Marshall athletics undergo reformation

Most people are forgetting one important fact about Marshall University’s proposed new baseball field.

The project isn’t just about baseball.

When Marshall’s Board of Governors voted in favor of the proposal it included $3-6 million earmarked for the renovation of Gullickson Hall. The project is supposed to turn the old gym, which was built in 1961, into an updated practice facility complete with offices for the coaches and locker rooms.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that.

The basketball part of the project wasn’t even mentioned in stories about a $28 million bid that was rejected for being too expensive. Subsequent stories about problems with the site for the new baseball field and the delays it would create, also seemed to forget about the basketball phase of the project.

But one person hasn’t forgotten.

Danny D’Antoni.

“We need to keep building this brand of Marshall basketball and get this to a real high level,” said the Thundering Herd’s veteran head coach. “It’s not there yet. We got one team into kind of where I would like to be all the time [the 2017-18 team won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament].

“But we have to do some things here, supporting the program. How you get support for the program is having fans come and be happy. Then you seem to be able to get management to move on things that you have to do to put this program at another level.”

Leading Conference USA in overall attendance for the first time ever during the 2019-20 season was a strong step in that direction.

“For basketball, it has been a long time if you think about it,” said D’Antoni. “I think the last major investment was $3 million — I’d say over $3 million is where I would consider major — was in 1981 when they built the ‘Cam’ [Cam Henderson Center].

“That was a $30 million budget that they built it for 18 [million]. Guess what you get? We haven’t done that and we are lacking in the look and feel of a program that can sustain that.”

That’s why the new practice facility is included in the baseball field project.

“Hopefully,” said D’Antoni with a grin, “we’re going to get this practice facility where we can get up more free throws. Where we can have five or six baskets instead of two. We won’t be practicing in the Rec Center [MU Recreation Center] before games.

“People don’t know that. It chips away at your program. We’ve got to show how — before I leave — to get that solved, so this program ... that facility would really help Marshall University. It’s a chance ... mid-majors can play. And our budget is decent. It got bumped a bit.”

It’s why D’Antoni truly believes Marshall could rank among the top NCAA mid-major programs, such as Gonzaga, Dayton, San Diego State, Creighton and Wichita State.

“Gonzaga,” said D’Antoni, mulling over the name. “There’s no reason why MU [couldn’t be like] Gonzaga or Dayton — any of those mid-majors that I can name who can compete nationally.

“A lot of games are won by what the program looks like before you even throw up the opening tip. I think we have to realize that and get behind this. That’s what the fans can do. Just keep supporting it and see if we can’t move this program forward and get us to where we can count Marshall as a national type of name and brand.”

Since the proposed new baseball field has been delayed for at least a year and a half or, perhaps, two years, a step in the right direction would be to utilize the existing funds and move forward with the Gullickson renovation.

Progress is progress.

Why not make it sooner rather than later?