BOGACZYK: Another D'Antoni Marches onto Marshall Campus
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 31, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The D'Antoni name needs no introduction in Thundering Herd history. Three of them -- Andy in football; Dan and Mike in basketball -- are in the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame.
The latest D'Antoni to hit campus, however, marches to the beat of a different drummer.
When the 161-member Marching Thunder heads onto the Edwards Stadium turf prior to Sunday's football opener against Purdue, the six mellophones will include a rookie player.
MU freshman Morgan D'Antoni never played a brass instrument until about a month ago, and never performed in a marching band -- until now.
D'Antoni, 18, is the only daughter of Herd men's basketball Coach Dan D'Antoni and his wife, Vanessa. Morgan graduated in May from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where Morgan and her mom remained for 13 months -- for a senior year -- after D'Antoni took the coaching job at his alma mater in April 2014.
There's a lot new for Morgan -- including living on campus at MU and introducing herself to West Virginia. In music, she's an accomplished youth orchestral veteran. She has played the piano, violin and viola for years.
But when she chose Marshall to continue her education -- the other finalist was Drexel -- she wanted more than trying to decide whether she'd major in art or music.
"Having music in my life is really important to me, and I always wanted to try a brass instrument to broaden my perspective in music," the 5-foot-9 D'Antoni said recently while sitting in her father's Henderson Center office. "There are different musical terms, different concepts that are particular to brass, and I wanted to have a better understanding. That's also why I picked marching band.
"Marching band is somewhat like an instant family, and I wanted to experience what people share there. I wanted to be involved on campus and I thought that was a great way to start because I have school spirit as well, like music, and wanted to be part of a large group of people with similar interests. I just thought it was a good fit."
The mellophone is a "cousin" of the French horn. And there's no truth to the rumor that her dad -- with his hoops history -- thought the instrument was named for a player he and brother Mike formerly coached, Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks.
"I picked the mellophone because while I've been in orchestras, many times conductors or directors will often have an instrument that they have a shortage of," Morgan said. "So, I knew I wanted to play brass, but after that I was open to options. So, I just asked Dr. (Adam) Dalton (MU Director of Athletic Bands) which instrument he was lacking and he said the mellophone. So, that was it.
"I got the physical instrument in the last week of July and I think I'm doing rather well. My bandmates said I've been picking it up and keeping up with them and they've been playing for a few years. That made me feel better. And I think I've been picking it up well enough to be prepared for the first game."
Vanessa D'Antoni said some of her daughter's desire to join the band was rooted in the fact that the family has lived in several locations in recent years. Morgan attended high school in Armonk, N.Y.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Manhattan Beach. She was born in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Now, they're in Dan's native Mountain State; the family is building a home in Barboursville.
"I think some of it is because in high school, Morgan was always in orchestras," Vanessa D'Antoni said. "Most marching bands, it seems, really feel like a big family. They spend a lot of time together practicing and they have band camps and orchestra has nothing like that.
"So, I think -- because we've moved around a lot -- she's always tried to go into new situations as a stranger and I think she felt like if she could get into a marching band, she would immediately be part of a family, be a part of something.
"She loves music. At most of her high schools, they had string orchestras. But at her last high school they had a full orchestra. And Morgan said sometimes the band kids joined in, and when they did the band director would come to help them out, and it was like he was talking a whole different language. She said, `And I've been taking music all these years but it was like it was a totally different world of music.' She wanted to expand out to that world, too, and get to know more about that side of music." Morgan said she was surprised how quickly she picked up her first brass instrument.
"I was, simply because I had to pick it up on my own," she said. "I was able to text the section leader any question and after that I had to rely on the internet -- YouTube -- to kind of teach me what the fingerings were.
"In a way, I'm not too surprised because I know how to read music and that's probably the biggest hurdle. But in a way, I am surprised because the technique -- I've never played an instrument before that you breathe into it, and that was a struggle at first.
"Simply hitting the right notes was difficult on a brass instrument, and that's not a struggle on an instrument like a piano. It's surprised me and it didn't. So that's a very convoluted answer."
Her parents said there are no musical roots between them, but the Herd coach said his sister, Kathy, plays piano and his late mother's family "has several artists in it and they play different instruments."
"Morgan started (with music) in the third grade, I guess it was," her mother said. "We went to a piano store and there was one of those digital pianos there that plays different things, bells, and she starts playing on it. Dan said, `Hey, if you want to take lessons and we'll buy it. She (screamed). She just got into it and stuck with it.
"Later in school she got the opportunity to play strings and she picked up the violin. She wanted the cello ..."
"I got her into violin," Dan said. "I didn't like the cello."
So, what about the D'Antoni history? Morgan obviously has athletic genes from the Mullens-rooted family. Is she into sports, too?
"Shoot, she's probably the best athlete in D'Antoni family," Dan said. "Until the ninth grade, it was softball, volleyball, basketball, track and field. The first meet she ever did, varsity meet, ninth grade, she's about 5-7 then. It's at Byrum Hills High School (in Armonk, N.Y.). She'd never been in a track meet in her life ... joined because her friends were on the team.
"They had her high jump, long jump, do 100 hurdles and triple jump. She's late getting there, and I think the winning height then was 4-9. She said, `I'm sorry, I was supposed to jump but I'm late because my long jump just finished.' The lady lets her jump. She cleared 4-9, won it, then she long jumped in the low 15 feet, then tripled 33- or 34-something, came in first, second, second, first, something like that.
"Actually, I thought volleyball and basketball were her best sports, maybe volleyball. In basketball, she was the tallest on the team, but she played point guard (like her father and Uncle Mike). The first time I saw her play in high school, she pinned a girl's shot on the backcourt, ran fullcourt all the way and pinned it."
Morgan smiled when asked about sports.
"Really, I had great experiences playing athletics," she said. "I like playing the occasional pickup game; I do like more competitive sports thing on an informal level. But for me, my competitiveness doesn't come from me in athletics. It comes from me in art and comes from me in music.
"I've had very good experiences in athletics but I don't necessarily miss it because I don't necessarily want it back. I'm happy with what I have; I don't need it anymore. Some people are shocked by that. Some people go, `You must hear about basketball all of the time. You must sleep basketball, eat basketball, breathe basketball. Your life must be entirely basketball; I'm not surprised you decided to do something different.' So, there is mixed reaction."
Once basketball season begins, Morgan plans to be only yards away from her father, although not sitting in Section 102 behind the Herd bench. She will be playing with the MU Pep Band.
"I've definitely given that some thought," Morgan said when asked about being on the same floor as Dan. "And even in the marching band I'm getting some reaction, but I think that everyone I've spoken to in the marching band really likes my dad and I've gotten nothing but good feedback about that.
"So, in Pep Band I think it will be good thing. It will definitely be a funny experience, but I think it will be good that I can support my dad in that way ... They'll start telling stories about when he dances and directs in front of the band, that he actually cares about the band and they felt other coaches in the past haven't really paid much thought to the pep band specifically. They like that and they pay attention to him."
Morgan hasn't chosen a major yet, but she's in the Fine Arts track and spends a lot of class time in the new MU Visual Arts Center in downtown Huntington, across from Pullman Square.
"When she came here to visit, Sandra Reed (director, College of Arts & Media -- School of Art and Design), made a great statement, I thought," Dan said. "She said, `You can go other places and follow what they've done or you can come here and lead the way because we just opened the building.' I think that was a great comment; I may want to use that in my recruiting.
"I think Morgan likes being not far from us. Like her mom said, Morgan has always had to fit in, she's always gone in not knowing anybody because we've moved so much and I think she kind of liked the fact that here, people knew her through me, knew our name and she was not having to face all that again."
Morgan, who is one of about 1,900 MU freshmen this semester, said her choice of majors will be down the road.
"One thing people say to potential music majors is if you can see yourself doing something else, do that, and if you can't, then pick music," she said. "So that's exactly what I'm doing right now. I'm debating between becoming a professional musician or perhaps going into interior design.
"Of course, that might completely change down the road. So, I'm pursuing the fibers track right now, working with fabric, weave, design. If I like the classes -- if I enjoy what I'm doing -- I'll stay with that. If I feel that music is a better fit after I spend some time with these introductory-level courses, then I'll switch to music."
She also has experience in drawing with graphite, so her choices are numerous. Her parents agreed she could have gone to college just about anywhere, but it turns out Marshall was special for more than the D'Antoni family's history here.
"This was not my first campus tour," Morgan said. "I had seen other colleges and I looked at many other schools online, but when I stepped onto Marshall's campus, the big selling point was it felt like I was coming to my second home. There was just an aura to it.
"I liked the size of the campus and liked the fact that there was somewhat of a college-town atmosphere and when I stepped onto this campus, I felt hopeful about my college experience. It really set it apart from the other schools and made it the obvious choice for me."
The Herd coach, who played hoops at Marshall in the late `60s, said his daughter's decision was meaningful for him. He figured Morgan is the ninth D'Antoni to attend the school.
"It's another generation here," Dan D'Antoni said. "It's a great school, and more than the school, it's close. She's close. She's the last of the line for me (he has three grown sons). I'm glad it was Marshall. It never hindered any of us in where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do.
"It was a good starting point for what we wanted to do. I think it's a great opportunity for her. The biggest thing when you leave here is you leave with a passion. She's a good student and serious about things. I've got my fingers crossed she'll do well."
Morgan is a legacy in more ways than one. She will be on the field and the floor. She will be playing something, like other D'Antonis have for the Herd -- just in a different fashion.
"What coming to school here means to me is having another tie to my family," Morgan said. "I feel like we've moved around so much, me being a kid, and I didn't get to be in the West Virginia area or even on the east side of the country at some points.
"So, to me, this is just another thing to bring me back, to connect me to my family, to know that eight others have had a similar experience to me by attending the same institution at some point in their lives.
"And it makes me want to try harder. It definitely makes we want to give it my all because I know that this name is so important at this school. So, it makes me want to live up to it."