Billy Donovan

Will Kentucky make run at Bulls coach Billy Donovan?

ESPN Insider says school will 'make (Donovan) say no' in search to replace John Calipari

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It seems fitting that Billy Donovan is in the college coaching rumor mill on the day the NCAA Tournament champion will be crowned.

After all, if the University of Connecticut defeats Purdue University, Dan Hurley will become the first coach to lead his school to consecutive NCAA titles since Donovan did with Florida in 2006 and 2007.

Kentucky hasn’t won an NCAA title since 2012 under John Calipari. But getting back to that level will be the school’s focus for its unexpected coaching search caused by Calipari’s shocking departure to Arkansas late Sunday.

And according to ESPN senior writer Pete Thamel, one name “looms over all.” And it’s Donovan’s.

Speaking on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Thamel called Donovan Kentucky’s “Hail Mary hire, the home run hire” and the candidate “Kentucky is going to make say no.” Thamel also placed Hurley and retired Villanova coach Jay Wright in the “aspirational” category for the Wildcats.

Now, plenty of hurdles would have to be cleared for this to move from rumor to reality in regards to Donovan.

For starters, Donovan is under contract for two more years with the Chicago Bulls, where he’s respected and held in high regard by not only management but ownership. And while the Bulls historically haven’t denied those employees under contract to pursue opportunities they want to, that step hadn’t been asked as of early Monday, per sources.

And there’s obviously also no guarantee Donovan will get to that point, either, although only he and his family know that answer for now.

Donovan, who left Florida for Oklahoma City in 2015, has consistently talked about how much he enjoys coaching in the NBA. He also has consistently praised his “partnership” with executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and general manager and talked openly about his appreciation for his relationship with Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf.

And while Donovan began his coaching career as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Kentucky from 1989-94, he also has a court named after him at Florida, where his ties to Gainesville and that community still run deep.

College coaching is a different animal from Donovan’s successful 21-year run at Marshall and Florida, where he spent 19 of those seasons. With the transfer portal and NIL money, the multi-year and one-school players that Donovan coached like Joakim Noah and Al Horford are now the exception rather than the norm.

The need to recruit, too, makes it different than the NBA, where the main focus is coaching.

One hurdle that wouldn’t likely be an issue should this opportunity be something Donovan wants to pursue is money. Calipari’s imminent deal is expected to be in the range of $7-8 million annually, per multiple reports. And Kentucky has deep pockets to try to lure the biggest names possible.

And Donovan’s name will remain linked to this surprising vacancy until he says no or Kentucky more prominently targets another candidate.

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