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The Difference Between Florida And Kentucky

Posted by Matt on May 29, 2007


Sometimes I find myself praying, almost unconsciously, that University of Florida head basketball coach, Billy Donovan, will finally pull the trigger and make the move to the NBA. I find myself waking up in the morning hoping that the first headline I see when I get on the Internet is “Donovan’s Magic.”

And deep down, I would like to think that Billy D. is heading for Orlando and then, in my own personal reality, recent Florida commit, Jai Lucas, would try, disparately, to get out of his Letter of Intent to Florida. Florida, of course, would oblige and this chain of events would vault Kentucky right back to the forefront for Lucas’s services. Of course this scenario is not nearly as important, or pressing, since Kentucky landed uber-recruit Patrick Patterson and the whole idea of it all is not very probable either.

However, this little scenario, conjured up mainly by my imagination, lead me to one fundamental question: What is the difference between Florida and Kentucky? By this I mean what makes me so sure that Jai Lucas would be dead-set on leaving if Billy Donovan flew the coop, while I was confident everyone would stay with Kentucky even though Tubby Smith departed. After some consideration, I came up with one definitive answer:

Billy Donovan makes Florida a program where Kentucky makes [insert coach] a superstar.

Billy Donovan IS Florida basketball and thus everything relies on his presence. Kentucky, on the other hand, makes it’s coach, and thus is not completely dependent on the presence of any one head coach for success; Kentucky is nearly a self-sufficient program as I outlined in my article “Tools Of The Trade.” Where Billy Donovan came in to Florida to build a program and create his legacy, coaches, save Adolph Rupp, come to Kentucky to merely build on a legacy already in place and to be built in to a superstar by the program itself.

Adolph Rupp set the wheels in motion many years ago and coaches hired at Kentucky are, at times, simply riding the coattails of his legendary success. Coaches at Kentucky are inclined to stay in Lexington because of the history, tradition, and support of the basketball program here in the Bluegrass, on top of fine facilities and a “decent” salary. Donovan’s only inclinations to stay are dollar figures and the possibility that, sometime in the distant future, Billy is looked back upon as a modern-day Rupp for the University of Florida. However, there is no true way of determining how history will remember you, so the only tangible binding factor for Donovan is money, and it is common knowledge that the grass is definitely greener, financially, in the NBA.

Furthermore, continuing with the fundamental differences between the two programs, if Billy Donovan IS Florida and he leaves, it is relatively conceivable that the recruits who came merely to play for him would want to leave as well. However, if a Kentucky coach leaves the players still have the honor and privilege of playing for “Kentucky;” not just the University of Kentucky as a proper noun, but all of the intangibles brought to mind when the word “Kentucky” is spoken in the collegiate basketball world.

Will Billy stay or will Billy go? This is the premier question in the college basketball at this juncture and my heart says he’ll go (wishful thinking), but my gut and instinct says that he’ll stay (the unfortunate reality). Either way, remember this:

Florida’s success in basketball almost completely hinges on the presence, or lack thereof, of Billy Donovan. Whether its this year, next year, or a couple of years down the road, when Billy D. leaves, we may see the fall of a short-lived empire. Whereas Kentucky’s complete dominance may come-and-go in cyclic fashion, it’s success has never hinged on the presence of any one coach to the point where, at times, a coach’s success actually hinges on Kentucky.

Kentucky almost dictates it’s own success over time, name of head coach notwithstanding, and that, my friends, is the true difference between Florida and Kentucky.

4 Responses to “The Difference Between Florida And Kentucky”

  1. Charlie Hustle said

    Certainly the legacy of UK basketball is undeniable, but I just can’t buy the “fill-in-coach-here” philosophy.

    The difference between high school stars a generation ago and now is that…

    THEN they were dreaming of playing at the big programs (UK, UCLA, Indiana, etc.) The very key to those BIG programs was having alot of success AND having the same coach for 20-30 years, not changing every 5 or 6.

    NOW the best players want big paychecks after one year. The key to that is finding the best coach to showcase your talent (i.e. draw up plays for you, let you play 35-40 minutes a game, etc). There’s a reason why OJ Mayo is going to play for Tim Floyd and not Bobby Knight. Hell Mayo wouldn’t even give Floyd his personal cell phone number when he agreed to play for USC. But Floyd surely will be calling Mayo’s number at the end of the game, while Knight would be calling a senior’s.

    There can’t be any doubt that the UK program suffered under Tubby now that it’s over. Despite regular season successes and a couple trips to the Elite 8 in the past 5 years, Tubby never could get a handle on getting those freshman phenoms that would vault UK to the top (Melo, Oden, Durant, etc) and got stuck with phenom wanna-bes like Randolph Morris who couldn’t even get drafted after leaving his freshman year. Hell Tubby couldn’t even pronounce some of his players’ names (i.e. “The Polish”) The last time UK had a NBA draft pick in the top 15 was 1997 Ron Mercer (#6)

    The consistent factor at UK to me has been defense. Certainly that was never ignored under Tubby. But this past year pointed out a sharp disparity in play when UK does not have the great spot-up 3 point shooters it has had in the past. (Padgett, Sheppard, Prince, Sparks, etc).

    In their last game vs. Kansas, the Bradley- Crawford- Meeks trio went 8-31 FGs against a weak Kansas defense. Even still UK only lost by 12 with BRUTAL shooting from its guards. Did any UK fan feel confident at the end of games last year that if someone got a wide-open 3 at the end that they would ice it?

    Does anyone think Florida would have won the National Championship without Lee Humphrey last year? Humphrey at 6-2 and 190lbs certainly wasnt topping recruiting charts a few years ago. But in Florida’s last 3 games in the tournament, he went 15-28 from 3-point land. Back in the hey-day of UK basketball, a guy like Humphrey would have been raining 3s for them.

    Billy Gillespie certainly has some stroke now that he turned around a terrible Texas A&M program. And I’m sure Patrick Patterson will be a helluva player at the 4. But Gillespie has to realize that the need for shooters is UKs biggest deficiency. Last year Texas A&M was a great defensive team like UK. But Acie Law, a senior PG, saved Gillespie’s ass on numerous occasions with premium, clutch long-range shooting. Hopefully UK will be able to get back to their (usually white, slow, and semi-unathletic) outstanding spot-up 3 point shooters that brought the team to glory.

    Coach Gillespie must start getting UK’s players drafted higher because relying on the program’s prestige and nice practice facilities won’t get them anywhere in today’s game. Unless we go back to the 60’s in a time machine where freshman can’t play in the NCAA, the best players will continue to go for the most accomodating coaches for their NBA dreams, no matter what the program and prestige is.

    — Charlie Hustle

  2. Matt said

    First, there will always be some bias towards my University of Kentucky basketball writing, as much as I try to eliminate it, and for that I apologize.

    Secondly, I totally agree with all of your sentiments regarding recruiting in this era and they’re spot on, but I feel I wasn’t talking recruiting so much as coaching/program.

    For example, other than Rick Pitino, all of the coaches to come after Adolph Rupp were either up-and-comers (Eddie Sutton, Billy Gillispie) or were assistants and appointed-heirs-to-the-throne (Joe B. Hall, an assistant under Rupp, Tubby Smith, an assistant under Pitino). None of these coaches were mega-stars like Billy Donovan is now and when he turned Kentucky down, the trend of lesser-known coaches continued. For most coaches, Kentucky is a promotion and I think Florida is more of a lateral career move, even at this juncture (this being the basis of my article). Gillispie notwithstanding, of the 5 coaches since Rupp, all but Sutton won a championship and that only because Sutton was drunk.

    Additionally, once thrusted in to the role of head coach of the University of Kentucky they became stars simply because of the fanfare surrounding the program. The hype around Gillispie is amazing in Lexington right now, with store front signs in his honor, and the man has yet to coach a game for Kentucky. For all Kentuckians know, Billy G. couldn’t coach his way out of a paper sack, yet this is not a wait-and-see fanbase, its like a Royal family, and whoever is appointed to the throne has instant stardome. This is where the [insert coach] line comes from, in part.

    Now, I realize such excitement around Kentucky, of which was revitalized with the hiring of Gillispie, went dormant over the past few seasons under Tubby Smith, but that coincided with his tenure here stagnating; the excitement and history never left. The writing was on the wall regarding Tubby, and though his departure’s timing came as a surprise, the fact of the matter did not.

    I completely agree with some your sentiments on Tubby, however, life wasn’t always bad with Coach Smith. First, he won a championship in his first year, and I know the saying is “it was Pitino’s players,” and it was (they were also his as well as Assistant Coaches do just as much recruiting as Head Coaches), Tubby still had to coach them. If Gillispie wins a title in his first year, do you think, with the love affair this city already has for him, that people will be saying “it was Tubby’s players, though.” I think the locals would rather choke on their Kentucky Fried Chicken then admit it was Tubby’s players after the past couple of seasons.

    Tubby, admittedly, never went for the Blue Chip players, and instead settled for four-year role players like Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas, Brandon Stockton, Lukasz Obrzut, etcetera. And when it seemed as if he finally caved in to the Big Blue Nation’s demands of All-Americans, he brought in the #1 recruiting class in America with Randolph Morris, Joe Crawford, Rajon Rondo, and Ramel Bradley. We see how that has turned out.

    Say what you want about Morris, people are quick to forget that his three options out of high school were Kentucky, Georgia Tech, or the NBA (just before the 1-year rule was implemented) and he chose Kentucky to try to elevate his draft status (his work-ethic, or lack thereof, is what most would agree contributed to his post-freshman year embarassment, not Tubby or his recruitment or any fall from grace of the Kentucky program). Another member of that squad, Joe Crawford, tore it up at the McDonald’s All American game his senior year of high school, finishing 2nd in the dunk contest to a girl who could barely muster a rim-touching layup but got a perfect score from sympathetic judges.

    Obviously Randolph suffered a half-season loss due to flirtations with the NBA, Crawford lost games on his freshman year for flirting with Michigan State, Rondo left after two years, and Morris after three. I feel like the outcome of this recruiting class was almost so Tubby could say ’see, this is why I never recruited the egos.’ But it was clear that he could, at times, if he wanted to, so to say Kentucky lost out on stuff they could’ve had in their hey day is not completely accurate.

    I realize that Bradley-Crawford-Meeks went 8-31 against Kansas, but Meeks is a freshman and had plenty of good games this past season and Bradley and Crawford were not considered misfires by ANYONE when they were recruited, thus hindsight is 20/20. Why is it Tubby’s or Kentucky’s fault that they choked on the big stage? Crawford, Morris, and Rondo were McDonald’s All Americans and with Bradley, comprised the #1 recruiting class in the nation as incoming freshman. Nobody disagreed with their hype, recruitement, status, etcetera. So to say Humphrey went to Florida when he would’ve came to Kentucky in our “hey day” and we were stuck with the likes of Crawford and Morris is really a classic case of hindsight.

    Tubby seemed to be known around the nation for doing “more with less,” but by he recruiting patterns, it seemed like that was almost his objective. People are quick to forget that in 2003 he was a UNANIMOUS Coach of the Year, taking home all 7 variations of the award given by various organizations. He was also a 2005 John Phelan Coach of the Year award winner. Not all was bad with Smith.

    Another case of [insert coach] here is the recruitment of Patrick Patterson. The Number 2 player in the nation may very well have come to Kentucky under Tubby Smith as he was one of Smith’s targets and Kentucky was a favorite among Patterson’s parents because of Tubby. When Tubby left, according to Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio, Patterson’s mom said that Kentucky had “no shot” at Patricke during the McDonald’s All American game this year in Louisville. In roughly 5 weeks, or so, Gillispie went from “no shot” to SIGNIATURE and I’d like to think Kentucky being Kentucky had something to do with it.

    If not, and Gillispie is just THAT good, then the other Division 1 teams should pack it up on the recruiting front because they don’t stand a chance against Gillispie if he can do a year’s worth of recruiting in 5-weeks. Again, I’d like to think Kentucky being Kentucky had something to do with this outcome.

    Furthermore, only 64 players get drafted by the NBA each year out of thousands upon thousands of college players. I realize that the 1-year rule has changed the landscape in to more “one-and-done” players but there are still a lot of recruits that when asked about Kentucky always mention the intangibles that I speak of. The history, the tradition, the prestige, playing in front of that many fans, getting recognition. I have heard more than one recruit use the montra “its Kentucky” when trying to describe why, as if they almost don’t know themselves there is just something about Kentucky. So you cannot tell me that the intangibles hold no bearing on 17-year-old kids. Our $30 million dollar, brand new, practice facility is second to none, the players have their own place to leave that is, for lack of a better word, stacked.

    So though I was writing regarding coaching/programs in this article, the same still has some affect on recruiting because not ALL players have egos like O.J. Mayo. He is a bad example, the guy has been a problem every where he attended high school, the prestigious Oak Hill Academy included. The guy showed up to the McDonald’s All American game with a posse of body guards and personal assistants. The Tyler Zeller’s of the world aren’t like O.J. Mayo(Zeller is a Kentucky recruit still in highschool, look him up).

    Gillispie is on the recruitment trail for shooters (Rotnei Clark from Oklahoma, considered to be the best perimeter shooter in the nation by some), but I think most would disagree with you in that we need more shooting (guards) but actually we need more of an inside presence. You listed Scott Padgett, Jeff Sheppard, Tayshaun Prince as shooters that Kentucky needs to get back to recruiting, but remember, they had big men with them for a nice inside-out game: Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Mohammed, Hishimu Evans, Marvin Stone, Marquis Estill, etcetera.

    I feel that, despite the NBA, there is more talent than there is NBA draft selections each year so the intangibles do come in to play for recruiting some. As an employer and a program overall, which is what I was discussing in the article, I think the intangibles I speak on come in to play even more.


  3. Charlie Hustle said

    I’ll try to keep this response as short as possible… these are running lengthy…

    — I know Gillespie is getting alot of love. He had a great Big 12/Tourney run and is going to a great UK program. Therefore he can still show up on the recruiting trail and get a guy like Patterson.

    — O.J. Mayo isn’t a a bad example in the context that all these “one-and-done” guys have humongous egos. He’s just a good example because he wants to go to a program where he will be showcased for the pros. Just like Melo, Oden, Durant, USC will put Mayo in clutch situations. Most of the UK teams I’ve seen lately have put emphasis on senior leadership, etc.

    — The hindsight isn’t really that Humphrey was good and Rondo and Crawford aren’t isn’t the case. It’s guys LIKE Humphrey (spot-up 3 point shooters) aren’t showcased as much as length SG/SF guys that are fast and play good defense but can’t shoot. Guys like Padgett and Sparks couldn’t guard their way out of a wet paper bag but they nailed clutch shots.

    — I’m sure facilities have some bearing on recruitment but if you look at the McD’s All-American signings, other than maybe Duke and Syracuse all the players are spread out to different teams on different coasts. It’s because they want to be showcased as their team’s savior for NBA scouts. The pressure is SO much less going to a lesser program like K-State or a football school like USC (and even Florida, basketball championships or not). It’s not UK’s fault for loving their basketball program, I just think it hurts sometimes in recruiting.

    — And lastly, in terms of recruiting 4-year guys instead of 1 or 2 and done, I mean the teams that can get the 1 or 2-year most-talented guys win the championships these days. UNC, Duke, UConn, etc can’t keep their guys long enough to grow facial hair. Most of Florida’s starting 5 could have been drafted high in last year’s draft. Even the best 4 year player in the last 10 years (Tim Duncan) never made it to the Final Four. It’s just the way the game is.

  4. Matt said

    All great points, and I understand them better and probably agree with them a little more once clarified.

    I think that a lot of Kentucky fans don’t want the “one-and-done” players like Oden, Durant, or the “egos” like O.J. Mayo unless they can guarntee a title. Carmello brought Syracuse one, but Oden choked and Durant choked. Florida has epitomized the team game the past two seasons and North Carolina and Connecticut had stars, but not in the sense of Durant versus Oden for Player-of-the-Year type stars in terms of pre-NBA hype. If anything North Carolina had a bunch of stars on one team at one time, a la Florida, not just a one-and-done superstar like Mayo.

    If the players are looking to go to places with lower expectations and less pressure such as USC to be the savior of the team, then that goes against any of the big named teams getting these players (Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, etcetera). Which is why I think it is still a team game in the tournament despite the new 1-year NBA rule.

    If the 5-Star recruits like O.J. are going to be the lone star on a roster full of chumps, then something has to set Kentucky apart from the Dukes and North Carolinas for the lot of 4-Star recruits to build a team and win a championship, creating superstars in the process, not necissarily recruiting them. I am hoping/arguing (what my article is about) is what I think can set them apart and thats the intangibles (hopefully).

    Good banter though, Josh. Great points.


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