HUNTINGTON — As Marshall head basketball coach Dan D’Antoni looked around the Cam Henderson Center floor on Thursday, there was one common theme.
That theme? “New.”
From the smell of the fresh lacquer and paint on the Cam Henderson Center floor to D’Antoni’s team, which featured a different look than the 2018-19 team that won a CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship in April, it was much different than the last time the team officially took the floor for drills.
There was one thing that wasn’t new, however, as D’Antoni quickly pointed out.
“Everything else can be new, but my music isn’t,” D’Antoni said. “It’s staying the same. I look forward to listening to my music.”
That was enough to make Marshall junior forward Jannson Williams shudder as he got set for the first drills of his third year with the team.
“Man, I wish I could do something about that,” Williams said of D’Antoni’s array of classics. “Sometimes, Zac Brown Band comes up on here and I’m like, ‘Okay, a little bit of Chicken Fried. Yeah, I’ll go with that.’ But this stuff? I wasn’t around when this was on. I need something else. I’ve got to get pumped up.”
While Williams is going to work on the musical selection during practice for the future, it didn’t take Marshall’s team much to get pumped up about Thursday’s official first practice at the Cam Henderson Center. Players raved about the new court design, which features the state outline at mid-court with the snorting Marco logo incorporated with the modern “M” along with a bright Kelly green paint job all the way around.
Yet they were just as excited about getting the 2019-20 season started and looking to continue a recent string of success, which has seen Marshall win 20 games in each of the last three seasons.
If this year’s team is to make it four in a row, it will do so with a new nucleus after the exit of seniors Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Rondale Watson. Elmore and Burks rank Nos. 1 and 5, respectively, all-time in points scored at Marshall while Watson was a key glue guy and respected veteran during his time with the Herd.
D’Antoni praised what those players accomplished and said they would be missed, but also was excited about seeing the progression of leadership among his returnees. That includes guys like Williams, junior point guard Jarrod West and sophomore scorer Taevion Kinsey.
“That’s going to be the measure,” D’Antoni said. “It’s not losing the points or losing a style. It’s losing their leadership. Will the next group step into that? I feel good with our leaders. West is a born leader, Jannson has been here three years now and Taevion — I include him because he got so much experience last year — he’s a great leader.”
Kinsey said he’s been waiting for this moment since the locker room celebration following the CIT title run.
“It’s been long-awaited,” Kinsey said. “That’s how I feel. Everyone has been waiting to play on this new court and get after it, so there’s plenty of excitement and a lot of great emotion. I know I’ve been on edge since the championship was over. It was like, ‘All right. Let’s go again.’ ”
One of the aspects that the 2019-20 team features that the team hasn’t in the last few years is added versatility with its lineups.
At times last season, Williams played the 4 or 5 position (power forward or center) and Kinsey even ran the 4 at times when the team went small. Now, the health of Iran Bennett, who is down to 300 pounds, and addition of 7-foot freshman Goran Miladinovic provides some unique lineup opportunities.
Due to Williams’ and Kinsey’s experience playing as bigs, the team can still go to a smaller, athletic lineup if it chooses, or it can go to a big lineup and potentially put Kinsey at a 1 or 2 [point or shooting guard] with Williams and Mikel Beyers — both 6-9 — Bennett and Miladinovic, which provides a matchup problem with length.
D’Antoni likened it to playing with a new toy, and said the onus is on the staff to figure out the best combinations. The Herd certainly has length and post presence that hasn’t been seen during D’Antoni’s tenure.
“It should be fun to watch them all mature as players,” D’Antoni said. “It almost looks small because they are all the same size. But once you stand next to them, you’re like, ‘Sheesh, they are big.’ ”
D’Antoni added that there was a fitting symmetry to the court and the lineup both changing for the 2019-20 season. Each were unveiled this week as practice opened.
“It kind of goes hand-in-hand, doesn’t it?” D’Antoni said. “Hopefully, we can help Marco out there snort his way to a championship.”