Marshall matters now.
The Thundering Herd are relevant once again in college basketball. All it took was a thunderous upset win over Wichita State in the round of 64 last March in San Diego behind Jon Elmore’s 27 points to get everyone’s attention.
Sure, the Herd fell to nearby rival West Virginia in the round of 32, but that didn’t diminish the impact.
“It solidified our support,’’ said the 71-year old Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni, who played for the Herd and after a long career as an assistant in the NBA, returned to his alma mater as head coach in 2014. “We had 2,000 people come to see the brackets (on Selection Sunday).’’
D’Antoni doesn’t shy away from what winning a conference tournament title and an NCAA tournament appearance can do for a program and its self-confidence. He said there is a dedication from the athletic department and community. He even said their ultimate goal is to “win an NCAA title.’’
Now, that may be a reach, but nothing is impossible. He said there will be new digital boards in the arena, a new score clock and the office is getting “spruced up” after the win.
“We’re working on a campaign for a practice facility,’’ D’Antoni said. “We’re taking Marshall to a high-mid major way of operating. We’re already chartering, have extra training tables and we’ve just got the best recruiting class since I’ve been here. We’re outrecruiting some MAC and American schools. We hadn’t done that in the past.’’
D’Antoni included forward Mikel Beyers from Mesa Community College in Arizona as an example of a player who latched onto Marshall after the NCAA tournament win.
“He hadn’t heard of us before that,’’ said D’Antoni of Beyers, who is from Houston. “We think he’s a hidden gem.’’
The newcomers include 6-10 Iran Bennett, 6-7 Cam Brooks-Harris and 6-11 Ante Sustic, all players who D’Antoni says will have an impact. They join Elmore and C.J. Burks, returning guards who D’Antoni said could be two NBA-level guards once they’re done at Marshall. He’s also real high on forward Jannson Williams as having a major influence on next season’s team.
To get the front court players minutes and reps, Marshall will head to the Bahamas Aug. 11-17 and start practices for that trip on July 23. The Herd will need to deal with Western Kentucky in a top-heavy Conference USA, but they could have a chance to stand out on their own.
D’Antoni said the Herd didn’t sneak up on anyone in the league, but may have been misjudged nationally.
“We have an undervalued conference,’’ said D’Antoni.
So, how does the Herd make itself a name early? Win at least two of the four biggest non-conference games at Virginia, Maryland, Texas A&M and Duquesne.
“We’ve adjusted the front part of our season and we will be ready,’’ D’Antoni said. “We can put it all together. We will have a veteran team and be ready.’