AUSTIN, Texas — To some people, he always will be Billy The Kid, especially when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.
Before he coached national champions at Florida, Billy Donovan lived the dream of every college player, leading a Rick Pitino-coached Providence College to an improbable appearance in the 1987 Final Four.
The baby-faced “Kid” was the underdog Friars’ deadly 3-point gunner and fiery leader. More than 25 years later, Donovan the coach occasionally recalls those days with his UF players. The Gators will begin their quest for a place in NCAA Tournament lore Friday night against Northwestern State.
“I know how good he was,” said senior forward Erik Murphy, whose father, Jay, starred at Boston College. “He lets us know once in awhile, just kidding around, that he led the NCAA Tournament in scoring.
“He was a special player, no question.”
Donovan’s NCAA Tournament success as a player lends weight to his words, even if his current players never saw him play.
“It gives him a lot of credibility,” junior Patric Young said. “When you hear from a coach who’s been through all the situations, winning them and losing them, when he’s telling you something he’s telling you from experience.”
Donovan’s experiences at Providence allow him to deal with his players on their level.
The Gators have been to three Final Fours under Donovan, and lost in the Elite Eight the past two seasons. But Donovan’s college career encompassed much more than a few memorable weeks in March a generation ago.
When guard Mike Rosario first arrived in Gainesville as a transfer from Rutgers, Rosario said Donovan showed him film from his playing days.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’” Rosario said. “The speed of the game and pace that he played at was unbelievable. He wasn’t lightning quick or anything, but he can really score the ball and get a pass anywhere he wanted. I really like that about Coach Billy’s game. He was an aggressive offensive player.”