There is a “home run recruit” lurking in the coaching search in Kentucky.


College basketball

The Kentucky men's basketball job isn't even officially open yet.

And the no’s are piling up.

But lurking in the starting blocks is a “home run reliever” who also isn’t an official free agent yet.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan is considered a “home run rookie” and “opening hopeful” for the Wildcats, according to ESPN's Pete Thamel.

“There is one name that stands out above all, and that is Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan, who was obviously an assistant under Rick Pitino.” Thamel said before UConn's victory over Purdue in the national title game on Monday. “He’s the Hail Mary recruit, he’s the home run recruit. He’s the one who’s going to make Kentucky say no.”

Other top dream candidates like UConn coach Dan Hurley, Alabama coach Nate Oats and former Villanova coach Jay Wright, now a CBS broadcaster, have all publicly stated they will not relinquish their respective roles.

Coming to Kentucky is one of the most important jobs in the sport and comes with great expectations.

John Calipari won many but not enough in the NCAA tournament at Kentucky, and he felt unwanted at school as fans were angry with him after another early tournament exit.

Dan Hurley ruled out a move to Kentucky. Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY NETWORK

Through a close relationship with John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, Calipari decided to leave the Bluegrass State and travel to Arkansas.

Kentucky rightly feels it can attract a top candidate, but that doesn't mean anyone and everyone will abandon their current positions.

Oats recently signed a contract extension with Alabama and is choosing to stay there, while Hurley, a Jersey City native, made it clear that his wife, Andrea, would rather live in Connecticut than Lexington.

Nate Oats said he is staying in Alabama. AP

Wright, who left Villanova before the NIL's promotion, has a cushy television job and said Monday night that he would not be a candidate.

That leaves Donovan as a potential top option, assuming he wants to return to the college ranks and the Bulls let him opt out of his contract early.

According to NBC, Donovan is still under contract with the Bulls for two years.

Jay Wright said he won't take the Kentucky job. Adam Cairns/USA TODAY NETWORK

But with the Bulls (37-41) headed toward their third losing season in four years, it's not unreasonable to think a split would be best for everyone involved.

But the caveat is that the Bulls have qualified for the play-in tournament, where they will face the Hawks in a 9-10 game.

While it would be foolish to bet on the Bulls, they technically have a chance to win the title.

Billy Donovan is considered the leading candidate to open at Kentucky. AP

The play-in tournament begins April 16, meaning Kentucky would have to wait at least a week before potentially moving forward with Donovan.

Donovan has had tremendous success at the collegiate level, including Florida's last back-to-back championship run in 2006-07 until Hurley and the Huskies did it on Monday night.

“I think you have to start with a dream candidate list, and at the top of that list is Bulls coach Billy Donovan.” Thamel said in a separate segment before the Huskies' 75-60 win. “The initial reading there is that Donovan's response is likely to be the same as it has been for the last half dozen or so years when college jobs called and Billy said, 'No thanks, I'm happy in the NBA.' . The timing isn't working out well for Donovan, the Bulls are in the play-in game to get into the NBA playoffs…That's a long time from today if you want to wait to talk to Billy Donovan.”

Thamel added that if Kentucky can't sign Donovan, Baylor's Scott Drew could be the “most realistic” option because of his affordable acquisition.

Drew is an excellent recruiter and won the 2021 national championship with the Bears.

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