By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Not long after sophomore Billy Donovan announced his intention to play at Catholic University, his soon-to-be college coach called the young man's father to see if he could suggest a Division II team in Florida the Cardinals could play so that Donovan's family could see him play close by.
University of Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan said if you want to play someone down here, we'll play you. One of the reasons he agreed to the game was because of his good relationship with CUA Head Coach Steve Howes.
"What he's built there at Catholic, just the job he's done, how well he's coached those guys [all helped convince me]," Donovan said.
The game, more than a year in the works, was played on Thursday Nov. 3 in Gainesville, Fla., on the Gators' home floor. The Southeastern Conference powerhouse overwhelmed the Cards in a 114-57 victory. Donovan was happy with how well his team – and his son – performed.
"The thing I was most pleased about was that he was not overwhelmed by the situation," he said. "I think he just tried to do what the coaches and his team asked him to do."
Howes was also happy with the eldest of Billy and Christine Donovan's four children. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound shooting guard scored a team-high 13 points.
"Really, really proud of Billy," Howes said. "Lot of pressure on him tonight – special moment. He earned the start, no doubt about it. He played very well. He's going to be a real key piece for us this year. He was a valuable reserve last year behind our best player.
"We always told him, the next three years you've got a chance to really do something. He showed it tonight."
Florida usually plays Division II teams in its preseason tune-ups.
"Traditionally what we've tried to do with our exhibition games is put them on a rotation, where we give everybody a chance to play, and we've played a lot of the Division II teams here in the state of Florida, and it's been really good for us," Donovan said.
Another thing that convinced Donovan to tip off with the Cardinals was how well CUA played in its 72-47 exhibition loss at the University of Notre Dame last season.
"Getting the chance to be at the Catholic-Notre Dame game, just how well those kids performed, the way they played, it was a great experience," said Donovan, adding that he liked the thought of his son returning home to play. "The big thing for me was [my son] OK with it. If he had been apprehensive and didn't want to do it, I probably would have, maybe, questioned it.
"But Steve thought it would be good for their program and good for everybody."
Donovan, who played at Providence College and led the Friars to the 1987 Final Four, has won two National Championships (2006-07) with the Gators. He likes what he's learned about the Division III Cards.
"With my son being recruited at that level, it's pretty impressive what's happened at Catholic University in their basketball program," Donovan said. "You know, going back a long time, they've won a national championship, they've had a lot of great players; obviously they've got a strong alumni support. Truly, it's a terrific program. It's not at the highest level – Division I – but I think in terms of their program, in terms of where they compete and what they do, it's impressive with how well they win, and they're in the hunt every single year.
"I think that kind of success gets breeded over time, from team to team, year to year, player to player. And I think Steve has done a great job carrying on the tradition that's gone on there."
Chris McManes accompanied the Cardinals on their trips to Notre Dame and Florida.
Florida coach impressed with CUA's basketball program
By Chris McManes