D’Antoni talks good game … and he coaches one too

Marshall University basketball coach and longtime Grand Strand hoops guru Dan D’Antoni made history on Saturday by leading the Thundering Herd to their first Conference USA Tournament championship and his alma mater’s first invitation to the NCAA Tournament since 1987.

The  Herd’s 67-66 victory over Western Kentucky was in part a result of his coaching abilities that honed during his 30-year coaching career at Socastee High. The win was sweet vindication for a coach who has had to defend his “3-first” philosophy. In tribute to the accomplishment, here’s an interchange D’Antoni had with a reporter in a post-game press conference questioning his wide-open style.

“You’re old school, aren’t you?” joked D’Antoni. “Do you watch the NBA ever? You see those top three teams? Do they work it in? My brother (Mike) in Houston, the biggest turnaround in the league. Do they work it in? You can get any computer and run what the best shots are and it will tell you the post-up is the worst shot in basketball.

“If you want to run down and try to get it in there to shoot over somebody, then you’re beating analytics. The best shot in basketball is that corner 3. The next-best shot is any other 3, other than free throws, which we try to do. When you get to the foul line, you score 1.5 points every time you go to the foul line in the pros. It just trickles down. It’s the same thing for college kids. …”

When the reporter attempted to cut D’Antoni off and change the subject, Double-D charged ahead, armed with statistics to support his case: “I haven’t finished my damn analytics story yet. … If you can get a layup and it’s clean, it’s not one that’s highly contested, it’s 1.8 (points per attempt). It’s 1.3 from that corner, 1.27. Do you know what a post-up is, with a guy standing over the top of you? It’s 0.78. So you can run your team down there and we’ll see how long you can stay with teams that play the other way.”

D’Antoni’s shoot-first, pass-to-the-post-later philosophy was formed during his tenure at Socastee, when he began to realize that Surfside Beach was only going to produce so many Courtland Freemans and Derrick Hiltons, Socastee’s current head coach. The introduction of the 3-point shot revolutionized basketball, and D’Antoni was way ahead of the curve.

It was Dan’s brother who helped bring the new brand of basketball to the U.S. After working in the Europeans leagues and international basketball, he was one of the first to see the sport in a new light. By spacing the floor and stretching the defense to the far perimeter, teams can hit open treys or feed it inside to the less crowded paint. Following Dan’s retirement from Socastee just over a decade ago, Mike D’Antoni hired his brother as an assistant for the Suns, Knicks and Lakers to help transform the game.

“I changed a long time ago. I coached for 15 years like a dummy, running down there real hard so I can get it in there for the worst shot in basketball,” D’Antoni recalled from his Socastee days. “I didn’t even know what I was doing. … The short version of my answer is no.”

That’s the vintage D’Antoni that those who knew him during his time on the Strand remember. His teams shoot from the hip and he shoots from the lip, which should make him a real media celebrity during the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Perhaps the only thing more entertaining for March Madness than D’Antoni’s Thundering Herd are his thunderously hilarious words.

Photo courtesy of Marshall Athletics

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