Travels of Mike D'Antoni
La Dolce Vita for Ex-Denver Coach
Former Nuggets coach Mike D'Antoni has returned to his adopted home of Italy as coach of Benetton Treviso, the top-rated club in the European and Italian leagues with an overall record of 25-5 at week's end. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," says D'Antoni, who speaks fluent Italian without compromising his native West Virginian twang.
After a three-year playing career in the NBA and ABA, D'Antoni migrated in 1977 to Milan, where he won two European championships and retired in '90 as the top point guard in Italian League history. He coached at Milan and Treviso before returning to the U.S. in 1997 as an assistant for Denver and enduring an 11-win season. D'Antoni took over the Nuggets in lockout-shortened 1998-99 and went 14-36. Fired shortly before the next season, he served one year as an assistant in Portland before Mike Dunleavy and his staff were let go last spring.
Seeking control over his career, D'Antoni found it in the familiar surroundings of Treviso, an hour north of Venice. Owned and operated by the Benetton clothing family, the club pays him more than he would make as an NBA assistant. Among his players are two 21-year-old swingmen who could become NBA stars. While Mario Stojic, a 6'6" Croatian, needs two or three more years of experience in Europe before trying the NBA, Bostjan Nachbar, a 6'8" Slovenian, could be a first-round pick in June. "He's a Sean Elliott type, smooth and a good jumper, but he needs to become more aggressive," says D'Antoni.
Nachbar's agent says he is trying to steer more of his clients to Treviso to play for D'Antoni. "The best thing that happened to Bostjan was having Mike D'Antoni come back to Treviso," says SFX's David Bauman. "Mike understands what guys need to do to get ready for the NBA."
D'Antoni says Benetton has at least four more teenagers with NBA potential. How does Europe produce so many highly skilled players? "My seven-year-old son plays basketball three times a week at this club from September until June, and in a couple of years he'll play five or six times a week," D'Antoni says. "You do that for 15 years and you can get to be pretty good."
Play of the Week
The Trail Blazers had rallied from a 10-point deficit in Atlanta on Jan. 8 and were streaking on a three-on-two fast break to tie the game at 83-all in the fourth quarter. However, as Portland crossed midcourt, referee Ron Olesiak halted play to give Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace his league-leading 11th technical of the season for complaining about earlier calls made against him. The Hawks made the free throw, Portland missed seven of its last eight shots and Atlanta won in a romp, 101-92. Through Sunday the Blazers were 2-9 when Wallace earned a technical, including 0-6 on the road.