Donovan's success unparalleled

In 2013-14, an average of 11,471 tickets were sold for Florida men's basketball games at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. This was a boom year. At no point since 1979 has Florida's men's basketball attendance ranked among the nation's top 25. The O'Connell Center's dimensions have something to do with that: The arena's official capacity is 11,548. But even so, hoops attendance was an open question at the O-Dome as recently as 2012, when the Gainesville Sun reported an average turnstile count -- not just tickets sold, but actual butts in seats -- of 4,998 in the program's first five games, which included visits from Wisconsin and Marquette.

That was after two straight Elite Eight runs and the signing of one of the nation's best freshmen (Bradley Beal). Florida athletics has done much to turn Florida home games into events. The Gators' student section is raucous. But empty seats are never hard to spot. The "football school" label still applies.

Meanwhile, Florida's status as one of the nation's premier basketball programs is long since cemented. The Gators regularly haul top-five recruiting classes; they almost always return top veterans; they are always expected to be good.

"You know what's expected of you when you come in to a program like this," Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. "It's established."

This season has been Donovan's master class. After a fall spent juggling injuries and suspensions, he has his team at 36-2 and riding a 30-game winning streak, the longest in school history by 13 games. His team is the fifth (1975-76 Indiana, 1977-78 Indiana State, 1990-91 UNLV and 1998-99 Duke) in NCAA history to enter a Final Four with 30 straight wins. Its only two losses this season came to fellow Final Four teams (Wisconsin, Connecticut). With at least one game left to play, the list of team and player records Florida has set is jaw-dropping. All the while, the Gators' success has been received with roughly the same kind of shrug you'd get by telling people that Duke might have a decent team next season. The Gators were the No. 1 overall seed because they were the best team in the country, because duh. Of course they're good. They're Florida, right?

This casual, self-sustaining standard has freed Donovan from much of the pressure coaches often face -- and, in many cases, crave for motivation. That pressure was on the minds of many media in Memphis last week: Would it be scary to be a Florida player at risk of losing in the Elite Eight for four straight seasons? Did Donovan need to live up to his own reputation?

"When you're a young coach, you're always in a position where you're trying to prove yourself," Donovan said. "I don't think it's any different for anybody in any job. You get a job when you're young and you get a promotion and you're young, you're going to want to prove that you can do the job and do it well.

"But for me, there's a lot I've learned as it relates to life and as it related to the drama of the NCAA tournament. ... We all want to win, and I hope we go all the way through, I'd love that. But that stuff, I probably have a lot more appreciation for now than maybe I did when I was younger."

It's that kind of calm acceptance, that low burden of proof that has Florida on the precipice of its third national title. Florida's coach has nothing to worry about besides preparing his team; his team focuses on nothing beyond the next 40 minutes. It's all of a piece.

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