2016 1104 mu basketball

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Marshall head coach Dan D'Antoni looks on from the bench as the Herd takes on West Virginia State in a men’s basketball exhibition game on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

Danny D'Antoni doesn't talk much about "the crash."

He hasn't watched the "We Are Marshall" movie. He avoided the annual Nov. 14 fountain ceremony for more than 40 years. He bears his grief in silence like men were taught to do in his day.

Usually, at least.

But Danny and I both lived through that horrific event 46 years ago. We both were at Marshall. My lead story in The Parthenon's memorial issue featured a quote from Danny.

So, as we sat together in a mostly empty Henderson Center with all that in common, the words and emotions began to flow from him.

"The basketball program was as big a part of that plane crash as losing the football team," said D'Antoni, Marshall's third-year head basketball coach. "That's because we lost the major passion from supporters - three, four, five of the major people who would have continued to have the passion for basketball and push the program forward, who weren't here anymore.

"A lot of people - and rightfully so - moved to football to insure its existence. At that time, just the existence. And, then, ultimately the success of the (football) program happened. But they forgot to turn around and remember the passion and the excitement of the sport that was here that didn't get quite the same attention."

Instead, basketball became a welcome distraction.

"I think that was the mood back then," said D'Antoni, who was an assistant coach. "But our mood was not to really think about what happened, but to think about going forward. It was good and bad. It got me through a couple years. But it was bad because I really never let out the emotions that I had when it happened.

"Since that time, I talked my way out of, really, a depression that had stayed with me for 40 years maybe."

D'Antoni simply never got closure.

"Right," he said. "We had moved forward and didn't take the time to realize what had happened. That's the way it was handled back then. It has changed now. If that would happen now there would be seven or eight counselors in here. There would be people trying to worry about the mental aspect and what it did to the survivors or the people who were close to them.

"We didn't have any of that back then. You were expected to be strong and move forward. So, you just never really got it out of you. But, again, we were a big part of that plane crash, as far as the basketball program itself. The intensity and the passion that was behind the program at the time - we lost it, too, along with some great friends.

"There was so much more to that plane crash."

There were people. People who were important in the community and people who were important to Marshall.

"There were basketball supporters on that plane trying to help football," said D'Antoni. "We lost Dr. Hagley, who of course was my biggest supporter. Even after I graduated and had quit playing, his family was still the second family I had here in town.

"The Proctors, the Hagleys, the Ralstons and the Wards ... all of them. Just a tremendous loss for the town and Marshall University. Bigger than just football.

"It was all of us."

And it still is.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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