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December 17, 2013

HOOPS: Donovan Unplugged

GAINESVILLE -- No. 16 Florida (7-2) plays No. 15 Memphis (7-1) at Madison Square Garden in New York City tonight (9 p.m., ESPN) in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.

For UF coach Billy Donovan -- born and raised in Long Island -- it’s another special trip to New York.

Donovan competed at MSG as the point guard for Providence in the Big East tournament during the mid-1980's, and he also played his lone season in the NBA with his beloved hometown Knicks.

Bleacherreport.net(Courtesy bleacherreport.net)

Monday, Donovan dished on his favorite memories inside the historic arena, his brief relationship with Jim Valvano, the famous ESPY speech and more.

On the Jimmy V Foundation…

 “I think in some way or another all of us here have been affected by cancer one way or another.  Whether it’s a family member, a friend, someone close to us has been affected by cancer. I think the fact they have done the V Foundation an enormous job raising money for cancer research. And the money is going to cancer research. I think being involved with Dick Vitale in Sarasota for that event every year to raise money, their main fundraiser in May. I’ve had a chance to go down there several years to be part of that. I knew [Valvano] a little bit. I knew him a little bit, obviously being from New York. He coached at Iona. … It wasn’t like this close relationship, but I obviously knew him. I think right when I got into coaching was right about the time when he started to move into the booth and he was doing ESPN stuff.”

On Valvano’s speech…

“It was very, very powerful and moving. …It’s really, really very motivational. I think a lot of times in a lot of things when you’re at that point in time where you realize that that part of your life is going to be terminal, the cancer part is going to be terminal. I think probably a totally different perspective on what’s really valuable and important in life. I think when he talked about laughing, crying and thinking, those are probably three good things that all of us probably need to do every single day emotionally.”

On special memories inside Madison Square Garden… 

“I was a kid that being in elementary school, high school, would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go into Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the rafters. … It’s definitely special. There’s just something special about it to me. And I think for some of our guys, they really don’t understand that part of it. A guy like Casey Prather has never been to New York. There’s guys on our team that have never been to New York City.”

On dreaming about playing for the Knicks…

 “It was a great story I told somebody. When I was like in fifth or sixth grade, they used to have this sporting goods store. They had these shirts that had a picture of an NBA player. It was a mug shot and like an action shot. And growing up, I loved the Knicks and I loved Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. I loved those backcourt guys. My mother took me down to get one of these shirts, a big thing back then. And I think I got a picture, the shirt of Walt Frazier. I said to my mother do you still think Walt Frazier will be playing when I make it to the Knicks. You know, so you think about how crazy it is to just say that and actually have the opportunity to do that.”

More on MSG…

“I can remember going into Madison Square Garden for the ECAC Holiday Festival when St. Johns would play. I can still remember to this day vividly going into a doubleheader and watching Mark Aguirre as a sophomore playing for DePaul, and DePaul was ranked No. 1 in the country. I remember watching Louisville in the Garden when they had Darrell Griffith and that team that won the (1980) national championship. I remember watching Wichita State with Antoine Carr and Aubrey Sherrod and those guys. So there were some great things. Basketball back then was really, really good. St. Johns was great at that time. Just seeing the inception of the Big East and the Big East Tournament and all those things. That’s kind of what I grew up around and in the game of basketball. The one mainstay of all that, the Big East, the Knicks and everything was Madison Square Garden. That was the one place I think you always dreamed about playing in.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

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