In basketball there are myriad differences between the college and professional game but almost all of them can be boiled down to one thing. The professional game is about the players and the college game is about the coaches. Just look at this year's tournament final. Florida, a team built around the recruiting ability and relentless personality of Billy Donovan beat out an Ohio State team which revolved around Greg Oden, the finest collegiate player in many a moon. It was Donovan's second straight title with a team of players who thrived in his system because he was the King. If Joakim Noah wanted to have plays run for him, tough shit. Go to class, daishiki boy because it's the way I do things. If Lee Humphery wanted to do something other than hoist threes all night he would have to get himself a job in the student union because work-study was the only way he was going to afford tuition. Donovan told these kids what they had to do to make him happy and if they didn't do it he'd just go find someone else who would.
It doesn't work that way in the Association. Ask Larry Brown. Remember him? He was the best coach in the universe after knocking off the Lakers in 2004 and getting the Pistons back to the finals the next year but it took just a few months at Madison Square Garden for his reputation to wilt when highly paid players reacted to his suggestions like Frenchmen when Hitler crossed the Maginot Line. How about Pat Riley? His fistful of rings didn't mean diddly squat when Dwayne Wade broke down and Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams stopped impersonating reliable players. Or how about Rick Pitino? It's not so easy when you can't get the exact players that you want and when the players you find yourself stuck with don't need you to facilitate their futures.
That's something Donovan should have thought about before he left Gainesville for Orlando yesterday. Dwight Howard is a terrific young player and the Magic job is a better one than the others available this offseason but that still doesn't explain why Donovan wanted to head for the Magic Kingdom. He needs to prove himself at a higher level? I'm guessing Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and John Wooden sleep well enough at night without a handful of .500 seasons and an ignoble firing cluttering up their resume.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports quotes a NBA executive as saying, "Just take a look at the Cavaliers, and know that with one great player in the East, you can be in the conference finals in a short amount of time." Clearly this isn't the best day to be comparing people to LeBron but is it really that easy? Wouldn't Tracy McGrady have taken the Magic there if it were? Wouldn't the Magic have won a game in the playoffs this year? Howard's a fine player but big men need more help than Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu can provide to make an impact deep in the postseason. Maybe Donovan gets those players but history says it's easier said than done. History also says you don't walk away from being an icon to be just another guy. Someone still has Steve Spurrier's number on that campus, right?