HUNTINGTON — Marshall basketball head coach Dan D’Antoni has always been a fan of jigsaw puzzles.
There is no better relaxation than cracking the box on one and sorting out the pieces.
“I’m the guy who turns all the pieces face up and gets all the border pieces,” D’Antoni said. “By the time I get home, my wife has done most of it and I’m like, ‘I did the work and you had all the fun!’ ”
His Barboursville home showcases his love for the hobby.
“I’ve got them on my walls,” D’Antoni said. “The main reception area has three hanging up as you walk in.”
While D’Antoni’s wife Vanessa may be at home having the fun, that doesn’t mean D’Antoni isn’t busy at work on his own puzzle — the 2019-20 Marshall basketball team. D’Antoni said that, so far, his interest has been in navigating how the pieces fit together.
That was his charge on Wednesday afternoon as the team took part in official scrimmages geared toward mixing lineups to see who was successful. As he scrolled through his sheet, the different combinations of guards and forwards each brought a different element to the floor.
“You look at my practice sheet when we’re scrimmaging, the last few years when I would fill it in, there would be very little change,” D’Antoni said. “Now, we’ve got all kinds of change. It’s all over the place trying to figure out the right combination because I’ve got so many more to choose from.”
The Thundering Herd’s “Green” team is considered the starters while the “White” team and “Black” team are often made up of reserves.
D’Antoni’s lineups on Wednesday featured 10 different players on Green, showing that, first, no spot is solidified in the starting lineup at this point and, second, there are several players who D’Antoni thinks are starter quality.
“I think, over the years, any of those guys would’ve started,” D’Antoni said. “That’s a good thing, but a thing you have to work through, too.”
That’s where D’Antoni’s affinity for puzzles comes in. As the team gets into its third week of practice, those pieces start to show themselves — especially in scrimmage situations like Wednesday.
D’Antoni said the influx of talent provides Marshall with more depth than it’s had in several seasons, but the staff must find what roles suit players the best in expedited fashion.
“Some people say a lot of talent is a good problem to have,” D’Antoni said. “Well, it is if you solve it. It’s not if you don’t.”
D’Antoni has been successful at solving those problems in the past, having led Marshall to three consecutive 20-win seasons, including a Conference USA Championship, NCAA Tournament win and a CIT Championship. However, the likes of Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Rondale Watson are no longer pieces on the board.
That means that D’Antoni’s puzzle to solve is much more challenging than in years past.