Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

June 4, 2014

Green revolution

Marshall faithful show support for Thundering Herd

PRINCETON — Dan D’Antoni, at age 66, was treated like a rock star on Tuesday evening by the Marshall University fan base in Mercer County.

The new men’s basketball coach of the Thundering Herd, a native of Mullens, mingled with scores of green-shirted fans, as the undisputed top drawing card at this year’s Marshall Coaches Caravan tour stop at the Chuck Mathena Center.

“Coming back’s always pleasant memories,” D’Antoni said about returning to southern West Virginia. “I’ve always loved the people, and I’ve had good times here, so I’m glad to be back.”

“It’s always great, meeting people,” D’Antoni said. “I’m kind of a people person, so I enjoy it. ... It’s  good way to start, to get to see the state again, to get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen.”

Starting to chuckle, he said, “The toughest part is, when they look at you and go, ‘Do you remember —?’ And I’m (thinking), ‘Gosh, don’t do that to me!’ But other than that, it’s been really, really good.”

Around 100 Marshall backers milled about in the grand hall of the center before sitting down to a meal and plenty of talk promoting the growth of Marshall athletics.

“We’ve got a decent crowd,” said Welch resident Bill Kell, who again helped check in the attendees at the door. “I’m tickled to death they (the coaches) come here every year.”

One of D’Antoni’s traveling companions is John Sutherland, a veteran of the coaches’ tours and the executive director of Marshall’s Big Green Scholarship Foundation.

“The coaches’ tour always has a spark to it when there’s a new coach present,” Sutherland said. “With Dan D’Antoni, it’s more like adding a brushfire than a spark.”

“He has been received so well at all the tour stops. ... He and Doc (Holliday, the Herd’s football coach) have great chemistry together.”

The return of D’Antoni to coach at the school where he played from 1966-69 overshadowed the considerable presence of Holliday, who led a resurgent Marshall team to a 10-4 record last year and a bowl game victory.

“They’re on the upswing,” said Princeton Senior High football coach Randy Peek, who was on hand with several of his players from the Tigers. “I’m sure it’s helped with recruiting, and fundraising, and everything that comes with wins.”

Sutherland, referring to Holliday’s attention to grades and character among his players, said, “I think folks are grateful not only for what he’s done, but how he’s done it. It’s the hardest way, but it’s the best way.”

John “Jabo” Williams of Princeton predicted, “This year I think that Marshall is going to go undefeated (in football). I really do.”

He referred to attending last December’s 31-10 Marshall victory in the Military Bowl.

“When you beat Maryland, and they’re going into the Big Ten, and I must say this, (Maryland) beat West Virginia 37-0, (and) we went up there and clocked ’em. ... Marshall showed up,” Williams said.

“We had the best recruiting in (Conference) USA this year,” he added. “Marshall recruits in this area much more than anyone else does.”

Peek said about gifted Princeton quarterback Jay Palmer, who will be a senior this fall, “Marshall’s talking to him.”

Williams, when asked about the D’Antoni’s prospects in basketball, said, “I think, with his name alone ... that he’s going to be able to recruit, and bring players back to Marshall again, and I think the basketball program is really going to advance.”

Kell said, “If he ever has a losing season, I’d be surprised. ... I’m looking for great things in the coming years.”

In addition to recruiting and raising scholarship funds, Marshall athletics has also been engaged in “The Vision Campaign.”

That has already resulted in a new soccer stadium, football stadium improvements, and the ongoing construction of a new multi-purpose facility.

Sutherland said about that campaign, “We hope that around the first of August we’ll be able to make an announcement ... hopefully, we’ll be able to say we have completed the Vision Campaign.”

“We are very, very pleased with how support of Marshall fans — and, honestly, southern West Virginia Marshall fans — have helped the campaign close in on the goal.”

“What the folks down here have done is humbling,” he said.

The crowd enjoyed the presence of several Marshall cheerleaders, and the comments of master of ceremonies Steve Cotton, an award-winning broadcaster and “the voice of the Thundering Herd.”

Marshall athletics director Mike Hamrick was planning to attend, but local dinner organizer Roger Topping said that Hamrick unexpectedly became ill before arriving in Princeton, and had returned to Huntington.

Marshall football kicks off on Aug. 30 at Miami of Ohio. The schedule for men’s and women’s basketball has not yet been released.

Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com.  An in-depth story with Dan D’Antoni will appear in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph.

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