May 30, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Chris Duhon thought Dan D’Antoni couldn’t be serious.
Duhon had worked with D’Antoni over several NBA seasons in New York and Los Angeles. It was one of trust, but it was then a player-assistant coach relationship.
That was about to change.
Hours after D’Antoni had been named the new Marshall men’s basketball coach a month ago, Duhon -- out of the NBA for a season after a nine-year pro career -- texted congratulations to his friend and former instructor and sideline mentor with the Knicks and Lakers.
“I told him congratulations and I thought it was great,” Duhon said. “I certainly didn’t expect a response to my text to lead me into coaching college basketball. He texted back, ‘Hey, I need you, why don’t you come coach with me?’ I kind of said to myself, all right yeah.
“I responded ‘LOL, yeah, I will,’ and about 30 seconds later, Dan called me, and for me it was, ‘Oh, he’s serious.’ I asked him to give me a couple days to think about it, talk with my family, and then I called him back and told him I was in.”
That’s how Duhon became D’Antoni’s first staff hire at Marshall, landing the 31-year-old former Duke star among a pretty incredible list of former Blue Devil guards under Coach Mike Krzyzewski who have gone into college coaching.
The list includes names like Dawkins, Amaker, Wojciechowski, Collins, Capel, Hurley, Bender, Snyder, Paulus, McCaffrey, Barone, Taylor, Scheyer and more.
Duhon figured one day he’d join that list, but not now, not here – and it wasn’t just the 66-year-old D’Antoni who got him thinking in that direction.
There were two people considerably younger in the equation – the baby twins of Duhon and his wife, Dr. Andrea Duhon. Chris Jr. and Eliana Abigail were born March 6, two months premature.
Until their pending arrival, it seemed the 6-foot-1 Duhon was ready to go to Italy to resume his playing career.
“It was something I was weighing (going to Italy),” said Duhon, who also has a 5-year-old son, Jeremy. “The new family, that was my main purpose in staying here. If I hadn’t decided to go this year, I figured I’d maybe give it another shot a year from now.
“But once this opportunity kind of opened up, it gave me another thing to think about, a new excitement and it kind of felt like right thing to do. I just felt like it was the right time for me to start the second phase of my career.
“It was something I definitely wanted to do down the road, but this, now, has given me a new excitement, kept me around the game. I’ve always loved the game, but now it gives me a chance to pass on what I’ve learned. Helping these young kids achieve their goals is something I’ve really got a passion for.”
D’Antoni spent plenty of time working with Duhon with the Knicks. D’Antoni said Duhon sat on the bench next to him during games and besides their video and on-court work together, they discussed game strategy during play in NBA arenas.
D’Antoni said Duhon is one of the smartest young players he has been around, and the coach grasped that the former Duke star point guard would be a good backcourt teacher. It also wasn’t lost on D’Antoni that Duhon has been where players want to go – the NBA. That’s a plus in recruiting as well as teaching.
It also doesn’t hurt the Herd to have a connection to Duke’s royalty in the sport.
“Dan coached me in New York and we built a great relationship,” said Duhon, a Louisiana native. “When I was playing in New York, he worked pretty much with me and David Lee. We built our connection on the court, watching film, getting up shots, so every time I came out of a game I’d sit next to him, picking his brain, telling him what I’d see …
“During those times, we always just talked the game of basketball, explained what we’d see to each other, what we could exploit offensively and defensively, and it was a relationship we built where we trusted each other.”
Duhon was a second-round draft pick by Chicago in 2004 and played nine seasons in the NBA (2004-2013) with the Bulls, Knicks, Magic and Lakers, scoring 3,946 points, with 2,690 assists -- a career that paid him in the $33 million range. At Duke, he played on the 2001 NCAA championship team and in four seasons helped the Blue Devils to a 123-21 record, three ACC titles and two NCAA Final Fours.
He left the school as the only ACC player to record 1,200 points, 800 assists, 475 rebounds, 300 steals and 125 three-point baskets.
His move to the coaching ranks wasn’t something he thought much about back when he was making 113 starts in 144 games for Coach K.
“It was more once I got into the NBA,” Duhon said. “The NBA does a great job through the Players Association as far as giving guys the opportunity to tap into resources they have, may it be coaching, may it be broadcasting, may it be the business world.
“There are internships, or they set up programs to learn how that industry kind of works. And I think the coaching program, I got into it and kind of enjoyed it, and I said to myself then that this was what I wanted to do when I stopped playing.
“I still was trying to figure out what my next step was going to be, because to be honest with you, through the broadcasting program, I had a couple of connections where I could have gone into broadcasting for a little while, then gotten a coaching job.
“I never expected a response to my text to lead me into coaching college basketball.”
Duhon said his family will move from Orlando, Fla., to Huntington, probably in August and until then, much of his focus will be on his other new family – a Herd that he wants to help play the kind of hoops he and D’Antoni sat and discussed during their days and nights together in the past.
“First, they have to know that it’s not easy,” Duhon said when asked what he hopes to teach right off the bat during Marshall summer workouts in his new profession. “A lot of it is trying to break old habits. We’ve got to get these guys to hustle, get them in shape, get them tougher, and when I say more tough, I mean mentally tougher.
“We’ve got to break ‘em down, we’ve got to get them to where they might be at the point of exhaustion, but they’re willing to go that other two or three minutes. Once we get that, they play hard, competing day-in, day-out, that’s when the basketball stuff goes in.
“Then we teach more of how to play the game, where the shots will be, how to use their skills, but first, we’ve got to make them into a team right now. We’ve got a bunch of individuals at this point, and I don’t want to point the finger at anybody, but that’s what the culture is here now.
“We’ve got to change that culture to where we don’t have to worry about the culture. Then, we can worry about the game of basketball.”