While sitting on the bench next to assistant coach Dan D’Antoni, former New York Knicks’ point guard Chris Duhon would discuss the game of basketball with the Mullins, West Virginia native. Little did both know, seven years down the road, the two would be doing the same in their second season leading Marshall University’s men’s basketball team.
D’Antoni said the more time he spent around his former player, the easier it was to notice his knowledge of basketball and that he had the proper traits to be a successful coach.
“I learned from just talking to him, being in the locker room together, being on planes, eating together, that he has a good demeanor about him,” D’Antoni said. “He’s a positive person and fun to be around. I knew I could enjoy coaching with him. I think he felt the same thing. There was a vibe between us.”
D’Antoni offered Duhon the position as his assistant once he was named Marshall’s head coach in April 2014. D’Antoni messaged Duhon about joining him, and Duhon jokingly texted back, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“I guess he thought I was messing with him,” D’Antoni said. “But I was being absolutely serious, and here we are now.”
Before the offer from D’Antoni, Duhon had already been intrigued with the possibility of coaching.
Duhon said being around his former head coaches in the NBA had a lot to do with his interest.
“Just seeing how those guys conducted themselves and led the team and then their different styles and their different take on the game really stuck with me,” Duhon said.
With only being two years removed from the NBA, Duhon, 32, said he cannot help but miss playing the game he has participated in all his life.
“It’s tough,” the nine-year NBA veteran said. “I still feel like I can get out there and play a little bit. I miss it. Seeing our players go out and compete every day, there are times in your head where you’re like ‘I can do this.’ But at the same time, when I get out there and correct them and see that they’re making improvements, it kind of makes me realize that I can have a really big impact on the game of basketball by teaching, coaching and helping these younger guys.”
Duhon, who helped lead Duke University to the 2004 NCAA Championship as a freshman, said he credits his time under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski for honing his leadership skills on and off the court.
“I learned so much from Coach K,” Duhon said. “He’s the best coach in college basketball for a reason. At that time, I was really focusing on getting to the next level of competition basketball-wise. Coaching was something always in my head, but it wasn’t clear-cut at that point.”
Krzyzewski, however, said he could tell Duhon could one day have a career in coaching if it was something he wanted to pursue.
“He was a pass-first point guard,” Krzyzewski said through a Duke public relations official. “And he was really one of the two or three guys that I coached here in over three decades that never got tired. He could pressure the ball, move the ball up the court and it didn’t really matter if he scored as long as his team won. To me, I always thought his understanding of the game could translate into him being an outstanding coach.”
Krzyzewski said when he found out Duhon had accepted his first coaching position, he was not the least bit surprised.
“Well, he already earned the assistant coaching position at Marshall because their head coach knew him well, having coached him in the pros,” Krzyzewski said. “And I just gave my endorsement and my support. It was a no-brainer for him to get that job.”
Despite leaving the university more than 10 years ago, Duhon said he still stays in touch with his Blue Devil family.
“Coach K does a great job of making us a family program,” Duhon said. “I talk to all the guys all the time. He does a great job of bringing us back together, no matter what generation, just so we can feel that tight niche family that most people would want to have. I’ll always be associated with Duke and that’s what most people remember me for.”
While many coaches who serve as assistants eventually become head coaches, D’Antoni said he would like to see Duhon take his head coaching position someday.
“I hope we can keep him,” D’Antoni said. “I hope he takes my job when I leave Marshall. It’d be great for Marshall. He represents the university the way it should be represented.”
Duhon said while he would like to become a head coach one day, he is focused on excelling in his current role now.
“I’m young,” Duhon said. “I’m still in the learning stages and there’s a lot I have to learn. So, now, I’m just kind of soaking things up. Like a player, whenever you can grasp something from somebody, kind of write it down, remember it, and whenever you get that opportunity, be prepared to pounce on it.”
Malcolm Walton can be contacted at [email protected]