Donovan apologetic in return to Florida

Jun 7, 2007 - 7:07 PM GAINESVILLE, Florida (Ticker) -- Billy Donovan apologized profusely in returning to the University of Florida on Thursday.

A week after deciding to make the jump to the NBA with the Orlando Magic, Donovan announced his return to the Gators at a news conference, stating that he never really wanted to leave.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after the Magic let the coach out of his five-year, $27.5 million contract.

Quickly moving on, Orlando officially named Stan Van Gundy its new coach Thursday morning.

Despite turning down the NBA riches, Donovan is close to signing a six-year contract extension worth $3.5 million per year according to Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley.

Although the Magic were able to pick up the pieces and find a replacement without much delay, Donovan made sure to express his disappointment about the situation, not just to the team but also to his family and Florida.

"The last four or five days have been difficult," he said. "I want to take this time to apologize, first and foremost, to the Orlando Magic for what has happened. I feel terrible about it.

"They (the Magic) are a great organization, they have great ownership and they're great people. I feel sorry and have apologized."

After guiding the Gators to back-to-back championships over the past two seasons, Donovan became enamored with the Magic for a number of reasons, including the money and the close proximity between Orlando and his family's home in Gainesville.

The opportunity to coach at the ultimate level in basketball also figured in to his decision.

"It was a great challenge," he said. "That challenge excited me. I have always been attracted to challenges."

However, it did not take the 42-year-old Donovan long to have a change of heart, spending all of last weekend discovering a way to get out of his deal despite the efforts of Magic general manager Otis Smith and president Bob Vander Weide to convince him to honor the contract.

"I've got too much respect for the Magic, for their organization, for their team, for their fans," Donovan said. "To continue on, I thought it would have been totally unfair to them, knowing where my heart was at, where I wanted to be.

"They were relying on me, depending on me, and I thought the mistake that I made would have become a greater mistake, not only for myself, but for the Magic if I would have continued on."

Donovan now returns to Florida, where he is the all-time leader in wins after compiling a 261-103 (.717) record in 11 seasons.

"As long as the University of Florida would like to have me here, this is where I want to be," Donovan said. "In my heart, I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching. That's really where I want to be."

Donovan guided the Gators to nine straight 20-win seasons and a school-record nine consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. He also coached two seasons at Marshall and owns a career record of 296-123.

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