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Rick Pitino-Billy Donovan: All in the family

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Updated: April 25, 2012 8:10AM

PHOENIX — Family affairs are common in college basketball, but the well-documented relationship between Louisville coach Rick Pitino and Florida coach Billy Donovan, who played for Pitino’s Final Four team at Providence in 1987, goes beyond the court.

‘‘We have a very unique relationship,’’ Pitino said Friday. ‘‘I still call him ‘Billy the Kid.’ We’re constantly thinking about each other. We really, truly love each other. He’s like a son to me.’’

And if Donovan’s seventh-seeded Gators defeat Pitino’s fourth-seeded Cardinals on Saturday in the West Regional final?

‘‘If we were playing team X and we lost, I’d be devastated but professionally respectful,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘But personally, I would be very happy that Billy would be going to the Final Four.’’

To understand that, realize that Pitino already has experienced the kind of joy a father would feel in seeing Donovan succeed with two national championships.

‘‘When we won [with Kentucky in 1998], I was really happy,’’ Pitino said. ‘‘But when Billy won [the first of two straight in 2006], I was sitting in the stands in Indianapolis, and he was on the court with everyone gathering around, and he started waving me down from the stands. I didn’t want to go. I started crying, and I was hugging him so people wouldn’t see me crying. I felt better about him winning than when I won.’’

Pitino’s son Richard, now the associate head coach of the Cardinals, grew up idolizing Donovan, Pitino admits — so much so that he left Louisville to work for Donovan in April 2009 for two years.

‘‘When I hired Richard, there was a picture his mom sent,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I was playing at Providence and I was in his house and it was Richard and his brothers — and Richard is sitting on my lap like 3 or 4 years old. And it’s just ironic that I hired him.’’

Richard is back at his father’s side now, and while genealogy might lead him to be the next Pitino head coach, the father knows Richard probably will be more like Donovan than himself.

‘‘He’s a carbon copy of Billy,’’ Rick Pitino said. ‘‘He’s not like me at all when I was his age. Richard idolized Billy growing up. He’s patterned his teaching style after Billy.’’

Their similarities don’t necessarily mean mirror-image teams will be facing each other at U.S. Airways Center.

‘‘Florida has some different sets than we do,’’ Cardinals junior guard Peyton Siva said. ‘‘They like to get up and down and shoot threes. Coach P coached [Donovan] so you might see some [similarities], but it is different.’’

Both teams will have motivation from stumbles in the postseason last year. For Florida, it was a 74-71 loss in the regional final to Butler. For Louisville, it was a loss in the Big East championship game to Connecticut and then a second-round NCAA upset by Morehead State.

‘‘We were so close last year, and so close doesn’t really cut it,’’ Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. ‘‘For us to get back in this position, I’m happy for our team. We’re ready to play.’’

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