Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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College Sports

June 2, 2014

Mathena Center goes green for MU Coaches Caravan visit

PRINCETON — The grand hall of the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton will be decked out today in green and white to create a pep-rally-like venue for fans of Marshall University athletics.

Response has been “very good” for this evening’s annual stop of the Marshall Coaches Caravan in Mercer County, organizer Roger Topping said on Monday.

“With Marshall having such a good football season — 10 wins and a victory in the Military Bowl — we’ve had a lot of interest,” Topping said. “Then we hired Danny D’Antoni, a Marshall great and Mullens native (as men’s basketball coach), so our response has been very good.”

D’Antoni, football coach Doc Holliday, athletics director Mike Hamrick and “voice of the Thundering Herd” Steve Cotton will be present to mingle with the Marshall faithful, Topping said.

John Sutherland, executive director of Marshall’s Big Green Scholarship Foundation, will also be on hand, Topping said. The foundation handles fundraising to support Marshall athletics scholarships, facilities and booster clubs.

The Big Green has raised more than $11 million in revenue in the past five years, according to the school’s athletics website.

Availability  of Marshall cheerleaders and the mascot character Marco for the gathering was unsure on Monday.

Activities should begin about 5:30 p.m., with dinner to be served at about 7:15.

D’Antoni, 66, was announced as the new men’s basketball coach on April 24. He played point guard for the Thundering Herd from 1966-69 and graduated with an education degree in 1970 and a master’s in 1972.

He has served the past nine years as an assistant coach in the NBA, most recently on his brother Mike’s staff with the Los Angeles Lakers.

His return to his alma mater has taken Marshall basketball fans by storm.

Topping said, “You hear it everywhere. There’s a lot of talk around here. ... People are elated about the fact that Dan D’Antoni’s the new coach. They can’t wait ’til basketball season gets started.”

“It may take a little while before he gets the players he wants in there,” he said. “I’d say it’s a totally different attitude toward the upcoming basketball season. The way they will play, as opposed to how the previous year’s team played, will be like daylight and dark.”

“He’ll be running an offense that in some ways is like a pro offense,” he said. “I’m not criticizing (former coach Tom) Herrion, but it’s just a different coaching philosophy. He wants them to get up and down the floor, and pressing like crazy. It’s going to be a whole lot more fun.”

Topping enrolled as a Marshall student in 1965 and witnessed D’Antoni’s college playing career.

“They were exciting, because the game was exciting,” Topping said. “We’d leave the old Fieldhouse, and the score maybe was 106-104 and we’d lose, but they wouldn’t be talking about losing. They’d be talking about how great a basketball game it was.”

“When he was at Marshall, they ran and they ran and they ran,” Topping said. “He’s already got them (the current MU players) doing that. ... They’re huffing and puffing, but they’re getting in shape.”

“The excitement of basketball is back in the air. For me, that’s great. I was born and raised on Marshall basketball ... for a good portion of my life. I was a little boy when Hal Greer was playing.”

Topping said the “Vision” campaign for upgrading Marshall’s athletics facilities has benefited from giving by fans and friends of the university. A new soccer stadium has opened, and a new AstroTurf surface has been ordered for football.

Then there is the indoor multi-purpose facility.

“In the Vision program that Mike Hamrick’s put together, this new facility, it’s incredible what’s happening there already,” Topping said. “There’s a full-sized football field (with) a regulation track around the outside of it.”

“Student athletes will have an opportunity there they’ve never had before.”

“In that same complex is the hall of fame. If you’re a Marshall fan, you’ve got to go see that. It’s going to be really nice.”

He said that Hamrick wants to “get this Vision campaign completed before he starts another project.” But the next upgrade may be building a new baseball stadium, Topping said.

“It’s going to take some money to get that done, too,” he said.

— Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com

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