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D’Antoni focusing on players with less experience

October 13, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Marshall Thundering Herd men’s basketball head coach Dan D’Antoni knows what he’s getting from his veteran players.

Marshall senior guards Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks and Rondale Watson along with junior forward Christian Thieneman, sophomore forwards Jannson Williams and Darius George and sophomore guard Jarrod West have been through the process of capturing a Conference USA championship and winning in the NCAA tournament.

But, D’Antoni also has nine players with no NCAA Division I experience.

“I think there is a major difference between the returners that have played at the level of focus and intensity that you have to have to win a championship, to play in the NCAA tournament and win a game,” D’Antoni said. “There is a difference between how they focus and the intensity they have as opposed to all our newcomers.

“I believe in them. We didn’t recruit them not to believe in them. Once it clicks you have a player because we have skill and athleticism, a lot more than we’ve had in the past.”

Marshall had the ninth of its 30 practices Tuesday before opening the season Nov. 7 against Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. Oct. 28 and Nov. 1 exhibition games in Cam Henderson Center against Glenville State College and West Virginia Wesleyan College respectively are included in the practice count.

D’Antoni said last season’s team grew throughout its run to a 25-11 record, its first C-USA basketball championship and the program’s first NCAA appearance since 1987. Marshall had lost all five of its previous NCAA tournament games before knocking off Wichita State University. The season ended with a second round loss to West Virginia University.

“First you had the two freshmen, (Darius) George and Jannson (Williams), and we had contributions from them,” D’Antoni said. “Then (Adjin) Penava’s game grew to where he started picking up the speed. C.J. (Burks) and Jon (Elmore) were always there. Rondale (Watson) has it. (Jarrod) West was a freshman. He had it, but he had to learn to get through his freshman stuff too. And to understand where he was supposed to go. It wasn’t that he wasn’t, but he didn’t know where he was going.”

Penava, a 6-foot-9 forward who led the nation in blocked shots, left following his junior season and is playing professionally in Spain.

By D’Antoni’s estimate the Herd has six or seven players who know what it takes to win after beginning the 2017-18 season with just three or four.

The coaching staff is working to get freshman guard Taevion Kinsey, redshirt freshman forward Iran Bennett, freshman guard Jeremy Dillon, freshman forward Cam Brooks-Harris, junior forward Ante Sustic and sophomore forward Mikel Byers up to speed. The roster is completed by freshman non-scholarship guards Luke Thomas, DeAundra Murphy and Wilhelm Von Arndt.

“Some of them don’t know where they’re going and don’t know how hard they have to play,” D’Antoni said. “Some of them in this group know how to play, have figured it out, but don’t play hard enough.”

D’Antoni said the learning process is like a baby learning how to walk. He said you can lift the baby up on its legs, but until it’s ready it’s not walking. Each player is different about figuring it out, he said.

He has to be patient, give players opportunities and encourage them until they get there, D’Antoni said.

“I think there is a major difference between the returners that have played at the level of focus and intensity that you have to have to win a championship, to play in the NCAA tournament and win a game. There is a difference between how they focus and the intensity they have as opposed to all our newcomers.

Dan. D’Antoni

Marshall basketball coach

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