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Billy Donovan seriously interested in leaving Gators for NBA, sources say

Billy Donovan is leaning strongly toward taking the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching job, according to sources in both the pro and college game.

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Donovan has left little doubt he's seriously interested in the prospect of making the move now to the NBA to succeed Scott Brooks, who was ousted by the Thunder one week ago after a trip to the NBA Finals and two other trips to the Western Conference finals in his seven seasons as Thunder coach.

ESPN.com first reported early Wednesday that the Thunder had formally opened an advanced dialogue about their vacant coaching job with Donovan, who has been widely tipped as a favorite to succeed Brooks from the moment the job opened.

One source close to the situation went so far as to tell ESPN.com that "the job is Donovan's to lose" at this point. Another source said Wednesday that the rising expectation in Gainesville is that Donovan "is as good as gone."

Neither Donovan nor Thunder general manager Sam Presti could immediately be reached for comment, with sources saying Donovan has essentially stepped out of public view this week as he enters the final deliberation stages about whether or not to accept the position.

ESPN.com reported in early April that there was a growing sense among NBA executives that Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, is more ready to make the jump to the NBA than he ever has been. He also has a longstanding close relationship with Presti, who has hired two members of Donovan's staff at Florida within the past 12 months to take positions with Oklahoma City -- Mark Daigneault as coach of the Thunder's D-League team and Oliver Winterbone as a data analyst.

Despite his lack of NBA coaching experience, Donovan is said to appeal to Presti as a candidate because of their similarly meticulous approaches to the job. Presti speaks often of the Thunder's culture and making every move with that culture in mind. With two of his former assistants already there and a relationship with Presti already established, Donovan would appear to be the best available fit for that culture.

Donovan recently rehired Anthony Grant, a former Florida assistant and Alabama head coach, but a number of sources said Donovan could easily take him with him to the NBA.

Sources said Donovan had been recruiting for 2015-16 and beyond for the past few weeks while deciding on what to do next. Florida lost two early entrants to the NBA draft in Chris Walker and Michael Frazier II. Also, Eli Carter announced that he would seek a transfer and play immediately after graduating next month.

The Gators missed the postseason after reaching the Final Four in 2014 and competing in their third straight Elite Eight. The Gators won the national title in 2006 and '07 under Donovan.

He briefly was the head coach of the Orlando Magic, accepting the job in 2007, only to go back to the Gators a few days after his news conference. He had a five-year penalty of not being able to coach in the NBA in order to get out of his Magic contract.

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who won two national championships under Donovan at Florida, believes he will be a very good NBA coach.

"[He's a] great coach," Noah said after Wednesday's practice. "I love coach Donovan and I wish him nothing but the best ... I think he's going to be great."

Information from ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell was used in this report.

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