Ninety-nine-year-old Lewis D'Antoni tosses up the ceremonial opening tip for Buffalo's Dylan Rich and Charleston Catholic's Nick George.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ye olde (tournament) notebook:Forget the rocking chair. On Wednesday at the Civic Center, Lewis D'Antoni was the rock star.
In a perfect start to the 100th edition of the boys state basketball tournament, SSAC officials asked the 99-year-old coaching legend to toss up the ceremonial jump ball."He did it better than some of our officials," said SSAC executive director Gary Ray.Afterward, D'Antoni, father of Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, sat in the stands, wearing a Lakers jacket. To his left were son Mark, a partner for the Bowles Rice law firm in Charleston, and Don Nuckols, another state coaching legend.
"I shoulda practiced," the elder D'Antoni joked about the jump ball. "But this is great to come and be part of this, the centennial. Everybody's been so nice to me."D'Antoni coached over 450 victories at the former Mullens and Chesapeake (Ohio) high schools. His Mullens team won a state title in - take a moment to consider this - 1955.He also took teams to the state event in 1951, '52, '54 and '56. Those trips were to Morgantown and Huntington."In '56 we went back to Morgantown," D'Antoni recalled. "We lost to East Bank and Jerry West, who scored about 44. I lost a couple nights of sleep over that wondering why we couldn't stop him. But then he went to college and no one could stop him. Then he went to the NBA and no one could stop him. After that I figured maybe we did a pretty good job."
D'Antoni has fared well in all aspects of life. After coaching, he was a principal at Mullens. His sons Mike and Dan are coaching the Lakers, the latter as an assistant. Mark is a successful lawyer. Dr. Kathy Jo D'Antoni is an assistant state superintendent.The topic of Lakers basketball, though, is ever present."I was worried to start the season," Lewis D'Antoni said. "Two or three egos were getting in the way. But they're getting it straightened out, I hope."The elder D'Antoni remains sharp. And thankful.
"Basketball has been wonderful to me," he said. "To me and my family. I don't know what life would be without it.""It's funny," Ray said. "After [the jump ball], Coach thanked us for inviting him. I said, 'No, Coach, thank you.' "Indeed, for rocking the Civic Center.The debate over whether private schools should be in the tournament will never go away. Ever.
Late in Charleston Catholic's victory over Buffalo, a cheer went up from the student section."We don't recruit 'em," said it.Give Catholic's Nick George credit. The 6-foot-4 center struggled from the field (5 of 15) on Wednesday, but did get the first dunk of the tournament on a breakaway, putting the Fighting Irish up 54-40.
"I missed a lot of shots," George said, "so it was nice to be able to do that. It makes me feel less bad about how I was playing. I was slinging shots. I'm hoping to turn that around [in the semifinals] on Friday."Local attorney Rusty Webb will have a keen interest in today's Fairmont Senior-Scott matchup. Webb has two second cousins playing in the game. Kirk Price and Logan Webb are sons of two cousins.After Wednesday's exciting Woodrow Wilson-Hurricane game, Ray called the crowd "phenomenal."
"The lower level [of the Civic Center] was sold out and we're having more walk-up tickets sold," Ray said.The executive director, by the way, read this space in Wednesday's Gazette and said the boys event and Charleston are still going strong after all these years."Since I've been in office, no one else has expressed an interest in bidding [to host the tournament]," Ray said. "I know there are bigger arenas in Morgantown and Huntington, but it just wouldn't be the same."
Ray dished kudos to Charleston Mayor Danny Jones. "He and his office are always asking what they can do to help or make it better," Ray said. "They've always been proactive."These days, that's smart. Ray, however, seems more than happy with Charleston serving as host."The Civic Center is within walking distance of everything," said the executive director. "It's just the place to be."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.