, Florida (PressExposure) May 05, 2009 -- Even though the University of Florida has been more known for its football program, the basketball program has made strides to become one of the most premier programs in the nation. Since Billy Donovan took over the program in the mid-1990s, the team has become one of the most premier programs in all of college basketball. Since 2000, they have played in three championship games, winning two of those. They also became the first team since Duke in 1991 and 1992 to repeat as National Champions. Donovan has done a great job of turning this team around in the short time that he has been head coach.
Billy Donovan took over the Florida program before the 1996-97 season and was a coach who was known to be a great recruiter when he was at Marshall; he was expected to accomplish the same, especially in a much better drawing state in Florida. Donovan was very quick to bring some of the brightest high school stars to Florida and started building what would become a basketball dynasty. Donovan was able to bring in highly touted players, such as Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem, and Matt Bonner. These three would lead the Gators to the 2000 national championship game beating more touted teams along the way, such as Duke, Illinois, and North Carolina. However, they lost in the championship game to Michigan State, but the seeds had been planted for this team to explode into the national powerhouse they are today.
After that championship game appearance, the team would go to the tournament every season but would not get past the first weekend of games and this upset Coach Donovan, who turned up the effort on his recruiting and was able to assemble a who-who's of All-American talent. In 2005-06, the team was not expected to do much as they had lost three players to the NBA that made up 60% of the offense and they were led by a lot of young freshman. However, the team started the season 17-0, which is a school record. The team tapered off towards the end, but the young legs were able to stay fresher longer and they were able to make it to the Final Four again. In the Final Four, they beat George Mason to make it to their second championship game appearance, and in the championship, they beat UCLA to win the program's first ever national championship. The following season they returned all the starters from their national championship team and were picked by many publications to repeat as champions. That is exactly what Florida did, as they were able to claim a Number 1 seed in the tournament and went on to beat Ohio State in the national championship game to claim their second straight title.
The team has reloaded since then and they returned to the NCAA tournament again in 2008-09 after a one year layoff; however the team is once again loaded with a lot of young talent and look to be primed again for a return to the Final Four and beyond. As long as Donovan is leading this team, the Florida Gators will have no problem remaining one of the elite basketball programs in the country.