The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

June 10, 2014

D’Antoni holds court at Grandview

Mullens native gets reacquainted during BAC-MU coaches tour event

GRANDVIEW — Pineville’s Heath Slater fancies himself a rock star each week on WWE Monday Night Raw or WWE Smackdown.

On Monday, that status was more befitting of Mullens native Danny D’Antoni.

Marshall’s new men’s basketball coach was among the Thundering Herd contingent on hand for the 24th annual Beckley Athletic Club for Marshall University (BAC-MU) Big Green Coaches Tour golf outing at Grandview Country Club. The event is one leg of a two-month tour that not only puts the spotlight on Marshall athletics, but also raises scholarship funds for Herd student-athletes.

D’Antoni was hired April 24 to try to elevate a program that fell on hard times the last two seasons in the face of heightened expectations. He welcomes the challenge, but is thankful to be closer to his family, including his father, 100-year-old coaching legend Lewis D’Antoni.

The chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones is one D’Antoni didn’t see much over the last 40 years.

“I’ve met a lot of people, and found Bob Short over here, who I played against when I was in Beckley,” D’Antoni said outside the Grandview pro shop. “Coach (Don) Nuckols, Donnie Bowling, Ronnie Bowling are all from Mullens. Herbie Brooks’ son (Derek). It was really good. That’s what I like. I like talking to people, especially West Virginians.”

Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick marveled at D’Antoni’s popularity.

“He’s kind of a celebrity down this way,” Hamrick said. “Everybody seems to be from Wyoming County. Mullens and Pineville and Baileysville and all those places.

“It’s just great to have a Son of Marshall home, especially a D’Antoni. That’s the first family, in my opinion, of Marshall basketball. To get Dan back and his energy that he has shown, and the excitement that he’ll bring back to the program, we’re hoping it will pay big dividends.”

Football coach Doc Holliday will take his team into a 2014 season full of expectations. But he also said D’Antoni’s hiring brings elevated optimism.

“No. 1, he’s a West Virginian,” said Holliday, a native of Hurricane. “He was a great player (at Marshall). He was a Hall of Fame player. There’s a lot of excitement about the basketball program. Everywhere we go, everybody’s glad he’s back home. I knew he was growing up but I never had an opportunity to meet him. He brings a lot of passion. His team is going to play extremely hard and be very disciplined.”

D’Antoni, 66, put together a Hall of Fame playing career with the Herd from 1966-70. He coached Marshall’s freshman team, which included his little brother Mike, one season before taking over the Socastee High team in Myrtle Beach in 1975.

He spent 30 seasons there before moving on to the NBA, where he spent nine seasons as Mike’s assistant at stops in Denver, Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles.

The knock on D’Antoni when he took the job was that he had never been a head coach at the college level and would struggle in the war that is recruiting. But he wasted no time in getting a commitment from Martinsburg’s C.J. Burks, and former Wyoming East star Brett Bowling accepted an invitation to walk on.

Serbian Aleksa Nikolic also will join the Herd.

D’Antoni also hired former Duke and Los Angeles Lakers star Chris Duhon and 20-year veteran Scott Rigot to his staff while retaining four-year Herd assistant Mark Cline, a Williamson native.

The first month-and-a-half have been good, D’Antoni said.

“The kids are working hard. I think they see that it’s a little bit of a different tempo than what they’re used to,” he said. “Most of them have accepted it. We’ve put a good coaching staff together. We’ve brought in some good players and we think we are going to add to it. Everything has been good. We’re really looking forward to things pushing forward. We’ve just got to make sure we put it on the floor this fall.”

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.

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