AP Sports Writer
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick gave Dan D’Antoni his first college coaching job at age 66 with the message to make the Thundering Herd a winner again.
Marshall has gone through seven coaches, among them Billy Donovan, since it last made the NCAA tournament in 1987. D’Antoni isn’t about to back down from the challenge at his alma mater, just as he scoffs at criticism over his age and lack of college coaching experience.
The older brother of Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he wanted to coach at Marshall ever since graduating in 1970.
“This was my dream job,” D’Antoni said Friday in Huntington, a day after his hiring was announced. “I’m ready and willing to work to make this program succeed.”
D’Antoni spent 30 years as a high school coach in South Carolina before serving nine years as an NBA assistant, including the last two with the Lakers. Both Mike and Dan D’Antoni played at Marshall.
“When we were here, if I remember correctly, this was a basketball school,” Dan D’Antoni said. “I don’t know what happened when I left.”
Hamrick spent four days attending Lakers’ games, practices and meetings. He said he offered both Mike and Dan D’Antoni the Marshall job but didn’t go into details, including whether Mike D’Antoni turned him down.
“This job was offered to two people at the same time,” Hamrick said. “And I don’t think either one of them would have cared if the other one got the job.
“It is a great honor for me personally to bring back a son of Marshall. This is a dream come true for me to bring a D’Antoni back to Marshall University. It’s where he belongs.”
D’Antoni kept his audience at a news conference in stitches with his wit and scoffed at cynics who say he can’t relate to younger players because of his age.
“That one really mystifies me,” D’Antoni said. “First of all, I have a 16-year-old daughter. And she’ll tell you I communicate real clear to her.”
Hamrick said after watching D’Antoni work with the Lakers’ young talent and seeing his energetic approach to film sessions and meetings, “I said ‘wow. We’ve got something here.’”
Aside from coaching Marshall’s freshman team after graduation, this is D’Antoni’s first true college job. Again, he took a humorous approach to criticism that he’s a risky choice. He pointed out the universal “wisdom” of basketball on the high school, college and professional levels.
“I think you try to keep them from putting the ball in that basket and you try to put it in your basket,” he said. “And if you do, that’ll work on all three levels that I’ve been at.”
D’Antoni replaces Tom Herrion, who resigned last month after an 11-22 season.