PHOENIX — The star power at US Airways Arena this week extends beyond any player in the NCAA Tournament's West Region semifinals. Three of the four coaches — Florida's Billy Donovan, Louisville's Rick Pitino and Michigan State's Tom Izzo — have won national championships. Only Marquette's Buzz Williams has not.
The three are among the top 15 winningest active Division I men's coaches — Pitino is No. 11 (.729), Izzo No. 13 (.710) and Donovan No. 15 (.704) — and combined have led their teams to 14 Final Fours. Combined, the three have won 1,459 games.
But Donovan downplayed the star power talk.
"Well, one thing I'd say about it is everybody has to start somewhere," he said. "All of us, Coach Pitino, Tom Izzo, myself, Buzz, you have to start somewhere. … Sometimes I think people's perception of coaches, they've won a national championship, but I had to start somewhere. Coach Pitino had to start somewhere. So did Tom. … I think you can do a great job in coaching and be a tremendous coach and never get to a Final Four, and have a tremendous program. There's a lot more that goes into it."
Williams, who has 110 career victories in five seasons overall, couldn't escape questions about his place with the other three coaches, but he handled them with ease — and humor.
"I wish that would have been a question on the SAT, I wouldn't have had to go to junior college," Williams said. "The word association on the SAT, I would have gotten that right. …
"All of them have won national championships. All of them have coached in the league (NBA) or decided they didn't want to coach in the league. And the league that I should be in is the Lone Star Conference, a Division II league in Texas. I should be an assistant in that league. So I don't belong. I don't compare. Those three guys are the ultimate example of what this business should be about as people, the ultimate example of what they should be about as coaches."
GATOR GATHERING: Former Gator Neal Walk attended Florida's open practice Wednesday at US Airways Arena. Walk (1966-69) was the first All-American in Florida history and is the only Gator player to have his number (41) retired. Still UF's all-time rebound leader, he played eight NBA seasons with New Orleans, New York and Phoenix. Also hanging with the Gators was former assistant coach Richard Pitino, who is now an assistant on his father's Louisville staff.
FORGET HOSPITALITY: No offense, Florida fans, but the mayor of Phoenix will be rooting against the Gators in tonight's game vs. No. 3 seed Marquette. Mayor Greg Stanton is an alumnus of Marquette University and will be in attendance openly cheering for his former school.
MISPERCEPTION?: Marquette's players have repeatedly referred to Florida's penchant for 3-point shooting, and some said on Wednesday the Gators have some serious defensive deficiencies. Florida C Patric Young said he's unsure why opponents keep assuming they are just a 3-point shooting team with no defense, but he's okay with it. "I like that," he said. "I want them to think that. We'll see."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]