NEW YORK CITY — New York Knicks’ head coach, Mike D’Antoni, knows a thing or two about the international game. He played in Italy for Milan for 13 seasons and became the club’s all-time leading-scorer and won five Italian League regular season titles (1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986).
Once done as a player in Italy he moved on to coach Milan and Treviso Benetton compiling a record of 288-101 (.740) and a playoff record of 37-23 (.617).
To say D’Antoni is a wealth of international experience is an understatement.
Since then he has been a coach in the NBA and is back as an assistant coach with Team USA. This will mark his sixth stint as an assistant coach.
I caught up with coach D’Antoni while Team USA is in New York City gearing for the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey to get his thoughts on the state of the team, imparting his international experience on a young squad and his thoughts on the newest addition to the Knicks, Roger Mason Jr.
“They are real good players obviously but they are coming together as a team everyday,” said D’Antoni when I asked him about his thoughts on the team, “You see the chemistry get a little bit better and there’s a lot of talent out here. They are just a little young but they are learning very quickly.”
A young team indeed. Players such as Stephen Curry, Russel Westbrook and Jeff Green have never tasted this level of competition as they will in Turkey. But as mentioned before, D’Antoni knows a lot about the international style of game. Now he is stressing to Team USA how important every possession is in international competition, “They just say have to play a little bit of a different game. The urgency of playing every possession because it’s a 40 minute game, you cant afford to be 9-1,” said D’Antoni to Project Spurs, “You can’t lose one. We just try to impress on them how every play, every rebound, every possession is huge and in large part they are doing a better job and they will keep doing that.”
Every possession is key. Especially playing against seasoned professional players in Turkey. The coaching staff and players know the teams they will face in Turkey will be teams which have played together for years and to make things a bit tough, the US has not won at a World Championship since 1994. D’Antoni is fully aware of this fact, “USA has not won a World Championship since 1994. So Lebron James and Dwyane Wade didn’t win in Japan. It’s tough competition. They are professional players, playing together for 10 or 15 years. It’s very hard for a young team to beat them but I like our chances and I like who we got.”
For as much as D’Antoni has winning gold in Turkey on his mind, he did have some good things to say about former San Antonio Spur, Roger Mason, Jr., joining the Knicks and what he envisions as Mason’s role, “He is a good addition because he shoots the basketball and he’s a good guy,” D’Antoni said to Project Spurs. “He will back up the point and he is a multi-position player. He will definitely be a positive. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
This is a young team heading to Turkey. But one thing is for sure, D’Antoni and the rest of the coaching staff has the team heading in the right direction and is fully aware the team needs every ounce of his international experience if Team USA wants to win gold at the World Championship.