June 8, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Mike D’Antoni’s connections with Marshall, an alma mater he always has loved, had waned over the years.
Now, he’s back and still delivering big like the playmaker he was in the early 1970s on some of the Herd’s greatest basketball teams.
He’s not only a co-chairman of the Vision Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in Marshall Athletics history – with former NFL quarterback and fellow Herd alum Chad Pennington -- but D’Antoni is helping move the Herd capital needle in his second go-round as an assistant coach for Team USA men’s basketball for the Summer Olympics.
The Team USA Experience auction benefits the Vision Campaign, to fund new athletic facilities, including a soccer stadium and an indoor practice facility for all sports. The auction, presented through the Big Green Scholarship Foundation, runs through Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The winning bid will get four persons the opportunity to go to Las Vegas for two days next month for a Team USA exhibition game and practice – and more (details on bid procedure available on HerdZone.com).
The auction was a concept D’Antoni brought to Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick and John Sutherland, the Big Green executive director and associate AD for development.
“We’ve done something like this a few times for different organizations I’ve been with,” D’Antoni said Friday in a phone conversation. “The concept is pretty much the same. It’s a hands-on experience, which is great for basketball fans, and the proceeds go to charity. It’s been done in the league (NBA) a few places I’ve been.
“When I mentioned it to Mike and John and said I thought we could do it, they were very positive, to say the least. They were intrigued immediately. Really, the way it works, it’s a simple concept.”
The winning bid gets round-trip airfare for four, hotel accommodations for four at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort, use of a courtesy car, a round of golf for four, a breakfast with D’Antoni, access to a Team USA workout as it prepares for the London Games, and four tickets to a USA-Dominican Republic exhibition game at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s a neat deal. I don’t want to exaggerate it, but think there’s a good amount of access there, although the breakfast with me they may not be too excited about,” D’Antoni said, laughing. “That may be too much for them.”
The former NBA Suns and Knicks coach said what has been special for him is his participation in the fundraising for what will be a giant step for Herd athletics. The Mullens native ranks second in career assists and 30th in scoring in Herd history, but admittedly, his ties to his home state school had faded after he graduated in 1973 and eventually went to play and coach pro ball in Italy, where he is a hoops legend.
“That’s pretty accurate,” D’Antoni said when asked about the years he had been on the periphery with a school for which he had once starred. “I was thrilled when I was asked to be part of the vision campaign. A lot of it goes down to the people in charge and involved, Mike Hamrick, President (Stephen) Kopp, John Sutherland.
“Marshall has always been very close to our family, and having the opportunity to be involved in something so important means a lot. Watching the school now, seeing how the campus has grown, is just tremendous, and this campaign is so important to get Marshall to the next level.
“The coaches are good people, fun to be with … We’re going to be at it (raising funds) as long as it takes to get it done, to help the student-athletes there. Ultimately, that’s what this is about.”
One of those future student-athletes is another in the line of D’Antonis to attend Marshall. Mike’s niece, Bailey D’Antoni of St. Albans, is headed to the Herd volleyball program as a 2012-13 walk-on.
Hamrick said the participation of D’Antoni and Pennington in the Vision campaign “gives us a credibility we wouldn’t have without them. We would not be able to do what we need to do without Mike and Chad.”
Hamrick recalled his days growing up in the Kanawha Valley and attending Marshall basketball games and watching D’Antoni – once himself a U.S. Olympic Trials player before an injury stopped his bid to play in the Summer Games – play at the Veterans Memorial Field House.
“It’s an honor and thrill for us to have Mike involved in the Vision Campaign,” the Herd AD said. “He’s the face of Marshall basketball, in my opinion. And he’s not just a face on a brochure in this campaign. He’s actively involved, not just as a significant contributor, but also someone who is making calls to people to help us reach our goal.”
If that part has been a win for Marshall, it also has been a win for D’Antoni. When the Big Green Coaches Tour stopped last weekend at The Greenbrier, D’Antoni attended with numerous family members, including his 98-year-old father, Lewis.
“It was a great weekend,” D’Antoni said, and he could have been speaking for the Big Green fundraising as well as himself. “I’d never stayed overnight at The Greenbrier before. It was terrific, being there, getting together with family and other people I’ve gotten to know.
“That’s another thing about being part of the Vision Campaign that has been a change for me. It’s allowed me to get back to campus and to West Virginia a lot more than before. Getting to do that has been special.”