‘Billy has won everywhere’
7 things to know about new coach Billy Donovan, including his brief stint onWall Street and close ties to Rick Pitino
In his statement announcing Billy Donovan as the 21st head coach in Chicago Bulls history, vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas emphasized the success Donovan enjoyed in his basketball career.
From his Final Four appearance as a player at Providence, brief but successful coaching stop at Marshall, pair of national championships and decades of dominance at Florida and five consecutive playoff appearances with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Donovan has a long track record ofwinning.
“Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him,” Karnisovas said. “We hope that will continue here in Chicago.”
The Bulls, who had not hired a coach with previous NBA head coaching experience since 2003, bring in a man with a resume as lengthy and impressive as any in the field. Here are seven things to know about Donovan:
1. He was starting point guard for Providence’s 1987 Final Four run:
Donovan grew up on Long Island, N.Y., where basketball became a part of his daily life at an early age. His father, Bill Sr., played four years at Boston College and coached his son’s teams through elementary school.
In high school, Donovan earned first team All-Long Island honors in his junior and senior seasons and led Long Island Catholic High School to a state championship as a senior.
That earned him a scholarship to Providence. He played four seasons there but exceled once Rick Pitino became the coach during his junior year.
In his senior year in 1986-87, Donovan averaged 20.6 points and was named All-Big East first team, honorable mention All-American and Southeast Regional most outstanding player while leading the Friars to the Final Four.
2. Hebriefly playedin the NBA: Donovan’s successful college career earned him an abbreviated stint in the NBA. The Jazz drafted him in the third round 1987 but waived him before the season started.
He found a spot with his hometown team, the New York Knicks and a familiar face in Pitino, who left Providence after the Final Four run to coach the Knicks. Donovan appeared in 44 games off the bench, but his impact was unremarkable, averaging 2.4 points and 2 assists. But he formed a strong relationship with Pitino, whichcontinues today.
“He’s probably — of all the players I’ve coached, of all the people that have worked with me — Billy Donovan or FrankVogel are the two most selfless individuals I’ve been around,” Pitino said during an interviewWednesday onWSCRAM670. “It’s never — and I mean never, not even 1% — about them. It’s always about the players and the team. So he’s a perfect fit for the modern NBA basketball player.”
3. Donovanspenttimeas a stock broker on Wall
Street: After a season with the Knicks and bouncing around with a few CBA teams, Donovan left basketball and started on a different career path — at an investment banking firm on Wall Street. And he hated it.
Donovan estimated he lasted only about five months before he linked back up with Pitino, who was headed to Kentucky to take its coaching job.
Pitino offered Donovan a job as a graduate assistant, and Donovan eventually rose to top assistant during the team’s Final Four run in 1993 and had a hand in recruiting the roster that won the 1996 national championship. But Donovan had earned a shot at leading his own team before the title team.
4. He helped turn Marshall around in only two seasons:
In 1994, Donovan became the youngest head coach in Division I basketball at 28 years old.
His impact on the program was instant. The year before Donovan arrived, Marshall’s basketball team
finished 9-18. In his first season as their coach, they flipped that record to 18-9, their highest win total in seven years. Donovan spent only two years with the Thundering Herd but he won at an impressive rate, going 35-20 (.636) and earning a career-defining job at Florida.
5. He transformed Florida into a national powerhouse:
Few coaches in the history of college basketball have had as much success as Donovan enjoyed during his 19-year run at Florida.
He arrived to a football school and transformed its basketball program into a national power— 467 victories and a .715 winning percentage, making the Final Four four times and winning back-to-back national championships in 2006 and ’07. No men’s basketball program had won consecutive titles since Duke in 1991 and ’92. Donovanwonat least 20 games in 16 consecutive seasons and won 30 games three times. Including his time at Mar
shall, he became the second-youngest coach in NCAA history to win 500 games.
“Coach Donovan is somebody who is going to hold his players accountable and is somebody who can relate to his players while keeping a relationship with the guys,” former Bulls center Joakim Noah, who played for Donovan on those back-to-back national championship teams, told NBC Sports Chicago.
“That’s a tough balance. But he’s proven he’s been able to do it time and time again. He’s somebody that I really respect. And I couldn’t be happier for the ChicagoBulls to have such a great coach. What a big hire.”
6. He almost jumped to the NBA with the Magic in 2007:
As his profile continued to rise at Florida, the chance to coach in the NBA became more tempting for Donovan.
Henearlywas lured away in 2007 after he agreed to become the Orlando Magic’s coach and signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract. A few days later, however, Donovan began having second thoughts and asked out of his contract. TheMagic agreed to release him from the deal. He was free to return to Florida as long as he agreed not to coach in the NBA for five years.
7. Hewon a lot of regularseason games with the Thunder:
Donovaneventuallymoved on to theNBAin 2015 when he was named Thunder coach. In five seasons in Oklahoma City, he racked up wins at an impressive rate.
Donovan’s .608 winning percentage is the 16th-best mark in NBA history (minimum 100 games), and among active coaches he trails only the Raptors’Nick Nurse (.721), Warriors’ SteveKerr (.709) and Spurs’ Greg Popovich (.675). It’s why Donovan was arguably the best candidate available on the coaching market. Coacheswith such a history of success do not usually become available. After guiding an overachieving Thunder team to the playoffs this season, he was named the 2019-20 co-recipient of the Coach of the Year award — along with the Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer — by his peers in the National Basketball Coaches Association.
The rosters Donovan coached in Oklahoma City changed over the years but always camewith some star power, including Kevin Durant in his first season, Russell Westbrook during his best seasons and Chris Paul this season. The Bulls do not have a playerwith as much talent as Donovan coached throughout his NBA career, but his resume is filled with stops at which he has gotten more with less.
New Bulls coach Billy Donovan led the Thunder to the playoffs in each of his five seasons there.