By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series counting down the top five local sports stories of 2012. We’ll be counting down with one story each day, culminating with the release of the top local sports story of the year on Dec. 31.
Mullens native Mike D’Antoni was named the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on November 13 following the firing of former head coach Mike Brown, after the Lakers opened the 2012-2013 NBA season with a 1-4 record.
D’Antoni signed a three-year contract, worth $12 million, with an option for a fourth year, with an NBA franchise that already had W.Va. connections in the past in state natives and WVU graduates Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West — the latter a Pro Basketball Hall of Fame member and player, coach and general manager with the Lakers.
“This is significant news to an already significant basketball history of West Virginia, Mike being hired to coach one of the most storied basketball teams in the world” said Greg White, a friend of D’Antoni, former head coach at Marshall University and himself a Mullens native.
“It’s a great opportunity for Mike and his family. He’s been very innovative with his offense in the NBA. It was a tall task, being hired five games into the season without a training camp and (himself) coming off a knee surgery. But he’ll get it going there. I’m very proud of him. Think about it. For a guy from Mullens to get to coach the Lakers - that’s unbelievable.
“I’m sure there was a huge smile on Jerry West’s face when the announcement was made,” White added.
Through Tuesday, the Lakers were 14-14 overall (13-10 under D’Antoni) and riding a five-game win streak.
In coming to LA, D’Antoni, 61, was reunited with Steve Nash, whom the coach shared the best years of his career with in Phoenix from 2003-2008.
D’Antoni had a less-than-successful stint as head coach for the New York Knicks, where he posted a 115-167 record over four seasons. He resigned as coach of the Knicks on March 14.
He was also an assistant coach for the gold medal winning Team USA in the 2012 London Olympics under Mike Krzyzewski.
The Lakers had failed to perform well under Brown, a coach known for a slashing and cutting offense, as well as a strong defense. Brown had previously coached LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers before being removed from the position following a 2010 collapse against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Playoffs.
The Lakers had long been rumored to be courting their former coach, 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson before announcing the D’Antoni hire. Jackson has since stated he was “stunned” by the move to hire D’Antoni over himself and had contacted former assistant coaches about a position on his staff. Jackson had met with Lakers Vice President Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak was also reported as having asked for a different travel schedule than the rest of the team. The legendary coach suffers from several ailments, most recently undergoing a knee replacement.
D’Antoni is known as one of the best offensive minds in all of basketball. He was given the task of maximizing all of the offensive talents the Lakers possess, including Nash, Kobe Bryan, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and their newest addition -- Dwight Howard, a team seemingly built for D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll system.
D’Antoni comes from a historic basketball family. His father, the great Lewis D’Antoni collected 450 wins in his 35 year career at Pineville, Mullens and Chesapeake High in Ohio. His older brother, “Dandy” Dan, serves as an assistant coach on the Lakers staff.
D’Antoni had a stellar college career playing for Marshall University in the 70’s. His number 10 was retired by the Thundering Herd in 2009. He was drafted by the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in the 2nd round of the 1973 NBA Draft and spent three seasons there. He would go on to play for the Spirits of St. Louis of the now defunct American Basketball Association for one season before returning to the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs for two games. D’Antoni then spent the following 12 seasons playing for Olimpia Milano in Italy.