HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — When Dan D’Antoni was a star player for Marshall’s men’s basketball team in the 1960s, he remembers the university being a basketball school. Now that he’s the Thundering Herd’s new head coach, he wants to stir some of those echoes.
“I don’t know what happened when I left,” D’Antoni said Friday in his introductory press conference, “but (the players) are going to have to bring some of that back.”
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick announced Thursday that D’Antoni — an MU Hall of Fame point guard and an assistant on younger brother Mike D’Antoni’s Los Angeles Lakers staff — would take over as the Thundering Herd’s basketball coach, replacing Tom Herrion, who resigned on March 14.
Friday’s press conference was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Dan D’Antoni, who always wanted to be Marshall’s head coach. His eyes teared up and his voice cracked as he remembered someone else — former team physician Dr. Ray Hagley — who also wanted to see that happen. Hagley and his wife Shirley were among the victims of the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Marshall players, staff and boosters.
“He always said, ‘Danny, you’re gonna be the coach of the Herd,’” Dan D’Antoni said. “Well, here I am, Doc. I did it. I’m finally here.”
Dan D’Antoni, who played in the 1967 and 1968 NITs for the Thundering Herd, will try to help the basketball team recover from two seasons where it lost a program-worst 41 games. Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick is convinced he can lead that charge, so much that he said Friday that Dan D’Antoni made up half the group that actually was offered the job.
He refuted media reports that claimed the few days before the hire were a chaotic span where the job was offered to, declined by and rescinded from several coaches.
“There were two people that were offered this job,” Hamrick said. “Period. Two people. And they both have the same last name. And one of them is here today. … That’s the facts. I’m not sure why some things have been printed.”
During the press conference, D’Antoni jumped in front to address some issues he assumed would come up. First was that he was 66 years old, not 67.
“You’re aging me before I get there,” he said. “I do feel in pretty good health, though, and I do have a lot of energy.”
Next, he said that, while he has never been a collegiate head coach and his only college experience came as a Marshall assistant more than four decades ago, he’ll put together a staff “well-wizened” in college basketball. He also said that the differences between college hoops and pro and high school hoops, where he has coached, aren’t so vast.
“In my opinion,” he said, “and y’all tell me if I’m wrong, I think you try and keep them from putting the ball in that basket, and you try to put it in your basket, and if you do, that’ll work on all three levels that I’ve been at.”
He then addressed an issue that combined the first two, that at his age and with this lack of college experience, he was unable to relate to younger athletes. He said that, when he joined his brother’s NBA staff, he was given the younger players to tutor.
“Just call one of the players I worked for and see if I speak their language,” he said. “And I think, to the man, they’ll all tell you that I helped them in their careers as NBA players.”
Dan D’Antoni said he’ll help the Herd with a coaching style that employs furious defense that leads to turnovers and quick baskets.
“I like the fact they put 94 feet out there and we’re going to guard every inch of it,” he said. “And we’re going to make them fight for the ground all they way to their basket. And then when we get them to turn it over or we get them to take a tough shot, we’ll put it back in the other basket as quick as we can.”
Rising junior guard Chris Thomas, who was third on the team averaging 12.7 points per game, said Dan D’Antoni’s energy and coaching philosophy have him excited for what next season will bring.
“I think he’s going to be a great coach for us,” Thomas said. “I can’t wait for the next season. I feel like we need to guard better and he’s going to help us do that. We can score and we’ve got people on our team that can score.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.