After his tabloid-ready tenure with the New York Knicks, Mike D'Antoni is not exactly the most respected coach in NBA circles these days. That's not to say that he's disliked, but teams are no longer knocking down his door to make contract offers as they were when he left the Phoenix Suns in 2008. His fast-paced offense just doesn't have quite the same reputation these days, even as it serves as the structure for everything Team USA does at the London Olympics.
D'Antoni, 61, never envisioned himself as a college coach. He can be stubborn and headstrong, and he badly wanted to prove his system could work in the NBA. But in the process of taking his son on college visits, his perspective began to change.
"You think about it," D'Antoni said. "You look at it and think, 'Oh, that could be fun.' One thing I do know from taking my son around is that anytime you step on a college campus, you feel energy. You feel an excitement that's not there, normally, where the business (of basketball) takes over. And obviously, when you feel the excitement; things go through your head."
Bickley supports this idea without reservations, specifically as it applies to Arizona State, where current coach Herb Sendek could lose his job. He has enough of an interest in D'Antoni coaching, in fact, that it's easy to see D'Antoni responding to a particular line of questioning rather than any special desire to coach in the NCAA. Sometimes, comments seem shocking when they're really just perfectly normal answers to leading questions.
However, that doesn't mean that this isn't a good idea. While D'Antoni likely wants to prove that his system can work in the NBA, the right opportunity may not present itself when he next looks for a job. College basketball is actually very well-suited to a system-minded coach, because staffs can recruit players specifically to fill predetermined roles without worrying about salary caps. While recruits don't always perform as expected, the NCAA world is a little more predictable. Coaches are allowed to build systems over time, creating destinations for particular kinds of players. D'Antoni's fortunes wouldn't be tied to having the right point guard — as a coach with a strong reputation, he'd identify good fits and recruit those players for years.
It's easy to see college basketball as a step down from the pros, and in many ways it is. But coaches have different strengths, and sometimes being good at one level doesn't preclude someone from being great at another. For all we know, D'Antoni isn't serious about the collegiate option. But it would make a lot of sense for him to at least consider the idea, because it could be his calling.