West Virginia is a state of mind for Danny D’Antoni.
It’s true in every aspect, every nuance, every implication of that sentence.
D’Antoni is a West Virginian, body and soul.
I mean, he doesn’t wear that “Hillbilly Basketball” T-shirt on game days just for show.
It’s how D’Antoni lives his life.
That’s why the Mullens native has made a point of playing other collegiate basketball programs from the Mountain State every year since he became Marshall University’s head coach in 2014.
This season, there was a 100-66 exhibition win over Glenville State; a 92-59 exhibition win over nearby Rio Grande (Ohio); and an 86-50 victory over Bluefield State just last Wednesday.
That’s the norm for Marshall’s scheduling.
In 2014-15, the Thundering Herd played Concord and West Virginia Tech. In 2015-16, MU took on Bluefield State and West Virginia University. In 2016-17, the Herd played West Virginia State, the University of Charleston and West Virginia Wesleyan.
In 2017-18, in-state opponents included West Virginia Tech, West Virginia Wesleyan and Concord. And in 2018-19, MU hosted Glenville State and West Virginia Wesleyan.
It wasn’t just about wins on the scoreboard, either. It’s more about victories in life. Some people don’t understand — or, more important, don’t appreciate the fact — that D’Antoni is trying to help other collegiate basketball programs located nearby and in the Mountain State.
“We tried to get a Division I team and couldn’t do it,” said D’Antoni, explaining why MU played a regular-season game against Bluefield State. “So, if we’re going to go the other way, then I’m going to get a team that is local and help them out and help the state people out.
“I’m not going to go into Virginia or Pennsylvania or Ohio to do that. I want to do it in West Virginia. We’ve got capable West Virginia teams with good coaches. It’s beneficial for us.”
It’s a win across the board — both in the record book and the humanity book.
“There’s no question,” said D’Antoni. “Would we have liked to had a Division I team instead of Bluefield State? Yes. But when you’re talking about, ‘Does this hurt us?’ No. And it helps them and it helps us.”
In the process, it’s helping the sport of basketball in West Virginia.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here,” said D’Antoni. “I want West Virginia players — the best I can do. And we want to help West Virginia. Hey, listen, they help us. All the high school coaches help us.
“We’ve got probably who we think is the premier player in the state this year [Chapmanville High School 6-foot-9 senior Obinna Anochili-Killen] and their coaches were there with us. They know that we support them and are proud of the job they do. And I think they want to see us be successful.
“So they’re favorable with their players. We want to keep that going. A good way to do that is to play the state schools [colleges], give them a chance to be here and see what we have to offer.”
At the end of the day, D’Antoni is a West Virginia native for a reason.
“I’m a West Virginia guy,” he said. “We sang ‘Over the Hills’ every picnic growing up. Mom was a proud West Virginian and her family were proud West Virginians. It’s just inborn in me. I can’t run away from it.”
Not even on a fast break.