By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
When he was coaching basketball at the University of Florida Billy Donovan was known as an outstanding recruiter and several of the guys he brought to Gainesville have gone on to the NBA.
Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Bradley Beal, Chandler Parsons, Mike Miller and Mo Speights were all recruited by Billy D.
College is one thing, but Donovan said this week he has no plans to get involved in recruiting Kevin Durant to remain with the Thunder.
“This is Kevin’s decision, I don’t think it’s about me posing a pitch,” Donovan told reporters during his exit interview this week.
Of course the coach also said he would be there for KD if needed.
“This is about Kevin and if he needed anything from me I would be there to talk to him about anything.” Donovan stressed. “But this is about what Kevin wants to do and it’s his decision.”
Does Donovan have any idea what that decision will be?
“I don’t,” he said. But he added he continues to be impressed with how this year’s biggest free agent has handled all the questions about his future and where he’ll be playing next season.
“Everywhere we went people wanted to talk about it,” Donovan said. “And he never really allowed it to get into the team and I really respect and admire that. He put the team first.”
And Donovan pointed out Durant made sacrifices this season, rather than resist changes Donovan wanted to implement he was willing and open to try something new if it would help the team.
“From being accustomed to playing the entire first quarter, to then being okay with coming out with six minutes left to trying to do things on the offensive end or the defensive end of the floor, I mean he was terrific.”
And Durant, speaking to reporters about an hour later, said much the same about Donovan.
“Anything great takes time. I think he did a great job,” Durant said of his first year NBA head coach. And what a first year it was.
Trying to get to know each other amid high expectations then trying to play through the tragedies of assistant coach Monty Williams losing his wife in a car accident, followed about a week later by Thunder part owner Aubrey McClendon’s fatal car crash and then the shooting death of Dion Waiters’ brother.
Triple tragedies of the worst kind coming right in the middle of the season.
“He kept us together,” Durant said about Donovan. “He kind of drove the ship and helped us through that. So much stuff that went on, that’s not normal for a first year coach coming in. He wasn’t a deer in the headlights. He did a great job for us man. He really deserves a lot of credit for where we were a couple of days ago.”
In the Western Conference Finals with a 3-1 lead on Golden State and the perception that he had outcoached Rick Carlisle in the first round, Gregg Popovich in the second and Steve Kerr in the Conference Finals.
Donovan appreciates the praise especially from Durant and the rest of the players who to a man said much the same about their coach but he’s not in this for that sort of thing.
Donovan is all about helping his players become the best they can be and he thinks that really started to show toward the end of the season.
“I really enjoyed the evolution of our team from the start of training camp and how we evolved and got better, these guys commitment to working hard every day and trying to get better and improve. To see so many guys play well late certainly I think gives me great hope and optimism going forward.”