May 20, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Dan D’Antoni landed his first grant-in-aid signee as Marshall’s basketball coach last weekend, it stopped one streak and started what the new Thundering Herd hoops boss hopes will be a trend.
Calvin “CJ” Burks, a Class AAA All-State guard from Hedgesville High School, became the first in-state high school men’s basketball signee for Marshall in more than 13 years.
The last before Burks – a Martinsburg resident -- was 6-foot-9 Mark Patton of Barboursville. He played for the Herd from 2002-06 and, like D’Antoni, is one of Marshall’s 49 players to score 1,000 points.
Patton – he scored 1,053 Herd points, 56 fewer than D’Antoni -- led Cabell Midland High to the 2002 Class AAA State Tournament title and captained the All-State team. The 2002 state Player of the Year signed with MU in November 2001 and was a three-year starter for the Herd.
D’Antoni made it clear he doesn’t expect Burks’ signing to be a once-in-a-decade occurrence.
“It’s important we have in-state, and I’d say, regional guys,” said D’Antoni, who starred on Herd teams in the late ‘60s that were stocked with those Mountain State and surrounding-state players. “West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Pennsylvania, southeast Ohio, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina.
“All those should be in our recruiting area we focus on, with the emphasis on West Virginia. I don’t see why we can’t get half of a team, maybe more, from those areas.
“Of 13 (scholarship players, the Division I men’s basketball maximum), I don’t see why seven of them can’t be those kind of guys. We’ve just got to get better, and we have to find those players who can help us do that, then go play.”
D’Antoni said he believes there is enough talent in the aforementioned region at the level Marshall needs for his Herd to have success.
“If we can get the best ones out of those areas, I think we can be good,” D’Antoni said. “Yes, it’s important to me, and I can’t see any reason why we won’t be successful in those areas.
“Now, we’ve got to be good enough to one, see talent, and two, sell the best ones and not let them go somewhere else. It’s certainly a priority for us.”
D’Antoni’s first roster as Marshall coach already had several players who fit the bill.
Guard Tamron Manning and junior college frontcourt signee Jay Johnson are from central Kentucky (Georgetown and Versailles, respectively). Shane Hall, who signed last November, is from eastern Kentucky (Prestonsburg, and Johnson Central High).
Guard Austin Loop walked on from southeast Ohio and was on scholarship last semester. Guard DeVince Boykins is a western North Carolina native (Forest City). Forward TyQuane Goard, who came to MU as a transfer from Ohio, played high school hoops in Charleston.
New walk-on Brett Bowling is from Wyoming East High in the West Virginia coalfields.
“All of our walk-ons we take will be from West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southeast Ohio,” D’Antoni said.
The Herd coach said he wants to add to the above regional flavor, and said the retention of assistant coach Mark Cline from the staff of former Coach Tom Herrion will aid in that effort.
Cline, a native of Williamson and a two-time Parade All-America choice before he starred at Wake Forest “is very well-versed in the way of college recruiting,” D’Antoni said. “He knows West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, North Carolina. Mark’s very strong in the regional area we’re looking at.”
D’Antoni made it clear that while he thinks a regional focus on the Herd roster will help put people in the Cam Henderson Center seats, he also wants to explore European prospects for Marshall. And he is firm about the kind of player he wants.
D’Antoni also said he feels the Herd could make some inroads in South Carolina, where he was a high school coach (in Myrtle Beach) for three decades, and assistant Scott Rigot formerly worked as a USC assistant.
He said Burks – the guard averaged 20 points per game for a state semifinal Hedgesville team in 2013-14 – fits the profile he wants.
“First of all, whether he lived in West Virginia or not, we’d have wanted CJ,” D’Antoni said when asked if he viewed Burks as the start of a Herd return to landing in-state players. “He can play. Maybe some others just missed him. I would have recruited him regardless.
“He’s a great kid, (from) a great family. The fact he’s from West Virginia is a bonus. We’re not just recruiting him because he’s from West Virginia. I said that those players from the area are capable of being a good team.
“We’ve got to find the best ones and sell the best ones on Marshall. We’re not just taking someone because they’re from around here. We do think there’s enough talent in those areas that if we find the right ones, we can be a very good, national basketball team – not local, not just Conference USA, but nationally.”
D’Antoni said he eventually envisions a roster blend of “two or three from Europe, six or seven from areas we talked about, and then a couple from somewhere else. You don’t have to have 13. You can have a couple (of scholarships) in your pocket. You’re not going to play more than nine most times.”
The new Herd coach said whether it’s Burks or those who follow the Hedgesville star signing the dotted line with the Herd, the qualities he’s seeking include a strong work ethic, basketball smarts and more.
“The kind of kids we want are ones you can take home to mama, to take home to dinner,” D’Antoni said. “I think our fans will respond to that, and we want the kind of team that they can appreciate. Not that the players we have here now aren’t good kids. We have some very nice kids, really good ones here now. I like the personage.
“But we’re going out and looking for good kids, tough kids. I don’t think you have to give up toughness. We’ve got to find those kids in those areas and sell the best ones on the opportunity here.”