Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

December 11, 2011

Coaching legend honored on Lewis D’Antoni Day at Concord

ATHENS — At the age of 97, Lewis D’Antoni has become an author — and, at least for one Saturday afternoon, a celebrity at his alma mater.

The Mullens native and prep basketball coaching legend returned to the Concord University campus from which he graduated in 1937 to be honored at halftime of the men’s basketball game in the Carter Center.

When public address announcer C. Allen Smith asked the crowd to show appreciation to “one of West Virginia’s own, and a true Concord legend,” people rose to their feet for an extended round of applause.

D’Antoni turned and waved to the stands.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here,” he said in a press conference afterward. “It looks like Concord’s on the move. Football’s doing well, and it looks like [basketball coach Kent] McBride’s got a good ballclub coming up. I’m real proud of ’em, really.”

Concord President Gregory F. Aloia said that when the ovation began, his thoughts were, “We’re recognizing a legend from our family, and we’re very proud of it.”

Kathy D’Antoni, the honoree’s daughter, said  about that moment, “I don’t how you’d put all the pride you feel into words.” Admitting she was biased, she said, “He is extremely deserving.”

D’Antoni’s teams won 450 games in his 35-season career. After earning nine varsity letters in his Concord playing days, he coached at Pineville High School from 1937-41 and at Mullens High from 1942-59.

In a single-division state playoff, the Mullens Rebels reached the state tournament in 1951 and 1952, became state runners-up in 1954 and won the state basketball championship in 1955.

That year, D’Antoni was the first winner of the High School Coach of the Year award selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

He coached at Chesapeake (Ohio) High School from 1971-82, winning six conference championships and being named coach of the year six times.

He was inducted into West Virginia’s Sports Hall of Fame in May 2004 and is also in Concord’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

D’Antoni has authored his first book, “The Coach’s Coach,” and took part in a book-signing reception after the ballgame.

“People may think it’s mostly about basketball, but it isn’t,” the author said. “It’s a life of the D’Antoni family, which moved into Mullens and grew up there. ... The second part of the book is about my career.”

He said, “My daughter really talked me into it. I said, I haven’t done enough to even write a book or anything like that. She said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ ” He said he recorded stories and thoughts into a small recorder, which she edited.

“She did a marvelous job with it,” he said.

Kathy D’Antoni is an assistant state superintendent of schools in West Virginia. The coach’s youngest son Mark is a lawyer in Charleston.

The head coach of the New York Knicks, Mike D’Antoni, and his assistant coach Dan, both former pro basketball players, complete the unique branch of the family tree.

“I have four kids I’ve been blessed with,” Lewis D’Antoni said.

Asked about his two older sons’ basketball careers, he said, “They have done great. I knew that they were going to be good coaches, because they grew up with a basketball in their hands, in a house where basketball was always around.”

He said, “They wanted to coach together all their lives, so they finally got together, in New York City — which has been tough.

“The three years Mike has been there, they’ve traded off all their players. They’ve changed the roster. He didn’t have much chance of coaching them.

“This year, I think they’re going to a little more stable and going to have better ball players, and I think he’s going to do real well this year.”

Aloia said McBride, the Mountain Lions’ first-year head coach and former Concord point guard, proposed the idea of honoring Lewis D’Antoni and he immediately endorsed it.

Aloia said, “When you think about the role of university in giving back to society, it’s citizens like Coach D’Antoni who exemplify that.”

“Not only was he a great student here and a great athlete, but he went out and he changed the life of students and citizens for whole generations.

“That’s the kind of alumni we’re not only proud of, but we want to continue to develop through our athletic programs and through our academic programs.”

Paul Greer, a high school basketball coach for 32 years at Herndon, Oceana and Greenbrier East, sat with D’Antoni through the ballgame. In the final two seconds, Concord broke out of a tie to take an 89-87 lead against Pitt-Johnstown and won the game when a UPJ three-point shot missed at the buzzer.

“We discussed strategy there at the end,” Greer said. “Of course, they didn’t exactly do what we thought they might do, but it worked out.”

Like D’Antoni, McBride is from Wyoming County. D’Antoni said, “He’s a real smart kid. He has a good knowledge of basketball, and he loves the game of basketball, so he’ll work hard at it.”

“Growing up in Mullens, which is a hotbed of basketball, didn’t hurt him at all.”

McBride said, “I’ve been around the D’Antonis all my life. It’s really special to have him here, at 97 years old. ... I’m glad we got a win for him on Lewis D’Antoni Day.”

“Even though he lived a mile from my house and my grandmother’s known that family all my life, you’re still kind of star-struck to have him walking in the building. He brings a smile to your face.”

“I’m glad he got to see a good basketball game.”

At halftime, D’Antoni commented briefly on how basketball changed since the old days.

“The kids, more of them are handling the ball, a lot better than what I had back when I was coaching,” he said. “And, of course, the three-point [goal] they have now has changed basketball completely.”

“It looks like the basketball players are more athletic today than they were.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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