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Rookie Billy Donovan already a great NBA coach

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Billy Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder are doing the impossible. The former Gator and current rookie NBA coach and his players are dominating the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in all phases of the game, but especially coaching.

The Thunder can advance to the NBA Finals if they can win Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday night. If not, they will have two more chances. Oklahoma City leads the Western Conference Finals three games to one after two huge blowout wins at home.

The combined score from those two games was an unfathomable 251-199. Let’s not forget the Warriors set an NBA record with 73 wins this season and won all three match ups with the Thunder.

Donovan is no stranger to big games. Just 13 months ago he was still the head coach of the Florida Gators and could stay as long as he wished.

Why not? In 19 years, the Gators went to four Final Fours, the most recent in 2014. Donovan’s Gators came away with back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007 and were runners-up in 2000.

When he was hired by the Thunder, Donovan gave the recipe for success that the basketball world is now witnessing.

“I knew that it would take a unique opportunity to leave the University of Florida and that is clearly how I look at this situation,” Donovan said upon his hiring on May 1, 2015. “The Thunder represents so many of the values I embrace as a head coach.

He went on to list unselfishness, the pursuit of excellence, and a commitment to organizational culture. Anyone that has witnessed the Thunder’s takedown of San Antonio and now the jaw-dropping embarrassment of the Warriors can see Donovan’s players have bought into him, his system and his commitment to the team.

Even before the team totally gelled, superstar Kevin Durrant gave this assessment in December to USA Today:

“He knows how to deal with people and he loves people,” said Durrant. “That’s the first thing you have to get as a coach, is relationships, and he has that down pretty easily. And the next part is us listening to him. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

It looks like they did a better job.

Donovan has deployed his resources in different ways to befuddle both the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs in the previous round. Trailing two games to one against San Antonio, he matched up against the Spurs’ big front line with three 6’11” players, Steve Adams, Enes Kanter and Durrant. Oklahoma City won the next three games.

Against the Warriors, Donovan replaced Adams and Kanter with the smaller and quicker Dion Waiters and Andre Robertson. Joining with superstar Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have the Warriors reeling. Coach Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and  Golden State have yet to figure out a response.

If there would be a Coach of the Playoffs Award, Donovan would likely win it. Should the Thunder go all the way to an NBA title, he would be the second rookie coach in succession to win the title. Kerr accomplished the feat last season.

If Oklahoma City gets by Golden State, they would likely get LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. It would be fun if for no other reason than watching how Donovan moves the chess pieces against King James, rookie Coach Tyronn Lue and the rest of the Cavaliers.

Billy Donovan is proving he is the real deal among NBA coaches.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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