HUNTINGTON — For three straight years, Marshall’s men’s basketball team won 20-plus games and achieved things the program never had.
Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni stopped practice on Wednesday and spoke to his team about what he saw as the current difference between those teams and his 2019-20 team, which is currently 2-3.
As D’Antoni said, it has nothing to do with talent or ability — aspects that the veteran coach thinks this year’s team has more of than any of those years.
Instead, it comes down to attitude, which is related to the team’s mental toughness.
As was pointed out to the team during Wednesday’s practice, that lack of toughness in the mental side is creeping into the physical side.
“If you make a mistake and your first reaction is to get your head down instead of bust it to get back, that’s selfish,” D’Antoni told his team. “That’s putting yourself before the team. And nobody is above the team.”
It was a pointed but passionate statement from D’Antoni, who took several minutes out of practice to talk to the team about becoming one and moving toward one goal and not being focused on themselves or their own success or struggles.
“We’re all one,” D’Antoni said. “We’re all green right now. Coming from Raleigh? So what? You’re a hillbilly now. We’re all the same.”
In D’Antoni’s eyes, the idea of “Hillbilly Ball” comes from a blue-collar concept simply borne out of working harder than those around you.
The concept adhered to D’Antoni because of where he’s from — a state where everyone works hard and scraps for what they get.
D’Antoni reminded his players that those same people are working hard to be able to buy the tickets to see his team play each night out.
“How do you make them proud?” D’Antoni said. “Play as hard as you can. Practice as hard as you can. That’s what it’s all about.”
For young teams, growth is not just about the weight room or a role on the team. It’s also about the mental side of being accountable and holding yourself to a higher standard.
“If that mistake doesn’t mean something to you, we’re in trouble,” D’Antoni said. “You’re going to hurt these other guys.”
D’Antoni spoke prior to Tuesday’s practice about how the team’s schedule is going to test the team in those capacities.
Friday’s contest at Florida is one such time. The Gators are currently 5-2 and are coming off wins over Miami and nationally ranked Xavier.
The Gators are thought to be a potential Final Four team and have talent at every level. For Marshall to stay in it, the team will have to possess that mental toughness and execute at a level higher than what they’ve seen so far this season.
But that’s what D’Antoni said the non-conference schedule is all about — that challenge.