Billy Donovan to the Thunder: Georgia Basketball Dances in the Eye of the Storm


A favorite Georgia basketball villain will no longer stomp the Stegeman visitors coaching box. Billy Donovan is the new Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach.

How the wild winds blow it; they whip it about me as the torn shreds of split sails lash the tossed ship they cling to. – Herman Melville

The winds of change still batter SEC basketball. The Coach that took a middling basketball program in a so so conference and built a powerhouse has left the University of Florida for the riches of the NBA. Billy Donovan is gone.

There will be a few jokes, “We’ve seen this movie before.” But unlike Donovan’s 2007 departure to the Orlando Magic and sudden return to Florida, this looks for real.

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For Southeastern Conference basketball, Donovan’s departure creates hurricane force winds in a conference that is experiencing turmoil in its basketball programs. Turmoil that can only be good for the Georgia Bulldogs.

At Mississippi State, Rick Ray was dismissed after only three years after the rocky final years and eventual departure of Rick Stansbury. Ben Howland is the replacement and he’s a good coach. But Howland, late of UCLA – that’s in LA – seems an unlikely match for the Starkville culture.

At Alabama Anthony Grant was shown the door. While Grant was a big a Georgia nemesis, he only went to the NCAA Tourney once. After chatting with some well-established and highly successful college head coaches, Alabama turned to Avery Johnson, a former NBA coach of the year. Johnson is extremely well connected to the club ball scene and for a school like Alabama with no recent basketball tradition, Johnson could be a great match.

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Add to the 2015 changes the 2014 changes. First Frank Haith cut and ran on Missouri and we saw why in 2015. He left a mess. And at Auburn, Tony Barbee was bounced within hours of the season ending to be replaced by Bruce Pearl. While Pearl’s hiring immediately sent chills up and down the spines of Bulldog basketball fans, Pearl used a rent a player roster this season and ended up working as much as a hockey referee as a coach by season’s end. With Auburn losing senior KT Harrell, the best shooter in conference, the Auburn situation still appears to be fluid.

And then we have the rocky top melodrama at Tennessee. Tennessee’s 2014 head coach Cuonzo Martin entered the season on the hot seat and felt the wrath of the UT faithful all year. But then after a Sweet Sixteen run, Martin, in true High Noon fashion tossed his badge to the ground and rode out of town, going to Cal as head coach. Tennessee then hired Donnie Tyndall away from Southern Mississippi. But at the 2015 season’s end, Tyndall was forced to step down due to improprieties at Southern Mississippi. Enter Rick Barnes, recently fired at Texas.

For Georgia, this is all good. Coach Mark Fox and the Dawgs have built a basketball team and a program on a rock. And while the likes of Tennessee, Missouri, Auburn et al are trying desperately to shore up their programs, Georgia is recruiting with confidence. The carefully crafted coaching staff is effective, attendance is rising, and the team is winning.

Georgia basketball is dancing in the eye of the SEC storm.