In less than two seasons, Marshall University men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni has transformed his alma mater’s struggling program into a contender for the Conference USA regular-season championship.
The people of Huntington, W.Va., are discovering what followers of Socastee High School boys basketball enjoyed for 30 years, and why D’Antoni is now being honored by the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association.
D’Antoni, who won 524 games and helped create one of the nation’s premier high school basketball tournaments in the Beach Ball Classic while coaching at Socastee from 1975-2005, is being inducted into the SCBCA Hall of Fame next month.
“It’s funny that you don’t have enough time to appreciate the past when your plate stays full in the present,” D’Antoni said on Tuesday. “You don’t have enough time to show appreciation to the people who helped you. All my players, all my assistants, all the people who worked at the Beach Ball Classic, without them it doesn’t last to the extent it has.”
Joining D’Antoni in the hall class of 2016 are Wren High coaches Fran Campbell and Lynn Hicks, and Aubrey Pompey of Aiken High.
The induction ceremony and banquet will be at 8 p.m. March 18 at Seawell’s Restaurant in Columbia in conjunction with the 67th annual North-South All Star Game Weekend. Tickets are $25 and John Combs at email@example.com has more information.
“It’s a big honor. I want to be there at the banquet if at all possible,” D’Antoni said.
D’Antoni’s Socastee teams captured 12 region championships and eight region tournament titles, and earned 21 state playoff appearances.
He coached in three Lower State finals (1982, 1998, 1999) and reached the 1998 Class AAAA state championship game, losing to South Aiken by a point on a shot with 0.4 seconds remaining.
It’s funny that you don’t have enough time to appreciate the past when your plate stays full in the present. You don’t have enough time to show appreciation to the people who helped you. All my players, all my assistants, all the people who worked at the Beach Ball Classic, without them it doesn’t last to the extent it has.
He coached more than 60 players who played collegiately, including his three sons Matthew (Brown), Andrew (the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) and Nick (William & Mary), who was one of two S.C. Gatorade Players of the Year coached by D’Antoni, along with Alvin Green.
He was a founder of the Beach Ball Classic in 1981, and more than 100 tournament participants have gone on to play in the NBA. D’Antoni served as the head coach for the South Carolina All Star Team in the SCACA All Star Classic in 1993, and was inducted into the Socastee High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.
“It means a lot to me,” D’Antoni said. “There are a lot of great coaches there. I learned a lot from coaches there competing against them and watching their teams play. It’s a lot of good memories and a lot of great basketball. When I was there, there seemed to be a lot of passion for the game in South Carolina and it produced a lot of great players and some great games.”
After leaving Socastee, D’Antoni joined the staffs of his brother, Mike, with the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He served as a summer league head coach for the Lakers in 2013 and Knicks in 2010, and assisted with the U.S. Olympic Team in 2008.
While playing at Marshall, D’Antoni earned all-conference honors, helped the Thundering Herd reach back-to-back NIT Final Fours in 1967 and 1968, and was inducted into Marshall’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.
His 2015-16 Herd team is 15-12 overall and 11-3 in Conference USA, is 15-6 since opening the season with a six-game losing streak, and heads to conference-leading Alabama-Birmingham (22-5, 12-2) on Thursday with a four-game winning streak and chance to move into a tie for first place.
D’Antoni said 12 of his 15 players are new to the program this season, and his players had a combined five years of Division I experience entering the season.
“We’re in the hunt after one year,” D’Antoni said. “It’s working. We have super kids and they’re playing for me. They remind me of Socastee High School. They’re that type of kid.”
D’Antoni is the second Socastee boys basketball coach to be elected. Tommy Johnson, who succeeded D’Antoni in 2005, was elected in 2013 for a 40-year coaching career that included 30 seasons combined at Florence high schools Wilson and West Florence, where he won the 1986 Class AAAA state championship.
Other coaches who have been inducted into the now 50-member hall since the inaugural induction year of 2010 include former Andrews coach Ken Haselden in 2013, former Mullins coach Fred Senter in 2010, and former Pleasant Hill coach Barry Triplett in 2012. Pleasant Hill merged with Choppee to form Carvers Bay in 2000.