Bulls coach Donovan recalls his college years, filled with three-a-day practices with Pitino

Billy Donovan said he chose to go to Providence because of coach Joe Mullaney.

Mullaney was a former NBA and ABA head coach who led the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1970 Finals loss to Willis Reed and the New York Knicks.

Two years after Donovan arrived on campus, Mullaney left and was replaced by Rick Pitino. Donovan called Pitino the most influential person in his life.

Pitino's name was brought up before a recent Bulls game, since the veteran coach is returning to the Big East with St. John's. Donovan delivered a long description of college basketball life in the 1980s, before any time restrictions were implemented by the NCAA. It's an interesting tale in this age of load management in the NBA.

"There was no 20-hour workweek," Donovan said. "We practiced three times a day, every day. I can count maybe on one hand days we had off. We would go double sessions on Saturdays, triple sessions on Sundays.

"We'd have player development, skill work in the morning for an hour in between classes. We would come back and practice for 2½ hours, we'd have study hall, then after study hall, we'd go back into the gym and we'd either have scouting report, free throw, shooting drills, dummy offense script. It was that way every day."

The hard work paid off for Donovan. During his first two years with Mullaney as coach, he averaged 2.3 and 3.2 points per game. By his senior season, Donovan averaged 20.6 points, 7.1 assists and led Providence to the Final Four.

"I love the game and I was very blessed and fortunate that (Pitino) came into Providence my junior year, because if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have experienced the things I got a chance to experience during my playing career," Donovan said. "But I do think with the way the rules are set up now, it's probably taken away, in my opinion, the ability for guys to really develop and grow."

The Providence coaching staff had an all-star cast of assistants, including Jeff Van Gundy, Stu Jackson and Herb Sendek. Donovan got his start in coaching under Pitino at Kentucky.

It was a different time, when star players typically stayed in school for four years and transfers were rare.

"There was no load management there, we didn't even stretch," Donovan said. "Three O'clock practice started, you were expected to be loose and it went. It's just kind of the way it was.

"We were always in the gym. I loved it, but that would not fly in today's college basketball world."

Injury report:

The Bulls didn't practice Thursday before they flew to Portland for a quick three-game West Coast swing. On the official injury report, DeMar DeRozan (right quad strain) and Alex Caruso (sore foot) are listed as questionable, and Javonte Green (knee) probable for Friday's game against the Blazers.

DeRozan left the floor in the third quarter of Wednesday's lopsided loss to Philadelphia. The Bulls didn't lose any ground in the standings, though, since Atlanta, Toronto and Washington all lost.

With just 10 games left in the regular season, this trip will be vital to the Bulls' play-in chances. There's been talk in Portland about cashing it in, but the Blazers won in Utah on Wednesday. The Bulls follow with two games at the Staples Center against the Lakers and Clippers. LeBron James and Paul George are not expected to play due to injuries.

Twitte: @McGrawDHSports

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Former co-captain of the Providence College Friars basketball team Billy Donovan, left, chats with a former coach of the team, Rick Pitino, in Providence, R.I., in this May 11, 2007 file photo, at a 20th-anniversary celebrations of the 1986-87 team's trip to the Final Four. Donovan recently recalled gruelling practice sessions under Pitino with no time constraints. Associated Press
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