ATHENS, Ga. -- Of all the Rick Pitino disciples sprinkled through college basketball, Florida's Billy Donovan is probably the closest to the original.
Donovan -- who played for Pitino at Providence and with the New York Knicks and coached under him at Kentucky -- brings a Florida Gator team into Stegeman Coliseum this afternoon that resembles many of Pitino's Kentucky clubs in style if not substance.
The Gators, who hit more three-pointers per game than any team in the nation, are third in the SEC East and last week beat Kentucky, the division's top team. The Wildcats are led by Tubby Smith, another Pitino product and former Donovan colleague.
"Billy and his staff have done a tremendous job playing to their strengths," Smith said.
Donovan is reluctant to put too much emphasis on the Kentucky win, but it seems obvious the Gators are beginning to take on the attitude of their second-year head coach.
"Anytime you beat Kentucky then it is a good win for your program, but at the same time it is (only) one win," said Donovan, for whom the term scrappy may well have been invented.
When asked about his relationship with Donovan, the first thing Smith mentioned was that the Florida coach threw a lot of elbows during pick-up games.
"He is the best young man I've ever met or coached," Pitino said when Donovan was hired by Florida. "He is the hardest worker I've ever coached and the hardest working person in the office I ever had. Florida is getting themselves someone they can build their program around for a long time and have tremendous success."
As a freshman at Providence, the 32-year-old Donovan averaged 2.3 points per game. Then Pitino took over the Friars and Donovan's career took off. The culmination came in 1987, when, as a senior, Donovan led Providence to the Final Four, scoring 20.9 points per game.
When Donovan was cut by the Utah Jazz the following year, Pitino, then in the NBA, was there again for Donovan, signing him to a one-year contract. That year, in which Donovan averaged only 2.4 points per game, was his only in the NBA.
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