Former UF coach Billy Donovan dives into NBA job with Thunder

Thunder coach Billy Donovan has been hands-on so far during summer league.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan has been hands-on so far during summer league. AP

You can’t say the basketball gods don’t have a sense of humor.

Billy Donovan finally makes his first appearance on an NBA bench, and it bears the logo of the Orlando Magic – the same team he reversed course on eight years ago to stay at the University of Florida.

No turning back now. Donovan is fully two months into his tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder, throwing himself into learning the NBA’s rhythms and nuances.

“There’s been a lot to do and a lot to get familiar with,” Donovan said Tuesday after the OKC hopefuls ran their record to 2-0 in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

Having just come from the college ranks, Donovan was a valuable asset in the Thunder’s draft plans and putting together a summer-league roster. He just finished hiring a coaching staff, which includes a pair of former NBA head coaches in Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks in addition to longtime UF assistant Anthony Grant.

And for the first time in more than two decades, Donovan can spend time on the court with players.

NCAA rules prohibit coaches from working with their teams in the summer, but Donovan now can run the spectrum from summer tutoring to collecting rebounds for rehabbing star Kevin Durant.

“I’ve really enjoyed that,” he said. “Leading up to summer league, being out there with those guys. Being able to get on the floor with Kevin and [Andre] Roberson, some of the different guys that have been in OKC.”

He’s seeing a few of his veterans in Orlando, too. Durant, Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow all have poked their nose in at Amway Center to check out the proceedings.

“He’s a basketball junkie,” Morrow said, “and that’s someone I can really relate to. Every single play, he’s locked in and he’s thinking about something. I’m just looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get the season going again.”

Donovan is mostly an observer this week, though unlike the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra or Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy, he prefers to sit on the bench instead of behind it. He also was involved in the summer team’s off-day workouts.

“It’s obviously a lot different in terms of where your time is spent,” he said, with an eye more on a new chapter than the one just completed.

“I love the University of Florida. Always have, always will. I spent 19 years of my life there. My children, that’s all they know. My heart will always have a place there.”

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