HUNTINGTON — New Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni had a message for those who wondered if someone who coached in the NBA and high school — yet not in college since 1971 — could thrive in today’s college basketball environment.
“In my opinion,” he said at his introductory press conference Friday, “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.”
D’Antoni got a bit more detailed in his coaching philosophies deeper into Friday’s press conference, giving those in attendance an idea of what to expect on the court during the 2014-15 season. One thing he made clear to both fans and players: Next season’s version of the Thundering Herd had better be well-conditioned.
“We’re going to defend, probably full-court,” he said. “We’re going to run. We’re going to give you an entertaining style of basketball. And when you say ‘entertaining,’ the first thing everybody wants to jump on is, ‘Well, that’s entertainment. You can’t win.’ We’re going to win games with it.”
Some of the philosophies will come from his nine-year stint as an NBA assistant with his younger brother, Mike. Some will come from his 30-year career as head coach at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he lead that team to more than 500 wins. Some will come from his career as a standout point guard at Marshall from 1966-70.
While starring for the Herd, he played on the “Ironman Five” teams that reached the 1967 and 1968 NITs, and was nicknamed that because, he said, the five who started the game didn’t come out. Even then, that fast-paced style worked.
“I never got tired,” D’Antoni said. “We pressed. We ran.”
Starting with the Phoenix Suns, Mike and Dan D’Antoni tended to employ smaller, more athletic lineups, as chronicled in a recent story on the Los Angeles Lakers’ official website. With the Suns, they used Shawn Marion as a “stretch-four” — essentially a small forward playing the “four” spot rather than a traditional power forward — and Amare Stoudemire at center. That carried over to the Lakers, when Ryan Kelly or Wesley Johnson would play the stretch-four and Pau Gasol or Chris Kaman would play center.
In that story, Dan D’Antoni said, rather than call it “small ball,” it should be called “skill ball,” putting a team’s five best players on the floor and finding positions for them.
At Marshall, he said he expects all his players, both big and small, to be athletic and versatile.
“I will not have a 6-9 guy, just because he’s 6-9, turn his back to the basket and shoot 50,000 jump hooks,” he said. “I will expect him to dribble, pass, shoot, play, defend. He’ll defend big guys, little guys, I don’t care. When that happens, then you have a good basketball player, and they start fulfilling their dreams.”
Marshall forward Ryan Taylor was happy to hear that. The 2013-14 edition of the Herd basketball team often played with an undersized lineup. Injuries and ineligibility often robbed Marshall of its tallest players. There was an eight-game stretch in the middle of the season where former coach Tom Herrion employed a starting lineup of 6-foot-1 point guard Kareem Canty, 6-4 guard DeVince Boykins, 6-5 guard Chris Thomas, the 6-5 Taylor and 6-7 forward TyQuane Goard.
Marshall’s tallest player, little-used 7-2 center Yous Mbao, graduated, leaving a lineup that Taylor feels could fit with D’Antoni’s way of thinking.
“We’re still not that big and I think everyone on our team is interchangeable pieces,” the rising sophomore said. “We’re just ready, as he said, to get up and down the floor and put the ball in the basket.”
Rising senior forward Cheikh Sane is one of the 6-9 members of Marshall’s roster. He said he can’t wait to learn from a coach with NBA experience, and is ready to become that versatile player that would succeed in that system.
“I was wishing to have a guy who could improve my game,” he said. “I know I’m not perfect. I’m really excited to work with him. He’s from the league and he has a lot of experience with NBA players. We’ve got to make sure to listen to him and be ready to work with him.”
As for whether Dan D’Antoni’s coaching beliefs would work at the college level, he offered an example of a team who put together a very good run this past season.
“If you watch Wichita State, that’s all our stuff,” he said of the Shockers, which won 35 straight games and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national runner-up Kentucky in the round of 32. “Can it work? Yeah, it can work. It’s the same thing. Again, it’s putting it in the basket and stopping the other team. That’s as about as simple as it gets and that’s about as simple as it is.”
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.