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Florida Gators focus their coaching search on VCU's Grant
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By Mark Long

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Two-time defending national champion Florida hopes to have a new coach in the near future, and it could be a familiar face.

Athletic director Jeremy Foley planned to meet with Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant on Saturday, a person familiar with the search process told The Associated Press, and likely will offer him the job. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the search is ongoing.

Grant spent 12 years as one of Billy Donovan's top assistants, including 10 seasons in Gainesville. He left the Gators for VCU in 2006 - his contract pays $400,000 annually - and led the Rams to the NCAA tournament in his first season. VCU upset Duke in the opening round.

Donovan signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the NBA's Orlando Magic on Thursday, leaving Florida without a coach for the first time in more than 11 years.

The Gators expect to fill the spot quickly.

"It's going to happen as quickly as we can," school president Bernie Machen said.

Grant was the logical choice from the onset. After spending two years with Donovan at Marshall, he moved to Florida and helped turn the Gators from a mediocre program to a national powerhouse.

The 41-year-old Grant, a Miami native, was one of Donovan's top recruiters. He helped land players like Major Parker, Brent Wright, Udonis Haslem and others.

Grant also was highly respected for his motivational skills and leadership ability. Donovan thought so much of Grant that he flew him to St. Louis for the Midwest Regional and had him speak to the team before the first game.

"I think when you look at the success that we were able to have at Florida over the last 11 years, he was a very, very strong instrument in that success because he was there 10 of the 11 years I was there," Donovan said Friday. "And obviously he went on and did a great job at VCU this year and was able to advance in the NCAA tournament."

Grant also was on the court in Atlanta as the Gators celebrated their second consecutive national championship.

At VCU, Grant used an up-and-down tempo, pressing defense and a barrage of 3-pointers to lead the Rams to the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title.

"He's the same style," said Florida guard Walter Hodge, the team's leading returning scorer. "If coach Grant came back, it would be a good thing for us."

Foley said getting a coach in place quickly was imperative in hopes of preventing players and recruits - Donovan signed the consensus No. 1 class in the country this year - from trying to get out of their national letter of intent.

"This is not the first coaching transition that we've been through here," Foley said. "People's lives get disrupted, plans get changed and it's never easy. When there are coaching changes, the kids are the ones that get impacted, the ones that are here now and incoming freshmen."

Foley said he talked to most of the recruits Friday, assuring them he would hire someone to keep things rolling at Florida.

The class includes McDonald's All-Americans Jai Lucas and Nick Calathes, and forwards Chandler Parsons, Adam Allen and Alex Tyus. All the recruits have expressed support for Donovan's decision.

"It's a matter of trust and faith," Foley said. "It's uncertainty. It's uncertainty for everybody. That's part of what we're in right now. I'm confident that we'll come to a decision to hire a new coach who will quickly get in front of those players and those recruits and make them feel at ease and know that their visions and their dreams are still intact."