WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Mike D’Antoni is back on an NBA sideline.
Well, sort of.
The Mullens native and former Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers head coach was a fixture at the six practices the New Orleans Pelicans had at The Greenbrier last week, watching the action, with notepad in hand, just feet from the coaches.
His presence wasn’t surprising. The former second-round NBA Draft pick out of Marshall now calls The Greenbrier home, having lived there since he resigned from the Lakers in April of 2014. He also has a close connection with Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, a former D’Antoni assistant in Phoenix.
“It’s been great, for me especially, to come over every day, two steps from the house, and watch this,” said D’Antoni Friday, after the Pelicans wrapped up their final training camp practice prior to today’s first preseason game in Indiana against the Pacers. “It’s been fun.”
Of course a guy who’s coached 12 seasons in the NBA, winning 455 games and twice reaching the conference finals, hasn’t been able to just sit and watch. D’Antoni was evaluating everything he saw, and Gentry was more than happy to listen to his former boss’ advice.
“I talk to Mike about everything,” said the Pelicans’ first-year coach, who was an assistant last season for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and has been a head coach in the past with the Heat, Pistons, Clippers and Suns. “I’ve been talking to Mike since the day I became a head coach in Phoenix. He’s a very, very knowledgeable guy and a really good friend of mine. I trust him with what he tells me. I think he’s a very good basketball coach and should be in our league right now.”
D’Antoni admitted he still has a desire to get back in the NBA, but he also said he’s in no hurry. His role for the Pelicans this week filled his need to be around the game just fine.
“I can see problems and go home and not worry about them,” he laughed. “(Gentry) has to go worry about them. It’s kind of relaxing. But there’s nothing better than being with a group of good guys. That’s what he has in New Orleans, and that gives you a chance.
“I like to coach, and you evaluate everything that comes up,” he continued of his future in the game. “If it comes up, it comes up. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m a pretty happy guy. I just try to be involved as much as I can, and we’ll see where the future heads.”
The break from the game hasn’t been a negative for D’Antoni. In fact, being back in the Mountain State might have been what he needed.
“It’s not good, it’s great,” he said. “It’s the best. The people are genuine. They’re super. You have to be really proud of the job Jim Justice has done with The Greenbrier. It’s a special place to live. To be able to be near Marshall, where my brother (Dan D’Antoni) is the head coach, and be near my dad (legendary high school coach Lewis D’Antoni) and family has been great.”
D’Antoni said he still regularly talks basketball with his 102-year-old father, who won more than 450 games and a state championship at Mullens High School, and whether it’s chatting with fellow Greenbrier resident Jerry West, traveling home to basketball-crazed Wyoming County or checking out practices at Greenbrier East, there’s always a way to satisfy his basketball fix.
“It’s always fun to watch basketball, said the member of the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame. “The high school level is great. You see a lot of kids that just love to play the game, and you catch their enthusiasm.
“It’s always been a very good basketball state,” he continued. “When you’ve got the logo of the NBA (West) from your state, it’s pretty good. We’ve had some great moments, and there will be some in the future. There have been some great players come out of here, for sure.”
Great players is also what D’Antoni saw on the floor inside The Greenbrier Indoor Tennis and Recreation Center this week, and he feels good about the Pelicans chances this season.
“They’re real good,” he said. “They’re young, so they’ll have some bumps. But they’ll have a shot. They have all the pieces. They have a lot of weapons, and they’ve got one of the best players in the NBA in Anthony Davis. They have a great point guard in Jrue Holiday… I don’t want to leave somebody out, because there’s a lot of great players on this team. Dell Demps, the general manager, has done a great job of assimilating a good group of high character, good players.”
And D’Antoni said he believes Demps as also put the right man in charge.
“He’s just a very knowledgeable basketball guy,” he said of Gentry. “He’s got a great personality, and people really like him. He’s classy, and he’s seen everything. He’s coached under a lot of people, coached a lot of people and is a very good coach.”