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April 6, 2007

Kentucky moves down its wish list

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor and writes a regular column for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.
You know that priceless look a person gets on their face when they think they're stepping out of a house only to bump into a sliding glass door?

You should recognize it today on the face of 98 percent of Kentucky basketball fans. They believed in their heart of hearts Billy Donovan was going to drop half of his color scheme, forsaking Orange and Blue for all Big Blue.

Instead, all of Kentucky is feeling the blues. The coach of two-time defending national champion Florida announced Thursday that he was staying put in Gainesville.

"After finally having an opportunity to sit down with my family, and with (Athletic Director) Jeremy Foley, I've decided that I will remain at the University of Florida," Donovan said in a University of Florida news release. "I have great respect for the University of Kentucky, its great history and tradition, and I had five wonderful years in Lexington. That being said, I'm very proud of what we've built here at the University of Florida and I look forward to continuing build on it."

The Wildcats were forced to look elsewhere. And this is where it may get stickier than a kindergartener making a PB&J.

You see, the Big Blue faithful all could agree on Donovan. He was the clear choice Kentucky ties, proven recruiter, proven winner, already familiar with the SEC, likes the up-tempo style.

Their consensus "Plan B" seemed to be Rick Barnes of Texas. Until last night. Barnes reportedly turned the job down on Thursday. Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie appears to be the choice now, and the Aggies have given UK permission to speak to their coach. If it ends up being Gillispie, the Wildcats will get a man from the state of Texas, even if it wasn't the man they wanted initially.

It appears Gillispie will accept the job, but stranger things have already happened in coaching searches recently. If Gillispie and UK can't come to an agreement, Villanova's Jay Wright and Marquette's Tom Crean have also been mentioned.

Wright indicated publicly he wasn't interested in leaving Villanova, but that could change if the money is right.

All are fine coaches, but none is Donovan. Together they have two Final Four appearances and zero national championships. Donovan has three Final Fours and two big, fat title trophies.

Do Rick Pitino disciples and former Wildcats standouts John Pelphrey and Travis Ford have a chance? Perhaps. They've got the requisite UK ties and the desire to play up-tempo, but the faithful didn't exactly have in mind that the next coach would come from the Sun Belt or the Atlantic 10.

UK fans cited style of play as a big reason they were eager to help Tubby Smith pack his bags for Minnesota. They not only want to win, and win often, but win with points and style points.

They also felt like Smith's recruiting had slipped badly. The last class he recruited to UK was ranked 16th by Rivals. His 2005 class didn't make the top 25.

Barnes may know something others don't about Kevin Durant's plans. Staying at Texas seems to be an attractive option if the consensus player of the year is returning. Even if he isn't, Barnes obviously can recruit at Texas. He made a Final Four in his fifth year there (i.e. all his own players), and the class with Durant was ranked third in the nation by Rivals.com.

Is Gillispie the perfect fit for Kentucky? Maybe he will be in time, but there will be a few seats available on the bandwagon should it pull out of the driveway with him behind the wheel.

The perfect fit was Donovan, but he decided to stay true to the Orange and Blue.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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