Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan says ‘total focus' on Bulls, not Kentucky

Coach says he hasn't had contact with school where he spent 5 seasons under Rick Pitino

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Speaking before Tuesday’s game against the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan said neither he nor his representative have been contacted by Kentucky for a vacancy he joked isn’t even official yet because John Calipari’s imminent deal to Arkansas has yet to be announced.

Saying his “total focus and commitment is here,” Donovan talked at length about an ESPN report stating that he’s the candidate that Kentucky “will make say no.” Donovan, who coached Florida to back-to-back NCAA titles before leaving for the NBA, reiterated how much he enjoys coaching at this level while also acknowledging the “magnitude” of the Kentucky job, where he served as Rick Pitino’s assistant for five seasons.

“Two kids were born there. I think, like at all my stops, you have very fond memories,” Donovan said. “My whole total focus and commitment is here to this team and this group. I think with what we’ve been through this year and the way we started – we talked about it – I give our guys a lot of credit for hanging in there and battling through some of the things they’ve had to battle through, and I’m with them on that. I’m committed to them on that.”

Asked the follow-up question of how he would respond if Kentucky does indeed contact him, Donovan didn’t blink.

“I would still say the same thing I said: I’m committed to being here with this group and help these guys close out this year the best we can and try to get an homecourt in the play-in and try to advance,” he said.

Alabama coach Nate Oats and Connecticut coach Dan Hurley, who on Monday night, matched Donovan with back-to-back titles, both have publicly turned down the job. Given that the Bulls season likely will end soon, it’s possible, if not likely, that Donovan will at least listen should Kentucky contact him.

But Donovan said he told executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas that his commitment remains with the Bulls.

“He kind of asked the same thing you did: Has anybody reached out to you? I told him no, that I was committed to being here,” Donovan said. “We have that kind of relationship. And I really appreciate the fact he said it to me. I wouldn’t want him walking around saying, ‘Can I ask these questions or not?’ I really appreciate the honesty and directness that he and I can have in conversations. I’ll always be up and front and honest with him when we have those conversations.”

Asked if Karnisovas followed up with the same hypothetical of what would Donovan say if Kentucky does indeed gauge his interest in the job, Donovan opted for humor.

“He did not,” Donovan said. “He wasn’t as thorough as you.”

Donovan gave a very thorough answer when asked if he was flattered that a job as attractive as Kentucky, which has unlimited resources, could have interest in him.

“You always are, right? But I haven’t spoken to anybody. And listen, I’m friendly with John (Calipari). I’ve known him for a long, long time. He did a phenomenal job, obviously coached against him quite a bit when I was at Florida,” Donovan said. “Obviously, I spent time there. I understand the magnitude of that place and the history and the tradition and everything that goes into that place. And it is flattering to be mentioned with a school and tradition like that in this game. But I also people know people will speculate. I understand the interest in Kentucky basketball. But has John even actually left? You know what I mean? And they’re speculating about what’s happening. I’m sure the athletic director hasn’t even made any phone calls. I don’t even know.

“Like I said, my focus is on this team and trying to help these guys get better and try to close these last four games to the best of our ability, try to get a home game for the play-in, see if we find our way into the playoffs. I’ve got an enormous amount of respect for Kentucky, their program and what it stands for. I competed against them for probably 21, 22 years. I was there for five. So I understand the magnitude of the program.”

The college game that Donovan left for Oklahoma City in 2015 is vastly different from when he ruled the roost at Florida. Between the transfer portal and NIL money and players rarely staying for three or even four years like Joakim Noah and Al Horford did, Donovan knows it has changed.

"The thing I don’t love for the game is when the players can just jump around," Donovan said. "I just don’t think it’s good for them, right. Because I don’t think it builds up any level of resiliency or tolerance. Now, people might say coaches can jump and go here to here. I get all that. At that time where guys are getting paid,---and I’ve always been a big advocate of that and think that should have happened a long time ago---when these guys are fortunate to come up to this level, they don’t pick and choose which team they go to. They’ve got to go and earn a contract and fulfill that.

"I think if there was something they could put in place where players could be compensated and also understand the responsibility there. And like I said, I know coaches jump around so I don’t want to sound like I’m being hypocritical here like it’s not right for the players, it’s right for the coaches. But coaches are not jumping from jobs year to year to year. That doesn’t happen.

"And I do think there’s something to be said for fighting through things. I know for myself and this was a long time ago, everybody told me I needed to transfer out of Providence, I needed to leave, needed to leave, needed to leave, and I felt like I could play there and do it, and obviously I didn’t play my first two years. I went through really difficult times because I care about the game and love the game, and I stuck with it and fought through it. And the backend in the last two years was phenomenal. I had a chance to experience a Final Four. I think when you just keep jumping and thinking, ‘I’m going to jump there, I’m going to jump there,’ and you got players that have been to three or four different colleges. I do think that when there are players in situations where the fits not right, the playing style isn’t right, ‘I made a poor choice and I’m going to correct that choice,’ that happens all the time. The thing I hear is it’s sometimes hard to build a program because of the volatility of the roster. It’s constantly turning over every year.”

This may be the biggest reason why Donovan remains with the Bulls, where he made clear his commitment and focus lies for now.

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