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Gators' Donovan completes Final Four trifecta

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Posted: Sunday March 26, 2000 11:31 PM

  Nothing but net: Billy Donovan is 6-1 in the NCAA tournament as the Gators' head coach. AP

By Ryan Hunt,

They call him "Billy the Kid." Fittingly, Florida coach Billy Donovan is making this Final Four business look like child's play.

With the Gators' 77-65 win over Oklahoma State, Donovan became only the sixth NCAA coach to both play and coach in the Final Four, joining legends like Dean Smith and Bob Knight.

Donovan, however, also made the Final Four as an assistant coach at Kentucky under Rick Pitino in 1993, making him the only second coach in NCAA history to accomplish all three. Kansas' Dick Harp advanced to the Final Four as a player, assistant coach and head coach -- the only man to coach his alma mater to the Final Four.

It was only 1987 that Donovan the player led to Providence to an improbable Final Four run. Thirteen years later, Donovan the coach is heading back to the national semifinals.

Double Duty
Coaches who played and coached in Final Four
Name  Played  Year  Coached  Year 
Billy Donovan  Providence  1987  Florida  2000 
Dean Smith  Kansas  1952-53  N. Carolina  11 times 
Bob Knight  Ohio St  1960-62  Indiana  5 times 
Bones McKinney  N. Carolina  1946  Wake Forest  1962 
Dick Harp  Kansas  1940  Kansas  1957 
Vic Bubas  N.C. State  1950  Duke  3 times 

Only Knight has had a shorter span between playing and coaching in the Final Four -- nine years. After playing for Ohio State in the 1960-62 Final Fours, Knight was 32 when he led Indiana to the semifinals in 1971, the first of his five Final Four appearances.

Knight, though, didn't win his first championship until 1976 at the age of 35, which is the fourth youngest all-time.

If Donovan, who will turn 35 on May 30, can lead the Gators to the national championship, he would be the third-youngest coach to hoist the trophy. Only Branch McCracken, who led Indiana to the 1940 title at 31, and Wisconsin's Harold Foster, who won the 1941 title at 34 years, nine months, were younger.

Donovan certainly hopes his Final Four trip as a coach is better than his experience as a player. Donovan, who was the Friars' leading scorer in 1987, scored only eight points in Providence's 77-63 loss to Syracuse.

Gator Chomp
Florida's NCAA tournament history
Coach  Yrs  Wins  App.  FF 
Billy Donovan 
Lon Kruger 
Norm Sloan  15 
Yrs=Years at Florida
Through Mar. 26

The year 1987, coincidentally, marked the first time Florida was invited to the NCAA tournament.

How far has Florida's program come? Before Donovan's arrival in 1996, the Gators won only seven NCAA tournament games in 81 years -- including the Final Four trip in '94. Donovan already is 6-1 in the NCAA tournament in four years.

And the Gators are one of only seven schools to make two or more Final Four appearances in the past seven years, joining Arizona, Arkansas, Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State.

Related information
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NCAA tournament tidbits
Fresno St.'s Alexander fails to break scoring jinx
Statitudes: Sweet 16 By the Numbers
Statitudes: Three's company
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