Marshall University Athletics Director Mike Hamrick famously went to Los Angeles last year having the intentions of landing then Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni away as the new Herd basketball coach.
But he ended up getting another D’Antoni — younger brother Dan — a Mullens native and former basketball player with the Herd from 1966-70.
He was the Thundering Herd’s starting point guard from 1968-70 and led the Herd with a 17.5 scoring average in 1968-69. In 1990, he was inducted into the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame.
Dan D’Antoni returned to Marshall last year to coach the Herd, 43 years after being a Marshall assistant coach during the 1970-71 season.
He led Marshall to an 11-21 overall record a season ago, including a 7-11 mark in Conference USA but many feel D’Antoni will put the Herd on the right track in the years to come.
D’Antoni spoke last week during the annual Marshall Big Green Coaches Caravan last week at the Logan Country Club.
“It’s good to be back in the mountains that look like the mountains where I grew up in where the sun comes up a 10 and sets at 2,” said the 67-year-old D’Antoni. “They took me down the new road from Charleston down the four lane. It must be nice to have the governor from around here. I really enjoy coming back here. This is where I always considered home. Huntington is home but this is even more home.”
D’Antoni said he’s proud to be back at Marshall.
“Marshall University is the university of southern West Virginia,” he said. “It’s been good to us. We’ve had eight or nine of our family members go there. It’s been good to me this past year.”
He also praised Logan’s Jim Davidson, a former standout hoop player with the Herd and Marshall Hall of Famer, who was in attendance.
“He was one of the best and he probably could pool better than anybody that I know,” D’Antoni joked.
Marshall basketball will again have a local flavor with Logan’s Stevie Browning on the team. Browning sat out last season after playing two years with Division II Fairmont State. On the Marshall women’s basketball team will be incoming freshman Shayna Gore of Logan.
“I want to recognize Stevie Browning,” D’Antoni said. “He practiced with us this whole last year. We’re looking for outstanding things there.”
D’Antoni said he’s looking forward to the new season.
“I was proud of this team. We had four kids who sat out that did not play,” he said. “We had a good recruiting class. We have seven West Virginians that are on the team. We do want you to invest. We’re going to continue to work and there’s work still yet to be done in the basketball program. We’re going to need your support and help, so that in March when you are watching TV, the greatest moneymaker in sport, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, you’ll see where Marshall is going to be playing. That’s my goal. I don’t have long because I am getting older.”
D’Antoni said his team will be much improved.
“I really feel good about next year. They are working hard,” he said. “We have a great staff. One of my assistants is Coach (Mark) Cline who is from Williamson. He’s a southern West Virginia guy and has a good name in basketball. I told him when I hired him that he’s from southern West Virginia and we’re probably kin somewhere.”
D’Antoni recalled he high school days when he was recruited by Marshall.
Well, sort of.
“When I was at Mullens we were playing Pineville and nobody was recruiting me. I was skinny,” D’Antoni said. “Nobody came down to see me play but we were playing Pineville and they had a player named Dallas Blankenship who was 6-2, a High School All-American and averaged 33 points a game. We were playing them. After the game I was sitting down in the locker room and Ellis Johnson came to see me. I said, ‘Who is that?’ They said, ‘That’s the Marshall coach.’ He came over and said he had come down to see Dallas Blankenship but he wanted me to come to Marshall and be the point guard. It worked out well for me. I hope that it works out this time.”
D’Antoni also talked about Logan’s Mullens connection, former basketball coach Willie Akers.
“Logan wasn’t anything until they got Willie Akers from Mullens to come and help you out,” he joked.
D’Antoni coached 30 years at Socastee High School from 1975-2005 then was an assistant coach with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the New York Knicks and the LA Lakers.
“I didn’t want to come back to Marshall and disappoint anyone, so we’re going to give you our very best,” he said.