Entering his 16th season with the Gators, Billy Donovan has shared the court with thousands of opposing players, fellow coaches and former colleagues.
Tonight at 7 in the O’Connell Center, he’ll add a family member to that list.
Aside from coaching No. 8 Florida during its season-opening exhibition against Catholic University, Donovan will also be playing the role of proud parent whenever his oldest son, also named Billy, checks in at guard for the Cardinals.
Like his father, the 6-foot-1 Donovan is known for his long-range shooting prowess. He scored more than 1,000 points as a four-year starter at St. Francis High in Gainesville, but didn’t see himself staying close to home for college.
“He had absolutely zero interest in playing for me — did not want to do that,” coach Donovan said. “I’ve never really pushed him toward basketball. Never really pushed him toward Catholic University. He did this all on his own. It’s what he wanted to do.”
Instead of walking on at Florida, Billy, now a sophomore, decided to enroll at Division-III Catholic in Washington D.C.
He saw limited playing time in 19 of the Cardinals’ 30 games during his freshman season but expects a larger role this year after Catholic graduated its two leading scorers.
“I kind of wanted to get out of Gainesville a little bit,” he said. “Just go to a Catholic school and play basketball. … It really worked out well and I don’t regret the decision I made at all.”
Though his son grew up watching games in the O’Connell Center, the elder Donovan wasn’t sure about how receptive Billy would be to actually playing a game back home after Catholic’s coach, Steve Howes, initially suggested the matchup.
“Last year some time, [my dad] was just asking ‘Hey, would you like to come down for a game?’” Billy said. “I said, ‘Sure why not,’ so they were able to work it out. But it’s really exciting.”
The Cardinals are no strangers to exhibition games against high-profile teams. To open the 2010-2011 season, they took on Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Despite his busy schedule, Donovan was able to attend the 72-47 win by the Irish, which was also his son’s first collegiate game. While the Cardinals lost by 25 points, Billy and his teammates were able to take something from the game.
“It really gives us some confidence I feel like, and lets us realize that we can play with a Division-I team, whether they are in the top 10 or not in the top 25,” he said.
The Gators, led by probable starters Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal, Erik Murphy and Patric Young, will present a similarly stiff challenge and have won their last 21 exhibition games dating back to 2000.
Coach Donovan said he expects everyone on the team to see playing time against the Cardinals, although sophomore guard Scottie Wilbekin will likely be out with a broken index finger.
As for Billy, he doesn’t really know what to expect from sharing the court with his dad for the first time.
“It is a little weird,” he said.
“But looking back on this a couple years from now, I really feel like it’s going to be worth it for me and a special moment for myself and my father.”
Contact John Boothe at [email protected].