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Coaching in the NBA at MSG will be special experience for Billy Donovan

NEW YORK -- Billy Donovan grew up taking the Long Island Rail Road from Rockville Centre down to Madison Square Garden where he'd get a $5 ticket to watch the New York Knicks play.

In college, he played at MSG in the Big East Tournament, as a flashy point guard for the Providence Friars under Rick Pitino, and he played there briefly as a pro with the Knicks in 1987-88. He also coached at MSG when he was with the Florida Gators.

But on Tuesday, it will really come full circle for Donovan as he walks into the World's Most Famous Arena as an NBA head coach, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder against his favorite childhood team.

"I never really thought about it that way," Donovan said Monday, cracking a small smile. "I remember the first time I ever played at Madison Square Garden when I was at Providence, in the Big East tournament. You grow up as a kid going to Madison Square Garden."

Donovan is no Knicks legend. In his one season, he appeared in 44 games averaging 2.4 points and 2.0 assists a game. But he is New York basketball royalty, starring at Saint Agnes High School, then as an iconic college player leading Providence to the Final Four in 1987, and then as one of the most accomplished college basketball coaches ever with four Final Four appearances and two national championships.

So to patrol the sideline, coaching his own stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, at the arena where he grew up watching Clyde Frazier and Earl Monroe play is going to be something he cherishes.

"Growing up here in New York, watching the Knicks play quite a bit, I always thought the Garden was a special place, especially for people from New York," Donovan said. "There's just something unique about it."

Donovan's homecoming has been a tad stressful, though, with the snowstorm trapping the Thunder at their hotel on Saturday and making it difficult to get around the city. But he still had things he wanted to get to before the team takes off late Tuesday after the game.

"I either got to get to New York Deli, which would be good, or some pizza," he said. "With the snowstorm I haven't had a chance to do that, but those are two things I'd like to do."

His go-to pizza place?

"Nothing really here in Manhattan that I know of," he said. "But I would say this: Most of the pizza places in New York are OK, you can't go wrong."