Back to school for Mike D'Antoni?

7:17 AM, Aug 2, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It seems his experience as a member of the 2012 United States Men's basketball coaching staff at this year's Olympics may have altered Mike D'Antoni's future plans.

The former NBA Coach of the Year told a newspaper in Arizona earlier this week that he would be interested in returning to coaching, but in the college ranks rather than in the NBA where he has coached for the better part of the last 15 years.

D'Antoni is currently an assistant coach for the powerhouse U.S. men's Olympic team that while filled with NBA stars, is led primarily by college coaches. This includes head coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time wins leader in NCAA Division I history and fellow assistant Jim Boeheim, who heads perennial NCAA power Syracuse.

After a stunningly successful tenure with the Phoenix Suns from 2003-2008, D'Antoni took on arguably the most high profile coaching job in the NBA becoming the head coach of the New York Knicks. D'Antoni's time with the Knicks was less successful than with the Suns as he compiled a record of 121-167 over three plus seasons.

D'Antoni was at the helm when Jeremy Lin burst on to the scene earlier this year but resigned, with speculation that he was forced out due to a rift with star forward Carmelo Anthony, midway through the lockout-shortened season.

Now D'Antoni remains as one of the most high-profile coaches on the market for teams potentially looking to fill the seat at the top of the bench. A college program would more than likely leap at the chance to grab such a recognizable coach especially with D'Antoni's track record.

Like Southern Methodist's hiring of Larry Brown, D'Antoni could bring a level of hype and attention to a smaller program looking to make a splash on the national scene with the aim of attracting recruits and improving wins and losses as well.

In comparison to Brown, D'Antoni also has a better shot at a higher profile job. Although Brown certainly still has the coaching chops, his age is a concern for programs that don't need more publicity but want a coach they can install for a long period of time. At 61, D'Antoni is 11 years Brown's junior and if the fit is right, could be coaching for another 10 or 15 years.

D'Antoni's would also be an important hire in terms of recruiting, especially among blue-chip talent that wants to be put in the best position possible to make the leap to the pros.

In an era where college players more and more frequently leave for professional opportunities, the recruiting of top level talent has become even more important and difficult. Last season John Calipari, head coach at Kentucky, led a team that started four freshman to a national title only to have his entire starting five get selected in the NBA Draft two months later.

Whether or not the one-and-done recruiting strategy is right or wrong is besides the point. That is where college basketball is and with his experience in the NBA, D'Antoni could be an invaluable recruiter, enticing high school athletes with his resume.

Recruiting and bringing attention to a program is one thing but no coach can survive if they do not bring success on the court as well. Which begs the question; would D'Antoni's coaching philosophy be effective in the college game?

While with the Phoenix Suns, D'Antoni was known for the high octane offense that centered around star point guard Steve Nash. The so-called "seven seconds or less" offense is predicated on strong point guard play, the high pick-and- roll and the spreading of the floor for shooters. In the college game this strategy could be extremely effective, assuming D'Antoni is able to successfully recruit the types of players that excel within that system. The effectiveness of the scheme would more than likely also benefit from the drop in the level of competition and defensive physicality of the college game in comparison to the NBA.

One of the bigger knocks on D'Antoni has been his perceived defensive inefficiencies. Even during his successful years with Phoenix, his squads were always at the bottom of the NBA in terms of points allowed per game, including ranking dead-last in the NBA during the 2004-2005 season, which was the same year D'Antoni took home coach of the year honors.

Defense is still a vital aspect of the game in college but with less isolation plays and fewer athletes on opposing teams that may be able to keep up with the pace D'Antoni likes his teams to run at, the disparity between his offense and defense should be less drastic.

So on paper it would seem that D'Antoni would make a very nice transition into the college game. It remains to be seen how serious his intentions are though.

The NBA coaching carousel is constantly spinning with openings popping up almost monthly. With the hiring of Jacque Vaughn by the Orlando Magic last week all 30 teams currently have a head coach but it's only a matter of time before a spot opens up. When that time comes if teams come knocking would D'Antoni pick college over another shot in the pros?

For now D'Antoni will focus on coaching the offense for the Olympic team in its pursuit of back-to-back gold medals. While he's doing so he need only look down the bench to see what success in college coaching can lead to.

The Sports Network

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