“You can’t win with West Virginia players.” That has been the notion Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni has been proving wrong for several seasons now and after a historic 2017-18 season, Thundering Herd basketball is reaping the benefits of West Virginia talent even more.
Early on in his tenure at Marshall, D’Antoni focused on recruiting in-state players to help build the program he wanted to lead for the better part of 50 years. Many fans and outside voices said it would never work, but he who laughs last laughs best. The momentum began to start during the 2015-16 season in D’Antoni’s second year as head coach.
During that season, Marshall had its first winning season since the 2011-12 season by finishing 17-16 overall while finishing third in C-USA and made an appearance in the C-USA Tournament semifinals.
The Herd continued the momentum during the 2016-17 season by securing its first 20-win season since 2011-12 by finishing 20-15 overall while making it all the way to the C-USA Tournament Championship game before falling to eventual champions Middle Tennessee.
The positive momentum would reach a historic plateau during the 2017-18 season in which Marshall won the C-USA Tournament Championship for the first time and made an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 1987.
Not only did the Herd make the big dance, but it won a game in the tournament for the first time in program history by knocking off fourth-seeded Wichita State in the Round of 64 to make a Round of 32 appearance for the first time ever.
D’Antoni’s Herd has gone from 11 wins to 17 wins to 20 wins to 25 wins in four consecutive seasons with a lot of that success being attributed to players from the mountain state. Under-recruited and overlooked talent has carved out a legacy and list of accomplishments that will go down in the annals of Marshall basketball history.
Since the 2015-16 season, which was the first real season in which D’Antoni had most of his own recruited players, West Virginians have increased in productivity each season. During the 2015-16 season, 42.5 percent of the Herd’s total minutes played were made up by players from West Virginia.
In addition, 40 percent of Marshall’s total points scored during the 2015-16 season came via West Virginia players. That trend has only grown from that point and during the 2016-17 season, 44.2 percent of Marshall’s total minutes played came from West Virginians and 51.3 percent of the total points scored all came from West Virginians as well.
The 2017-18 season saw the Herd have unprecedented levels of success and largely on the shoulders of mountain state talent. West Virginians made up 64.4 percent of the total minutes played during the season and 69 percent of the total points scored during the season also came via West Virginians.
Over the past three seasons, Marshall has never had fewer than six West Virginia players on its roster. That number hit a high under Coach D’Antoni in 2017-18 when the Herd had eight players on its roster from the mountain state with several of those players being key contributors to the team’s success.
Jon and Ot Elmore are from Charleston, C.J. Burks is from Martinsburg, Jarrod West hails from Clarksburg, Rondale Watson is a Lewisburg native, Phil Bledsoe is from Wheeling, Marcus Reed is from Charleston, and Will Fenton is from Fayetteville.
Those names make up the eight players from the mountain state on the Herd’s roster during the 2017-18 season and most will be back for the upcoming 2018-19 season in which Marshall is expected to compete for another C-USA Championship.
Stevie Browning, a native of Logan who currently plays overseas, was a key contributor to Marshall during his time with the program from 2015-2017 as well. Whether the player is a starter or a seldom-used walk-on, D’Antoni openly relishes in keeping West Virginia talent in-state to play for the Herd. And that technique has paid dividends for the program lately.
The Herd has won 60 percent of its games over the past three seasons while winning 63 percent of its C-USA regular season games, two C-USA Tournament Championship game appearances with one C-USA Tournament Championship win, two 20-plus win seasons, an NCAA Tournament appearance, and a first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
That is a stellar three-year period for a program that was in a bad state when D’Antoni took over. Those accomplishments can be greatly attributed to talent from West Virginia that other schools wouldn’t take the chance on, but D’Antoni and his staff have helped develop into legitimate Division I talent.
Not only is West Virginia well-represented with players for Marshall, but coaches are as well. D’Antoni is from Mullens and assistant coaches Mark Cline and Cornelius Jackson are from Williamson and Oak Hill respectively. Excitement is at a level it hasn’t been in a long time for Marshall basketball and many expect another tremendous season in 2018-19.
But regardless of how many more wins Marshall gets in the years to come, as long as Coach D’Antoni is at the helm, the state of West Virginia will always be well-represented and have a home with the Herd.