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MCGILL: Legacy of Lewis D'Antoni Lives On Through Basketball and Beyond

Oct. 29, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Hours before Sunday’s men’s basketball exhibition game between Marshall University and WVU Tech, Thundering Herd coach Dan D’Antoni was seated on the wooden bleachers behind one of the baskets. He was in his favorite place – a basketball arena – and was going to spend a couple of hours around a sport synonymous with the D’Antoni family.   

This was about 20 hours after Lewis D’Antoni, Dan’s father, had passed away at the age of 103.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Dan said in this moment.

Silence followed, and then a beautiful sound surrounded Dan. Basketballs bounced. Sneakers squeaked. The game, as Lewis D’Antoni would have wanted, went on as planned. Before the opening tip, there was a moment of silence in remembrance of Lewis D’Antoni, and the public address announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s play the game he loved.”

Marshall did, and won 99-81. The Herd played Lewis’ preferred style – up-tempo – and drained 18 three-pointers. Of the 99 points, 63 were scored by native West Virginians. Somewhere, Lewis was beaming.

Two of those players – junior all-conference performer Jon Elmore and true freshman Jarrod West – combined for 34 points and nine assists. They, like their head coach, have Mountain State basketball bloodlines. Elmore is part of the only father-son duo to ever win the West Virginia boys basketball state player of the year award. West’s father is an NCAA tournament hero in this state, and two decades after his March Madness moment it was the Marshall-bound Jarrod West who won the Evans Award as the state’s top prep player.

Elmore and West didn’t randomly grip a basketball one day and pursue the sport. Basketball gripped them from the start.

How could it not?

“In my family basketball is everything,” Elmore said. “Dinner talks, breakfast talks, after school talks. Basketball runs my life and it’s what my family is passionate about. At the end of the day we can all meet up and lock in on basketball. It’s one thing we share, and it’s the same for Jarrod West and his family and it’s the same for the D’Antoni family.

“Basketball is what we care about.”

Lewis D’Antoni was born on Dec. 31, 1913. He coached Mullens High School to the 1955 state championship and piled up hundreds of wins and several coach of the year honors. He won the inaugural West Virginia Sports Writers Association Coach of the Year award, and was named Ohio’s coach of the year six times. He is in the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.

Lewis’ legacy lives on through his former players, certainly, but also his children: Dan, Mike, Mark and Kathy. Dan, 70, is in the Marshall athletics Hall of Fame and has carved out a successful coaching career on the high school, college and professional levels. Mike is the coach of the Houston Rockets and has coached the Suns, Knicks and Lakers. Last year, Mike received NBA Coach of the Year recognition while Dan led the Herd to a 20-win season and to the cusp of a Conference USA championship and NCAA tournament berth.

It was the final full basketball season Lewis was able to witness, and his sons were more successful than ever.

“He went good, he went easy and he went quick,” Dan D’Antoni said after Sunday afternoon’s game. “You couldn’t ask for more. It hurts, but he’s smiling. My mom is telling him to do things again. He’s happy; she’s happy.

“‘Well, will you miss him?’ I’m not going to miss him. I’m going to keep him with me.”

During Sunday’s game, which ended 24 hours after Lewis passed away, Dan D’Antoni coached with the spirit of his father running through him.

“I bet it was tough on him,” Elmore said. “We were all fired up to have him out there. We knew he was hurting.”

West, who had 16 points and four 3-pointers in his Marshall debut, had his dad cheering him on from 10 rows behind the bench. Before the game, they shared a hug and talked about what the younger West had been eating to bulk up. Basketball is a shared love for them.

“When Coach Dan’s father would come to practice, he was always smiling and always into the game,” West said. “I can’t imagine what it feels like for Coach Dan, but for him to come out a day after that and coach a game, that is special. That shows how much love and dedication he has for us. Coach Dan loves the game and his dad loved the game. I love the game and my dad loves the game.”

Perhaps when Dan D’Antoni said “nothing lasts forever,” he was only partially correct.

Lewis D’Antoni is gone, but his legacy lives on.