New Rivals: Florida-Kentucky
Coaching change has turned it into battle of the Billys
Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007 1:06PM; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2007 3:33PM
PROTAGONISTS: Billy Donovan, Billy Gillispie, Patrick Patterson
HOW WE GOT HERE: Long before the Texas cowboy Billy Clyde Gillispie rode East from College Station to Bluegrass Country, where he was anointed sheriff and savior, Lexington was home of Billy The Kid. William J. Donovan Jr. arrived at Kentucky in 1989 as a 24-year-old graduate assistant under Rick Pitino, his old coach from Providence and the Knicks, and stayed on his staff through one Final Four before being hired by Marshall in 1994. Thirteen years later, with the Wildcats stagnant and the grown-up Kid a repeat national champion at Florida, Kentucky made its pitch to get him back. It was not to be. Donovan flirted with making the move but declined, then dallied with the NBA's Orlando Magic before deciding to stay in Gainesville.
Kentucky fans' initial reaction to Donovan's rebuff was less anger towards him than depression over their inability to hand-pick a replacement for the Tubby Smith, who bolted for Minnesota in March before he could be fired. Donovan, UK's first choice (Gillispie was No. 3), was their foe while he resurrected the Gators into equals. Says former UK guard and current Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, "You can point to one reason for the Kentucky-Florida rivalry: Billy Donovan. His desire to build something special at Florida was the key." But there was a reason UK faithful never despised the Kid: they were holding out hope that he would return to Lexington. With that possibility gone, the dynamics should change.
UK is Gillispie country now, awaiting to be revived -- last weeks' Gardner-Webb debacle aside -- in even grander fashion than his previous projects at UTEP and Texas A&M. A month after being hired in April, a Gillispie lost a recruiting duel with Donovan for four-star Houston point guard Jai Lucas -- but then beat the Gators for a bigger prospect, five-star Huntington, W.V., power forward Patrick Patterson. It was an early victory for Billy Clyde in his quest to restore order in the SEC. Donovan has won the rivalry's past six on-court meetings, but the real-life Billy The Kid had mixed results against sheriffs: he killed one, but was killed by another, all by the age of 21.
TALKING THE TALK: "When I got [to Florida], I tried to sell every player we recruited on the fact that we could compete with the Wildcats: 'Come to Florida and be a part of a program that can stand toe to toe with Kentucky.'" -- Billy Donovan
WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 19 in Gainesville, March 9 in Lexington
HEAT LEVEL: IGNITED