nation at 26-2, have won a school-record 20 straight games and are virtually guaranteed a No. 1 seed. The team hasn't lost since Dec. 2 -- when it fell on a very fluky buzzer-beater up at UConn. In that game the team's best player, Scottie Wilbekin, missed the final minutes due to an ankle sprain.
In the team's other loss, a 59-53 Nov. 12 road defeat at Wisconsin, Wilbekin didn't play at all. Taking that into account, Florida's pretty close to riding with Wichita State as an undefeated team in 2013-14. (Can you imagine?) But regardless, it's another terrific year for Donovan, which is why he'll be highlighted Saturday in CBS Sports' latest Men of March series. Donovan's episode will air at 1:30 p.m. ET and will re-air on at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday on CBS Sports Network.
Current Las Vegas odds put Florida as the favorite to win it all. If Donovan's team played out, and chalk prevailed, getting that third title would totally buttress -- and significantly boost -- the coach's legacy. He's already considered a top-10 coach in the game currently, but winning a third title would vault Donovan to top-five status, without question, and would also forever place him among the greats. You couldn't argue against him as a top-20 all-time coach, which I think you would get some pushback on right now.
More so, let's remember Donovan's age here. He's still only 48. Will Donovan live out his days in Gainesville? I don't know. He has flirted with the NBA before, even taking the Orlando Magic job before jumping back to UF, and maybe he'll want that challenge without hesitation some day in the future. But regardless, he has at least two decades of coaching left in him, if he so chooses. That he has accomplished this much before 50 speaks to his stature and formidable acumen.
His career record is 476-188, a .717 winning percentage. That also means he'll likely get to 500 wins next season, when he's 49 years old. He'll be one of only a few coaches ever to do that so soon. Last season, Bill Self became the youngest active coach (out of 22) to reach 500 when he did it at 50. Donovan will beat him by a year, in his 21st season.
What Donovan won't do is be among the fastest in getting to 500. The company atop that list is filled with names already attached to buildings and statues across college campuses. Adolph Rupp has a Cy Young-like unbreakable record in this regard -- no way anyone is going 500-83 in college basketball ever again. Here's the top 10:
1. Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) 583
2. Jerry Tarkanian (Long Beach State, UNLV) 604
3. Roy Williams (Kansas, North Carolina) 627
4. Herny Iba (Northeast Missouri State, Colorado, Oklahoma State) 633
5. Phog Allen (Baker U., Kansas) 646
6. John Calipari (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky) 652
6. John Wooden (Indiana State, UCLA) 652
8. Dean Smith (North Carolina) 653
9. John Chaney (Temple) 662
9. Bill Self (Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois, Kanas) 662
Donovan's likely to get to 500 somewhere between career game 690 and 695. Still superb.
But that's for next season. For now, this group has emerged as Donovan's clear-cut best since the 2006-07 team that defended the Gators' first title. That group (definitely better than this one) was the rare club that was able to win back-to-back titles. That alone makes Donovan's career something special. And in making three Final Fours and three more Elite Eights (the latter all in the past three seasons), it seems like Donovan's truly entering the prime of his coaching career.
Imagine if it's only halfway done.
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