MCGILL: Reunion Weekend Brings Back Memories for '72 Hoops Team
The Word on the Herd -- Jan. 29, 2017
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The headline read: Marshall’s Herd is being heard.
It was the March 6, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated and longtime SI writer William F. Reed decided to shine a light on Huntington and the Marshall team that had danced right into the NCAA tournament. It was 45 years ago when Reed typed these words:
“If they cannot stampede their victims to death with their fast break – it is just a blur of green and white uniforms – then they steal them blind or blind them with lightning, which is how some people describe their passing and shooting.”
Sound familiar? It should.
The D’Antoni brothers – Mike was the point guard for the ’72 squad – are champions of the fast-break-and-lightning style Reed wrote about more than four decades ago. When the 1972 team visited for a reunion weekend this month, the former teammates saw the D’Antoni brothers in action on consecutive nights.
It brought back memories.
“They’re playing the way we played when we were at Marshall – run and gun!” said Randy Noll, a 1973 Marshall graduate who is enshrined in the MU athletics Hall of Fame. “That’s fun to watch. I enjoy watching them play.”
On the first night of the reunion weekend – Friday, Jan. 20 – the teammates gathered at the Marshall Hall of Fame café for a dinner in a private room. On one of the televisions was Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, who was a key member of the 1972 team that advanced to the NCAA tournament, coaching the Rockets against the Golden State Warriors on national TV. The next night, inside the Henderson Center, the teammates sat together a few rows behind the home bench and watched Mike’s older brother, Dan, coach the Thundering Herd to a win against Western Kentucky.
Mike is among the leading candidates for NBA Coach of the Year with an up-tempo, 3-point heaving approach. Dan has Marshall in the top five in Conference USA with an up-tempo, 3-point heaving approach that has the Herd ranked No. 9 in scoring offense and No. 10 in 3-point field goals – out of 347 teams in Division I.
None of this surprises the boys from the ’72 tourney team.
“It's exciting because the program is coming back to the standards that we were used to,” said Steve Zemba, a freshman during the 1971-72 season. “Dan is doing it the right way. You look at the type of athletes he’s after, you look at the caliber of guys we had there, we all graduated. We took it for granted at the time, but everybody walked out of there with a degree. To see Danny bring this back is very refreshing for us.”
The 1971-72 Thundering Herd team, coached by Carl Tacy, finished 23-4 and averaged 92.9 points per game – fourth nationally out of 210 teams. The Herd had two players averaging a double-double: Russell Lee averaged 22.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game. Noll averaged 16.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game.
Mike D’Antoni scored two fewer points than Noll while dishing out an average of 8.9 assists per game – which still stands as the single-season school record.
“I loved watching Mike play,” Noll said. “I was the leading scorer my senior year. Well, that was easy. Mike got me the ball. It’s easy to score when you’ve got the ball and Mike got you the ball right when you needed it.”
Marshall owns seven wins against nationally ranked teams in the program’s entire history, but none of those came against a higher-ranked opponent than when the 71-72 team beat No. 8 St. John’s, 110-107.
“If we liked each other, if we didn’t like each other, if we got mad at each other in practice – when it came time to play we all came to play and we played hard,” Noll said. “There was not one time I ever thought we were going to lose a game. Carl Tacy brought a whole different attitude, which really made a difference. It took us to another level as far as discipline. Practice was tough; games were easy.”
Noll and his teammates spent the weekend reminiscing and checking out the campus. After Friday night’s dinner, the team met Saturday afternoon for lunch at Davis’ Place, and then toured the Chris Cline Athletic Complex and the Hall of Fame. They then headed to the Marshall-WKU game and were greeted with a reception 90 minutes prior to tipoff.
The Herd defeated the Hilltoppers, 94-80, in front of the legendary ’72 team.
“I was at Danny’s wedding and he went to my wedding because we were all friends with Mike,” said Noll, who is 67 and lives in St. Louis. “I think it’s cool for one thing – he understands what it means to bleed green. These other people come in here and all they want to do is get to the next level. He’s happy. He wants to live here for the rest of his life. It’s just getting the players now. That’s the key.”
Noll and Zemba called the weekend back in Huntington “first class.”
“It’s a lot of fun to come back and see all of these guys,” Noll said, “and it’s fun to come back and see where this program has come.”