GAINESVILLE -- Fun fact: Billy Donovan has never beaten his coaching mentor Rick Pitino, but No. 6 Florida’s head coach also sports an unblemished record against his former protégé, Alabama coach Anthony Grant.
The Gators and Crimson Tide tangle tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Donovan is 6-0 all-time against his close friend and former head assistant, who spent 12 years (1994-2006) under Donovan at both Marshall and Florida.
Florida's coach acknowledged his uneasiness squaring off against close friends, saying, "I don't think anybody likes it, I don't like it."
Adding, "I think any time you compete against friends or somebody close to you that’s always difficult."
Grant, 95-61 in five seasons in Tuscaloosa, is under a bit of fire this year following a 8-9 start (2-2 SEC) -- this despite playing the nation's toughest schedule.
Alabama has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance under Grant, but Donovan staunchly defended his former assistant's resume with the Tide.
"I think he has done a really good job. I think if you go back, I think we played them here a couple years ago for an SEC championship game and they had a 12-4 record and an unbelievable year in the league," Donovan said. "They've been right there at the NCAA tournament the last couple of years. ... They've played the most difficult schedule of anybody in our league based on computer rankings and what other teams have done, so I don't think their record, per say, is any indication of what kind of team they are when you talk about playing at UCLA, playing at Duke, playing Wichita State, playing Xavier, playing some of the teams they've played against and it's been really challenging.
"I think Anthony has done an amazing job in a lot of respects. I will say when you do have some unexpected departure as he had from last year's team to this year's team, certainly there's some different guys and people that have to step up into different roles. But he's got a really, really good core group of young guys that will continue to get better. [Shannon] Hale, who's a freshman in the frontcourt, is going to be a great player in this league. They've got [Nick] Jacobs in the frontcourt who will be back. They've got a lot of different pieces right now, but certainly losing the one kid who transferred to NC State and then another kid who got in trouble there, those were two very, very good players, so sometimes it's hard to overcome those things. But I think Anthony, leading up to this year, really has done a terrific job, but I also think too, and we understand this as a conference and coaching, you start scheduling like that your non-conference record going into league play can look a whole lot different but maybe not tell the whole story."
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