In some ways, it was a typical high school basketball game. Passes sailed wildly. Refs missed calls. The smell of popcorn filled the gym as cheerleaders stomped on the bleachers.
But there was nothing typical about the two coaches on the sideline.
On one bench, former Gator walk on Billy Donovan was trying to get his St. Francis High team to settle down against a relentless press. On the other bench, former Gator guard Teddy Dupay was begging for his Cambridge Christian squad to share the basketball more on offense and play together.
In the end, Donovan’s Wolves held on for a 73-64 win over Dupay’s Cambridge Christian team at St. Francis High in Gainesville. St. Francis made 10 3-pointers, enough scoring to hold off a furious Cambridge Christian comeback attempt. Down 65-36 at the end of the third quarter, Cambridge Christian outscored St. Francis 27-9 in the final 8 minutes.
“Scary,” Donovan said. “They played 94 or 92 feet, ran and jumped. We were a little short-handed tonight, but I give credit to our guys because they found a way to win. Cambridge Christian didn’t quit. We learned from this game. We’ll get better from it.”
Both Donovan and Dupay are in their first seasons of coaching varsity high school basketball. Donovan’s St. Francis squad is 15-6, while Dupay’s Cambridge Christian team is 14-8. Dupay played for Donovan’s father, former Gator and current Oklahoma City Coach Billy Donovan, and helped lead the Gators to a Final Four appearance in 2000. The two arranged the matchup last summer when they met in Orlando during an NBA summer league event. Next year, St. Francis will play at Cambridge Christian in Tampa.
Both Dupay and Donovan said they’ve learned that coaching at the high school presents different challenges.
“It’s just hard dealing with high school kids,” Dupay said. “It’s hard. Kids will get better. We’re young. I think one of the hardest things too is when kids leave what you are doing … in college, you kind of control the environment, you’re in the dorm, you’re with each other, but you can still always move forward.
“Here, I think when you leave the setting, they go home and it’s some AAU coach thinking they’re the number one draft pick, don’t worry about your school, you’re only going to have to go to college one year, you’re so good, make sure you don’t play for another AAU team, play with mine, so they fill these kids up with a bunch of stuff that isn’t real life. So you are now battling trying to teach them the right things.”
Said Donovan, who was a walk-on on UF’s last Final Four team in 2014: “Just trying to connect to kids. Trying to put them in positions where they can be successful. Trying to hold the standard of the culture of the program that I want to build and our assistant wants to build. Trying to fight for it and defend it every single day. We were short-handed tonight because we had some guys that were serving some suspensions. Hopefully this wakes some guys up knowing that they could have been used.”
Like his dad, Donovan gives his team the green light to shoot 3-pointers.
“We love 3s,” Donovan said. “If you’re open, shoot it. I just feel like kids like playing in that kind of environment where they have a little bit of freedom to kind of just go play. That’s how they learn, that’s how they build an IQ and at the same time that’s the kind of system they like to play in. So we try to promote it.”