Homecoming Of Sorts For Billy D
By Randy Renner
They say you can never go home again but Thunder coach Billy Donovan is getting pretty close today.
Donovan coached for almost 20 years at the University of Florida in Gainesville which is about a two hour drive northeast of Orlando. He even briefly coached the Magic, or at least signed up to do so, in June of 2007. He backed out of that deal just hours after signing it and went back to the Gators in Gainesville.
By now all is probably forgiven.
Donovan after all returned to UF, making all the Magic fans who also rooted for Florida pretty happy and the Magic ended up bringing in Stan Van Gundy who had a wildly successful run leading the Magic.
Now Donovan returns to Florida for the first time in months, "I haven't been back to Florida since probably July," he said after practice on Thursday.
He's gotten tickets for three dozen or so friends and some family members and more than likely quite a few media members who've covered Gator hoops over the years will be at the Amway Center for tonight's Thunder-Magic game.
"There's a lot of people that are close to me that I haven't had a chance to see in a long time so it'll be nice to see those people but, for me, the preparation, getting ready for the game, that's what I'm really focused on right now."
And as for that, the Thunder will face a young team with a very talented core of players. Starting guards Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo combined to score 28 points and pull down 21 rebounds in their opening night one-point loss to Washington.
"Their guards are really quick and they're fast and they're really good with the ball," Donovan said. "They can get in the paint and they obviously have a lot of guys that can space you and shoot the three."
They couldn't hit many of those 3-balls Wednesday night, just five of the 26 shots they took beyond the arc found their mark.
But Orlando hung with the Wizards and led by eight points late in the game then Washington won it 88-87 when All-Star John Wall dropped in a floater from 12 feet out.
The Thunder cruised to a 127-99 win in their most recent trip to Orlando on January 18th with Kevin Durant's 21 points leading seven players in double figures. The Thunder shot a season-best 57.8 percent from the field that night despite going 9-for-25 from 3-point range.
Durant is coming off a 22 point effort on 6-for-19 shooting in Wednesday's opening night win over the Spurs. Point guard Russell Westbrook dominated with 33 points and 10 assists, becoming just the third player in the last 10 years to have a 30-point, 10-assist game on Opening Night.
Backup center Enes Kanter also made some history with his 15-point, 16-rebound game becoming the first Thunder reserve to put up those numbers.
The Thunder are expected to again go with Durant, Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams in the starting lineup tonight.
You can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma, pregame starts at 5:30 Oklahoma time with the tipoff set for 6:10.