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July 3, 2014

O'Dome face-lift another step in keeping Billy



Over the past five weeks ESPN's Forecast Panel has been counting down the Top 50 coaches in college basketball. On Thursday morning they revealed what the Gator Nation in general and Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley in particular had concluded long ago, Billy Donovan is the No. 1 coach in the nation.

In being so, Donovan could leave Florida at any time. The opportunities are there, and Gators fans were reminded of that in recent months as the National Basketball Association coaching carousel went round.

This much is known:

Donovan is intrigued by the NBA. He likes the idea of his job being all basketball all the time.

He makes $3.7 million per year, less than 11 current NBA coaches.

The NBA is in the back of his mind dating back to his infamous day trip to Orlando. It seems fairly clear he would like to see where he stands at basketball's highest level before he retires.

Yet Donovan, 49, seems to be waiting for not just an NBA coaching job but an idealistic opportunity.

Why?

If someone offered you the most prestigious job classification in your field tomorrow, you'd probably accept it; not sit around and wait for an even better opportunity.

The answer lies within Florida and AD Foley. Donovan's current job just happens to be a position that he has personally skyrocketed into the top tier of college basketball. UF is not college basketball nobility and it might not be for generations. Those kinds of brands don't just spring up. They're aged like a high-dollar barrel of bourbon.

In certain circles, the Gators are still new money. But one doesn't have to look far to see how Foley and Co. are trying to change that perception.

After the 2014-2015 basketball season, Florida will break ground on a $45 million renovation to the O'Connell Center. Davis Architects will be the design company in charge, though no renderings have been released to this point. Included will be a grand entrance, club seating, all new concourses and a center-hung video board.

It's another step toward giving Donovan the environment he deserves. It's hardly a new concept.

Donovan has been a priority for Foley over the years. When he first saw serious returns on the investment he made hiring a 30-year-old head coach, he built a $10 million basketball practice complex that remains one of the nation's best. Donovan's contract has rarely even been a discussion point, as Foley has been proactive in extending and revaluing it without ceremony.

One day, Florida teams will play on "Billy Donovan Court" - timing likely decided by whether or not Donovan is alright with coaching on a court that bears his name. Florida has long learned to enjoy him while it has him. Maybe that's the rest of his career. Maybe not.

The only way to effectively hope for him to stay is to be active. Putting major improvements to the aging O'Dome ahead of additional football spending shows a commitment to basketball plenty of other Southeastern Conference schools would not be willing to make.

It's another reminder that staying at UF has plentiful perks of its own.


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