The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 26, 2014

Home is where the Herd is

Mullens native Dan D’Antoni slips on green blazer as Marshall coach

Right after calling it a “lifelong dream,” Danny D’Antoni wasted no time in refuting the critics.

“One, I am not 67. I’m 66 years old,” he said, drawing laughter from a crowd that included his dad and sister at a Friday press conference introducing him as Marshall’s 28th head men’s basketball coach. “Let’s get that straight. You’re aging me before I get there.”

D’Antoni won’t turn 67 until July 9. On Friday, he donned the green jacket not as Masters champion, but as is customary for a new hire in the Marshall athletic department. Athletic director Mike Hamrick wore one when he was hired in 2009. Doc Holliday did the same when he was introduced as football coach later that year.

Finally, it’s D’Antoni’s turn.

“This is a dream come true for me to bring a D’Antoni back to Marshall University,” Hamrick said. “It’s where he belongs. He belongs here. It’s taken a while, but we did it.”

The search started with the target squarely on a D’Antoni, just not Danny. His younger brother, Mike, the current head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, was the coveted choice. The courtship lasted more than a month, until he informed Hamrick earlier this week that he could not take the job because of his contractual obligations to the Lakers.

So, attention swung to Danny, Mike’s assistant not only in Hollywood but also with the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks. And Hamrick had his Son of Marshall.

A 1990 inductee into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame, D’Antoni was the starting point guard on the Marshall teams that played in the NIT in 1967 and 1968. The ’67 team reached the semifinals, and D’Antoni led the tournament in assists.

As a senior, he was an All-Mid-American Conference first-team selection in 1968-69, when he led the Herd in scoring at 17.5 points per game. He was All-MAC second team his junior season.

D’Antoni is one of 49 Marshall players to score 1,000 career points (1,109), and he ranks 13th in career free-throw percentage at .774 (301-of-389).

Now he’s back home, and while a large contingent of Herd fans is happy about it, the move has been met with tons of criticism. Most of it centers around D’Antoni’s age.

But D’Antoni, whose father Lewis is 100 years old and still drives, says that won’t matter.

“I feel like I am in good health and I have a lot of energy,” D’Antoni said.

Hamrick said he recently spent four days in Los Angeles with Danny and Mike.

“After seeing the energy these guys had, I said, ‘Wow. We’ve got something here,’” Hamrick said.

Another source of criticism is that D’Antoni has never coached at the college level. He coached 30 years at Socastee High in Myrtle Beach, amassing more than 500 wins, before starting his career as an NBA assistant in 2005.

Again, D’Antoni addressed the issue head-on.

“No, I have not coached college basketball,” he said. “But I promise we will have a staff that is well-wisened in college basketball.”

The third knock on D’Antoni is that he cannot relate to young players.

“That one really mystifies me,” D’Antoni said. “First of all, I have a 16-year-old daughter (Morgan). And she’ll tell you I communicate real clear to her.”

Not being able to connect with young players is a direct contrast to concerns he met in the NBA.

“They said I couldn’t relate to the older veterans, so we will put you with the young players and let you develop them,” said D’Antoni, who coached the Knicks’ and Lakers’ summer league teams. “So I don’t know which way to go.”

D’Antoni replaced Tom Herrion, who resigned March 14 after going 67-67 in four seasons.

n n n

Hamrick also recognized former Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington, who, with Mike D’Antoni, is co-chairman of Marshall’s Vision Campaign fundraising drive. He said they hope to have a “major announcement” about the campaign in about a month.

— E-mail: gfauber

@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter

@GaryFauber.

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