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BOGACZYK: D'Antoni Likes Herd's Progress to Date

Dan D'Antoni

July 2, 2014

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The introductory lesson is over in Marshall men’s basketball.

Dan D’Antoni, the Thundering Herd coach of 10 weeks, knows what he wants. His players know what he wants … and now they’ll have two months on their own to try and get where they need to go.

D’Antoni headed Tuesday afternoon to White Sulphur Springs, and today he is playing in the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic Pro-Am. Then he’s off on his first long recruiting venture as a college head coach … to Serbia, Augusta, Ga.; Las Vegas and Richmond, Va.; wrapping up as a speaker at the South Carolina Coaches’ Association clinic and convention in Greenville in late July.

The Herd’s summer workouts closed Monday with a two-hour practice and scrimmage session. They won’t assemble again as a team until just after Labor Day, in the fall semester’s second week.

D’Antoni’s review of his club’s progress was optimistic, but he said July and August will be important months as the Herd players will be “on their own, and it’s up to them. We’ve given them what we can to this point,” the MU coach said.

The former Herd point guard (1966-69) wants his players to work in the next couple of months. Then, once they return and can regroup on the floor, he wants them to think and react.

“They’ve done a great job so far from the limited amount of time that college basketball has to work with people,” said D’Antoni, who came home as a head coach after nine seasons as an NBA assistant coach. “They’ve done a good job. Their demeanor, the way you can approach them with coaching, their willingness to buy into a new system. I think we still have some room to grow there, and I think they will.

“We haven’t had a chance to do film sessions or anything like that to where you can really teach the part of the workouts we need. A lot of the workouts were just individuals (demonstration) drills and shooting, and they need more time on the concepts. For time we did have, the players did a nice job of trying to pick it up.


 

 

“Our last scrimmage we had (Monday), we went up against each other and when I was on the floor, I was disheartened, but when I came in and looked at it (Tuesday) morning on tape, it was a lot better than I thought it was. And I think there are things we can show and fix some of the parts out there I got disheartened over. Those things are easy to fix.”

D’Antoni, who will turn 67 next week while he’s overseas recruiting, sent his players away until late August with a strong message – the next step in the improvement process is up to them.

“We’ve given them all the basketball skill workouts that they need to work on, and it’s up to them,” he said. “We’ve given them conditioning things. I think our conditioning program has done what it was supposed to do and needed to do. A lot of guys -- JP (Kambola) being one of them -- have lost up to 20 pounds. To a man, they’ve lost weight, and gotten in better shape but there’s still room to grow.

“I’ve challenged them to have all their mile times below 6 (minutes), and I’d like to have most of them around 5:30 and a couple to challenge the 5-minute mark. Whether we can get to that, I don’t know, but that’s the challenge. We’ll test them when they get back, the second week back here. Our conditioning program was changed, and for the time we spent there so far, it was done well.

“July and August they’re out, it’s voluntary. We’ll see who wants to work, who wants to play. Some of them will be in and out here, and if they’re here they can do individual work every week and they need to come in on their own.

“Good teams -- and I told them this -- sometimes the best ones take on a responsibility individually. There   can’t always be coaches prodding them to do this, do that. This is their time. These are the things we have to have.”

The new Herd coach said his team understands the basics of the style D’Antoni wants to play. It’s their ability to cope with the system that will make the difference. In practices, he said he’s been very firm, hands-on, mixing instruction with kid-gloved barbs.

“I think they understand and can visualize the quickness that we’re going to play with, and that shooting is a tremendous skill that they all are going to have to work on,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve challenged them mentally about their free throw shooting, just a little bit, just me getting on them out there, and the worst of the bunch, DeVince (Boykins) was 2-for-2 Monday with me harping right in his face.

“There are good things, but work still to be done, because there just isn’t enough time to get done what we need right now. I don’t want to single out or pull out anyone individually, because basketball is not an individual thing. I’m proud of us as a team. You grow as a team. We still have big steps to go, but an individual is only as good as part of a team. We’ve just got to keep growing, and growing together.”

He knows where the focus will be once the Herd returns to point toward a 2014-15 season that opens Nov. 14 against Jacksonville State at the Henderson Center – where Penn State and South Carolina will visit in early December.

“The biggest problem they have, they’re used to sets being called, and they slow the ball down to run sets,” D’Antoni said. “And my style is more of a free flow, work out of concepts that you choose on the floor, not of the coach’s choosing.

“We have concepts; I can give them a ton of concepts, but they have to choose, and they have to learn to get into that and play out of that without looking over at me to give it to them.

“It’s more of a mental quickness, reactionary, to move the ball and to play at a quicker pace, and the options they choose … They’re choosing their options, but they want to do it as they’ve been coached to do, and that is to play at a coach’s pace instead of a players’ pace.

“They have to play at a players’ pace, and that takes time. It’s expected, so we’ve just got to get a little better at it, that’s all.”

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Former Marshall forward Dago Pena was named the DirectTV League Player of the Year in Colombia. Pena, who also was named the Forward of the Year and Import of the Year in Colombian pro basketball, averaged 28.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game to help his Academia team to a 15-5 record and then the league semifinals.

Pena played 37.7 minutes game (27 games), shooting .629 from the floor and .359 from behind the 3-point arc. His season high scoring effort was 44 points.

The 6-foot-6 Pena, a native of the Dominican Republic, played four seasons for the Herd (2008-12), averaging 6.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 119 career games (29 starts).

Before going to Colombia, Pena, 26, played pro ball in the Dominican Republic and Uruguay. He already has signed for the 2014-15 season with a team in the Argentina A League, Wuber Estudiantes de Bahia Blanca.

In 2009-10, he was the co-Conference USA Sixth Man Award winner for the Herd.

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