Five years of D’Antoni

VIENNA — As I was afforded the opportunity to attend Marshall University’s annual “Rally By The River” on Thursday in Vienna, it put me in a reflective mood.

Having attended the school from 2013 to 2015, I embraced the Herd and even wrote for the school’s newspaper.

During my time in Huntington, I got to speak with some of the biggest figures in Marshall athletics.

One such memory was when I got to step into head basketball coach Dan D’Antoni’s office for an interview.

He was kind enough to meet with me for an assignment I had for a news writing class.

D’Antoni was preparing for his first season coaching at his alma mater following the resignation of Tom Herrion.

He spoke about wanting to restore the program to its former glory.

He played at MU from 1966 to 1970 en route to an induction into the university’s athletics hall of fame.

He recalled how excited the crowd was back in the day with their chants of “Bring on the Herd!”

He promised to turn the ship around, and that’s exactly what he did.

In five seasons, he’s amassed a 96-77 record and an upset win in the NCAA tournament.

That, to me, would have been unfathomable in 2013.

Tom Herrion’s Herd was the embodiment of a fanbase that didn’t have a lot to cheer.

I attended most of the home games in the 2013-14 season, and the Cam Henderson Center was half-empty and just hoping for something good to happen.

This was the same program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1987.

D’Antoni took the narratives about Herd basketball and turned them on their heads.

He installed a winning culture in Huntington and brought scores of fans with him.

He even brought back those “Bring on the Herd” chants.

I can’t describe the feeling of watching a Marshall basketball game on television with The Cam fully packed.

To see a community so gripped with passion for its team is surreal to me.

NBA prospects like Jon Elmore and CJ Burks redefined the record books under D’Antoni, and a 2019 CollegeInsider.com championship win over Green Bay bookended their collegiate careers.

Now, younger stars like Taevion Kinsey and Jarrod West pick up where those two left off.

Yes, the college basketball season ended in April.

However, D’Antoni’s impact has left a lasting mark on all of the area’s Herd supporters.

Scores of fans got an opportunity to talk with the coach.

As he was glad to meet the fans that supported him for so long.

He spoke about how much the fans mean to him.

“I always say the fans won that last game for us,” he said of the home crowd in Marshall’s CIT championship win over Green Bay. “Their coach (Linc Darner) told me that they don’t see crowds like that with who they usually play.”

The opportunity to repay the favor is a big reason why D’Antoni loves traveling around the state. As for athletic director Mike Hamrick, he shared his thoughts on D’Antoni’s successful tenure in Huntington.

“First of all, he’s a West Virginia native and a Marshall graduate,” Hamrick said on Thursday. “He’s come in and done a tremendous job with our basketball program. We’re competitive, and we’ve had a great couple of years.”

When I first walked into D’Antoni’s office in 2014, I was hoping to talk to the man who would bring basketball back to the forefront of Marshall athletics, and this stop in Vienna served as a bit of a victory lap. It served as the culmination of hard work. While there is still work to be done, it feels good to finally be able to bring on the Herd.

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com