On Saturday, after handling Dayton in the Elite Eight, cutting down the requisite nets and dousing their coach in a bucket of water, the Florida Gators packed their giddy, commemorative-cap-clad selves onto a chartered Delta jet bound from Memphis to Gainesville, Fla.
They arrived at the Gainesville Regional Airport at 1 a.m. ET. They were greeted by a scene out of a Beatles documentary. A couple hundred fans had assembled on the tarmac, chanting and screaming through a chain-link fence. Florida players reacted almost in awe: Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin whipped out their iPhones and began shooting videos; Casey Prather jumped into the crowd and joined in on a chant.
On Sunday, Florida had the day off. On Monday afternoon, Billy Donovan was back in front of reporters, talking about the normal stuff: How his team had bought in, how to stop Connecticut star Shabazz Napier, how to prepare players for an event like this weekend's. You know, Final Four stuff. Business as usual.
But it didn't take long for him to almost-but-not-quite get the dreaded question, one that still lingers through the 18th year of his remarkable run in Gainesville. Here's the transcript:
Reporter: You always get the "football school" question, and you'll get it again this weekend, I'm sure.
Donovan (smiling): You think so?
Reporter: Yeah. I don't want to ask it, but it will get asked.
Donovan: Are you going to ask it?
Reporter: No. But that said, would you talk about what it was like for you and the guys when you got back Saturday, Sunday morning?
"It was great," Donovan said, and the rest of his answer, like the question itself, was innocuous enough. But the subtext was everywhere.
Late-night basketball rallies are so unusual in Gainesville that they warrant a response from a coach as successful as any in his sport. The question is asked enough that the savvy reporter knows not to ask it directly. And Donovan is so used to hearing it, and at this point so beyond it, that he can greet what should be an annoying rhetorical relic with a quip.
Such are the contradictions of Donovan's life at Florida. After 18 years of mostly uninterrupted success, after two national titles and four Final Fours and a 30-game winning streak in this, his most masterful season -- a run of success that has placed him in historical company by the age of 48 with a salary of more $3 million per year -- he's still somehow the basketball coach at a "football school."
The history of Florida men's basketball can be broken down into two eras: Before Donovan (B.D.) and present day. In 1932-33, the Gators joined the SEC as a charter member. For the next 47 years -- until 1979-80 -- they finished higher than fourth in SEC play just four times. Florida didn't hire its first full-time basketball coach, Norm Sloan, until 1960. Before Sloan's hiring, Florida basketball had been an "intramural program," Florida historian Norm Carlson once said.