Donovan, Thibodeau go back a long way

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Bulls host their former coach, Tom Thibodeau, and his current team when the Knicks visit the United Center tonight.

    The Bulls host their former coach, Tom Thibodeau, and his current team when the Knicks visit the United Center tonight. Associated Press

  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan and Tom Thibodeau go way back.

    Bulls head coach Billy Donovan and Tom Thibodeau go way back. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/1/2021 1:24 PM

No one should be surprised Billy Donovan and Tom Thibodeau, a couple of intense basketball lifers who grew up in the Northeast, have a long history together.

They've faced off a few times before as NBA coaches, but Monday's game at the United Center marks the first time with Donovan coaching the Bulls and former Bulls coach Thibodeau guiding the New York Knicks.

 

Donovan started coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the season after the Bulls fired Thibodeau. So their previous matchups happened during Thibodeau's stint with Minnesota from 2016-2019.

"Oh yeah, Thibs used to come up and watch us practice when I was a player at Providence," Donovan said.

"He was a college coach back then. And then I got friendly with him because Jeff Van Gundy coached me in college, so he developed a relationship with Jeff, and then he worked with Jeff in Houston (and New York)."

Donovan played for Rick Pitino and the pair became famous for leading Providence to the Final Four in 1987. While Donovan was in college, Thibodeau coached at Salem (Mass.) State, his alma mater, and Harvard.

When Thibodeau earned the reputation as one of the NBA's best defensive coaches as an assistant to Doc Rivers with the Celtics, Donovan's relationship with Thibodeau grew. Donovan was coaching at Florida in those days.

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"I was recruiting Austin Rivers (Doc's son, who now plays for the Knicks) at the time, and I can remember going up when I was recruiting and watching Boston Celtics games, and I'd go back to Thibs' office and we'd watch film together of that night's game.

"And he was obviously there with Jeff in Houston and I'd go to Houston. A lot of the times I'd try to visit different training camps before we got started. I've known Thibs for a while. He's a great guy."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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