Coming Soon: Billy Donovan Court

Billy Donovan, 19-year head coach of the Gator Men’s Basketball team, will be honored Saturday night when the University of Florida basketball court gets a new name. The floor of Exatech Arena will be known as “Billy Donovan Court” as of tomorrow night. The dedication will take place when the Gators take on SEC opponent Vanderbilt at 8 p.m.

Donovan’s Deeds at UF

Donovan began his tenure in Gainesville in 1996. He led the Gators to six SEC regular-season Championships, four league tournament titles, 14 NCAA Tournaments appearances and four Final Fours.

AP18151665313263-300x200Not to mention, Florida won back-to-back National Championships under Donovan in 2006 and 2007. This remains the only time in the past 25 years where a men’s basketball team won back-to-back titles. Also, The Gators ranked No. 1 nationally in five different seasons under Donovan.

To say the man was successful at Florida is an understatement.

Over 19 seasons, Donovan racked up a 467-185 record.

In 2015, he took a job in the NBA and became the Oklahoma City Thunder’s heads coach.

How it All Went Down

In early October, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin and his predecessor, Jeremy Foley, took a trip to Oklahoma to tour Oklahoma and Oklahoma State campus facilities, or that’s what they said at least.

They met Donovan and his wife for dinner one evening to “catch up”.

However, that wasn’t exactly the purpose of their trip. Donovan “sensed” something was up.
Stricklin and Foley delivered the exciting news that night in Oklahoma.

After tomorrow, the O’Dome court will forever be attached to Donovan’s name.

 

Story can also be found at wruf.com for ESPN Gainesville.

Everyone Has a Story

Picture this: it’s Saturday in the Fall and you’re getting ready to watch your favorite team play. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, that’s exatly where it all began for me. I discovered a love for sports at a young age. I found my passion and that I am extremely grateful for.

What many people don’t realize is that being a sports journalist is more than just knowing the stats. It’s about being able to tell someone else’s story, an athlete’s at that. Laura Okmin of FOX Sports recently taught me that in order to effectively tell another human being’s story you have to first tell yours. Being open and vulnerable is never easy, yet is so important. It’s something I deeply believe in. I believe that in order to be successful in this industry and in life you must have the confidence to trust yourself and your story. Never lose sight of your why. Never lose sight of where your passion all began.

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Laura Okmin and I

Here’s my story…

I’d like to begin with a person. He’s without a doubt the greatest grandpa I could ever ask for. He’s probably the reason I have the dream that I do. My grandpa was always around. His videocamera was always around too. And for some reason I was ALWAYS in front of it. I was (and still am) a pretty shy person, but whenever that camera was there it was as if I was in my element. I’m not sure if a videocamera can be a person’s safe place, but it might just be mine. It has always been my comfort zone. I talked and talked and talked….probably a little too much. I constantly asked my grandpa to record me. “Let’s make videos!!!” came out of my mouth quite frequently. I’d talk about anything and I wanted to record almost everything.

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#1 GPAW 

Let’s take a little detour on this story– My love for sports started when I came out of the womb. Not for playing them, but for watching them. I don’t have an athletic bone in my body. My family is huge Florida Gator fans, diehard. Saturdays were always filled with college football and cheering on the Gators. For as long as I can remember those were my favorite days. I loved that an entire day was devoted to family, football, and food. (3 of my favorite things) I think I have such a big love for sports because of the household I grew up in. I love that a game, a simple sporting event, can bring people together. I love the excitement and the thrill. If you ask my parents, they’d tell you I’ve always been destined to be sports reporter. Sometimes I got a little bit, shall we say, too excited when the Gators were playing.

If I’m remembering correctly it was in middle school when I began saying, “My dream is to become a college football reporter.”

And if you’re wondering, I haven’t stopped saying that. People would chuckle and not take me too seriously when those words came out of my mouth… and honestly I still get that same response. I’m not going to lie. That type of response, that “yeah, okay…” laugh annoys me, but it also motivates me. It motivates me to work hard, to make my dreams a reality.

In middle school I’d usually sit at a table with all the boys and make them quiz me with random sports facts. We’d have competitions to see who knew the most. I’d prove to them that girls know sports too. I proved to them that I knew what I was talking about.

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Knowledge makes up for height.

One weekend when my grandpa was visiting I asked him to help me make a mock sports reporting video, so I could send it off to ESPN. We spent hours setting up a fake sports studio in my dad’s office. I’m not kidding you I took the whole ordeal quite seriously. We even used the desktop computer as a teleprompter. I thought it was so perfect, I thought I was a genius. Looking back I now see that you can see the computer screen and my word document script in a reflection on the video. Anyways, I sent that sports reporting video off to numerous ESPN reporters along with some handwritten letters expressing my dream. Anything can happen right?

Flashforward about 3 months. The house phone rings. It was an unknown number so we didn’t answer. It calls again. And again. And again. FINALLY, I pick up the phone. At first I thought it was my grandpa playing a trick on me.

Then, the voice said, “It’s Lee Corso.”

I wish I had a recording of that phone call because I am sure I sounded completely shocked. I was shocked. Lee Corso of ESPN’s College Gameday was on the phone with me. AN ESPN REPORTER CALLED ME! For a middle school tween that was pretty exciting. Years later it still makes me happy to think about that moment. That was the moment I knew that anything was possible. That was the moment I knew that I could turn my dream into a reality. I have Lee Corso to thank for that. He enstilled a certain confidence in me.

Nobody believed me when I told them that Lee Corso called me. So… I wrote Corso another letter asking him to send me some proof. What’d he do? He sent proof.

Two years later, still in middle school, I was in the 8th grade and it was December… Christmas Eve to be exact. My brother was home from college. I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room with my dad. My brother was in the exam room and I didn’t really know why. I just went along for the ride. A few hours later we learned that my brother, 19 at the time, had testicular cancer. It’s safe to say that wasn’t the early Christmas present my family was hoping for.

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My brother, Tyler, ended up having surgery and going through chemo. He lost weight and he lost hair. It was probably one of the hardest things I had to witness, yet it taught me so much. Tyler never moped around or sat in pity. He was never upset, or at least he didn’t show it. My brother kept doing what he loved. For him that was fishing. He was enjoying his life and beating cancer at the same time. My brother taught me that you never know what life is going to throw at you. It’s important to make sure you’re doing what you love. My brother inspired me to chase my dreams full force. Why waste time? You never know what may happen. Enjoy every moment and make your dream your reality. That is what my mindset turned into.

Flashforward– my brother is 6 years cancer free and living his best life. After the whole cancer thing, Tyler went back to college for about a semester, but things weren’t really the same. He realized college wasn’t for him and decided to come home. To this day that’s something I have always applauded him for. I’m proud of him for having the courage to do what he felt was right for him. College is not for everyone and that’s okay. My brother ended up getting his captain’s license, started a charter fishing company, and is now getting ready to embark on a new adventure.

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It takes a lot to follow your heart, to chase your dreams. It’s not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. Because of my brother I wake up each day with a mindset… the mindset to make it happen. I can and I will turn my dream of becoming a college football reporter into a reality.

It’s not going to be easy. I know that. I also know that hard work can take you anywhere in life. Throw in some dedication and anything is achievable.

 

If/when you see a five foot blonde headed female on the sidelines, know that it’s probably me. Know that I’m not just standing there to look pretty. Know that it was my dream and my goal. I have a why. I have a story. And so do you. If not, you probably just haven’t quite found it yet.

Mullen’s Magic

This time last year if someone were to tell me the Gators would be finishing the regular season at 9-3 and most likely awaiting a New Year’s Six Bowl bid, I’d say that sounds a little bit unrealistic…. given the fact that they went 4-7 last season.

Flash forward, here we are now and Dan Mullen’s Florida Gators are #9 in the country. If that doesn’t scream improvement, then I don’t know what does.

Arriving in Gainesville Coach Mullen knew what he was walking into. Not only did he have a football team to coach, but he also had a fan base to win over. The University of Florida’s Athletic Program is one of the greatest in the country. Expectations are high and when those expectations aren’t met fans aren’t happy. After last season’s struggle the Gators needed a breath of fresh air. Dan Mullen seems to have brought just that.

Mullen Renewed by Fresh Challenge with Gators
Photo via floridagators.com

The Gators went from scoring, on average, 22 points a game to 34.5. Offensively they finished with 5120 total yards, quite an improvement from the 3695 they had in 2017. Not to mention, the Gators were able to run over a hundred more plays than the previous year. Despite some rough patches and criticism, quarterback Feleipe Franks also showed significant improvements. Recall, Franks ended the 2017 season with just 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This year he’s finishing the regular season with 23 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The stats speak for themselves, but I think it’s safe to say the Swamp has finally found some offensive rhythm.

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Photo via TampaBayTimes

Kentucky. Georgia. Missouri. None of these losses were necessarily pretty, but each proved something about Mullen’s football team. They aren’t quitters. They didn’t allow a loss to define the rest of their season. Following a battle with Kentucky, the Gators had back to back road wins against Tennessee and Mississippi State. Then, they beat #5 LSU with over 90,000 fans in attendance. Both the Georgia and Missouri losses were rough, but it did not mean the season was over. Florida later beat in-state rival Florida State for the first time in five years. Now, the Gators are awaiting their, most likely, New Year’s Day bowl bid. Who would have predicted that?

Photo via Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

For a “rebuilding year” Gator fans should be absolutely ecstatic.