June 26, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Dan D’Antoni has only been a college head basketball coach for two months, but his first national charity effort in his profession takes the new Marshall coach back almost a half-century.
It was March 18, 1967, when D’Antoni and the late Jim Valvano met for the first time.
It wasn’t the last.
D’Antoni and Valvano – starting point guards of their day -- defended each other in the National Invitation Tournament consolation game, as Rutgers and senior Valvano downed the Thundering Herd and sophomore D’Antoni, 93-76.
Fast forward to this coming Monday (June 30) at 5:15 p.m., and D’Antoni and Herd assistant coach Chris Duhon – the former Duke point guard – will get men’s basketball rolling for the Chillin4Charity Challenge, as each gets a bucket of ice water dumped on his head.
Each coach will name other coaches in a challenge, and whomever D’Antoni and Duhon challenge, they must donate $25 to Valvano’s memorial charity -- The V Foundation for Cancer Research -- if they take a dousing themselves.
If the challenged coach is not “watered down,” then he must donate $250 to the V Foundation.
The men’s Chillin4Charity is an offshoot of the women’s basketball coaches’ effort for the Kay Yow Foundation, and Marshall women’s Coach Matt Daniel will be on hand for the Monday session to help bridge the crossover to the men’s game.
D’Antoni, new to the college game where many coaches personalize charity efforts, finds his debut effort significant because he got to know Valvano beyond their head-to-head matchup on the Garden floor, where Valvano outscored D’Antoni, 19-16.
“It’s the first time I can maybe help a little bit and obviously it’s for a good cause, honoring a real personality for coaching and for basketball,” D’Antoni said Thursday in his Henderson Center office. “And it means a lot because I got to know the guy. He was full of life, always funny. You always had a good time around him.
“He enjoyed all of life, and anytime you were around Jimmy, you felt good. The V Foundation was important to him, and this is a chance for me to help.”
D’Antoni’s recollections of Valvano – who died from cancer in April 1993 – are vivid.
“It started with that game in the 1967 NIT,” D’Antoni said, “but then I didn’t see him again until I was coaching (at Socastee High School, where he had more than 500 wins) in Myrtle Beach and Jimmy was at North Carolina State. And there’s a good story about that.
“We guarded each other in that game, and I hadn’t seen him and didn’t think anything about it for a while,” said D’Antoni, 66. “The next time I saw him, Jimmy was at State and one of the coaches who came to Myrtle Beach to speak to a sports club there.
“Lambo Schwartz, a very prominent local businessman – he owned a cleaners and laundry service – was a big part of the club and helped promote our Beach Ball Classic. He was a man-about-town kind of guy. Lambo’s bringing Jimmy around to introduce to people before the dinner, and they start coming toward me.
“Lambo had this really deep voice and he says to Jimmy, ‘I want you to meet our coach. This is our coach at the Beach. This is Dan D’Antoni.’ And Jimmy says, ‘Aw, I know him. I played against him.’
“Well, I knew who he was, and knew we played against him, but as you might recall, Jimmy always liked to be the man in charge, so I decided to mess with him.
“I said, ‘Who did you play for? Where did I play you?’
“Jimmy says, ‘I played at Rutgers.’
“And I said, ‘Rutgers?’ The only one I remember is Bobby Lloyd (the All-American who scored 44 points against the Herd).’
“Jimmy looked at me and backed up. He didn’t know what to say.
“It’s first time and maybe the only time I ever knew of Jimmy being speechless.”
A couple of years later, D’Antoni said, Valvano visited to recruit Socastee forward Stefan Eggers, who ended up going to South Carolina. But when Valvano came to Myrtle Beach after that, he often called D’Antoni – and the Herd coach got to know the late coach and broadcaster well.
“He came down to beach three or four times and we got together,” D’Antoni said. “The last time, we were out right before Jimmy found out he had cancer. One of his assistant coaches called and said, ‘Jimmy V doesn’t want you to call him, but he wanted me to call you and tell you that he just found out he has cancer and he has two months to live.’
“We’d just been out two weeks earlier and Jimmy told me his back was hurting and he didn’t know what it was, and when he got back home he was going to see a doctor. That was all he said. And the next thing I knew, I get this call about him … it was just sad.”