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Florida Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan heads to South Africa to swim with great white sharks

SANDESTIN — For Florida Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan and his 12-year-old son Bryan, Discovery Channel's Shark Week has become a summer ritual.

Self-professed shark lovers, the two often talked about one day seeing the great white sharks in Africa. Maybe even swim with them.

The dream is about to become a reality.

Today, Billy Donovan, his son, his mother and two family friends are headed to Cape Town, South Africa. After an 18-hour journey that will take them from Gainesville to Atlanta, Dakar and Johannesburg, the group will embark on an eight-day trip, including four days in Kruger National Park, to swim with sharks.

"My wife (Christine) said: 'I'm tired of all the talk. You guys talk, but you don't do anything,' " Billy Donovan said this week at the SEC spring meetings. "And she got on my calendar and said, 'You're free for these days.' So she booked the whole trip."

By Saturday, Donovan and Bryan will be underwater watching great whites feed on Cape Fur Seals from Seal Island.

"We're going to go in the cages and get a chance to watch them feeding," Donovan said. "I've never, ever scuba-dived. I think they give you a snorkel mask, and the cage is like three-quarters of the way submerged. And then, four straight days we're going to watch them. I got a great e-mail from the lady doing the trip, and she said there's a lot of shark activity right now. I'm excited about it, I really am."

Donovan and his family will have their own boat, and will be out from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m. daily near the small island from which the seals swim into the ocean and feed in an area known as Shark Alley. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has joked with Donovan not to lose any vital limbs.

"He said he needs some type of insurance policy there will not be any limbs outside the cage," Donovan said.

Donovan, 43, who constantly speaks of the importance of living life in the moment, said he felt now was the time to make the trip after the death of a family friend.

"The guy from Lexington that we're going with, his wife passed away four months ago with brain cancer," Donovan said. "She was my wife's best friend. My wife was like, 'You know what? Money, time, nothing can take the place of you and your son doing this experience.' "

Donovan tried unsuccessfully to talk oldest son Billy, 17, into joining them. Nevertheless, he considers this an opportunity of a lifetime.

"Every August, Bryan always wants me to watch (Shark Week)," Donovan said. "He loves animals, he loves birds, he loves sharks, he loves fish, he loves everything. So to be able to go with him and share something like that with him is unbelievable."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Florida Gators basketball coach Billy Donovan heads to South Africa to swim with great white sharks 05/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 9:33am]
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