If Mike Hamrick wanted to create a buzz around the Marshall basketball program, hiring a D’Antoni is a sure-fire way to do it.
Would plucking a head coach from Stephen F. Austin or Eastern Kentucky have made it to ESPN’s Bottom Line crawl? Would either of those finalists — SFA’s Brad Underwood and EKU’s Jeff Neubauer — have been trending on Twitter had they been named the Herd’s new hoops coach?
No and no. But Thursday’s hiring of 66-year-old Dan D’Antoni, a Los Angeles Lakers assistant and older brother of long-time NBA coach Mike D’Antoni, shined a Hollywood spotlight on Marshall University for one afternoon.
Like even the best of films, however, the reviews were mixed.
“Conference USA coaches are texting me at a furious rate downright giddy by the fact that Marshall hired Dan D’Antoni,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman posted to the social media website Twitter shortly after the news leaked.
The tomato tossing didn’t stop with that.
Subsequent tweets from Goodman said “everyone in NBA circles ... along with C-USA coaches — killing the hire.” CBSsports.com college hoops columnist Gary Parrish noted that Dan D’Antoni hasn’t worked on a college campus in 40 years and said one text from the NBA predicted Marshall’s hire “will be the worst thing you’ve ever witnessed.”
What rubbish. Shirtless pictures of me exist that will prove Parrish’s tweet wrong.
Here’s how this unfolded ... and why it won’t be the worst thing you’ve ever witnessed.
Six weeks ago, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick asked for coach Tom Herrion’s resignation. The moment that happened, Mullens native, Herd hoops legend and NBA coach Mike D’Antoni became the No. 1 target — no matter the realistic chances of it happening. Hamrick was going to swing for the fences while knowing he’d have to wait 35 or 40 days to wait and see on which side of the wall the ball would fall.
As part of Hamrick’s aggressive courtship of a $4 million-per-year NBA head coach, he took a four-day trip to Los Angeles to hang with his fellow West Virginia natives. Hamrick attended three Lakers practices, he attended a game, he watched film with the head coaches. He watched the D’Antoni brothers in action.
Hamrick interviewed both D’Antonis while he visited L.A.
What Hamrick apparently saw is what others who spend time around Dan D’Antoni will tell you. This isn’t a typical 66-year-old man. He has boundless energy. He connects with young people. He can teach and develop talent.
Take a look at the quotes from those who played for Dan D’Antoni when he was an assistant for the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers.
Eleven-year NBA veteran Leandro Barbosa called Dan D’Antoni a “second father.” Two-time NBA All-Star David Lee said the Herd’s new coach will “develop players on and off the court.” Steve Novak, who played for the Knicks when D’Antoni was an assistant there, called him “a teacher.”
“He’s a coach who can relate to his guys off the court but also motivate them on it,” said Novak, who now plays for Toronto. “He was a huge part of the most enjoyable year of basketball I played in my career, largely because of the style we played and the confidence he gave me.”
Dan D’Antoni turns 67 in July. The last time he coached in college, the NCAA tournament consisted of 25 teams and Bill Walton was the national player of the year. Naysayers will point to the age and the disconnect and they’ll doubt D’Antoni’s ability to recruit. Supporters will point toward D’Antoni’s decorated high school career — where he worked with young amateur players — and how he coached the NBA Summer League teams for the Knicks and Lakers — where he worked with young professional players.
He founded the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach and coached high-level talent on the AAU circuit. He’s been molding, evaluating and developing young talent since the Herd’s last coach, Tom Herrion, was only a few years old.
“The Henderson Center will be rocking with excitement,” Mike D’Antoni said of his old brother’s hire at the school where they both starred on the court.
Dan D’Antoni arrived in Huntington late Thursday and will be introduced at a press conference Friday afternoon. School officials already had to move the site of the media gathering to a larger venue because of demand.
That’s the fervor the Herd’s athletic director hopes will last longer than a stint on a crawler or a stay amongst the world’s trendiest social media topics.
Hamrick believes he found a star in L.A., even if it isn’t who he bought the ticket to see.