Garnets, Like Knicks, Benefitting from Mike D’Antoni’s Touch

It was a very ordinary evening in the Twyman house. Basketball was on the television, and father and sons were tuned in to the hard-court drama.

The rejuvenated Knickerbockers were running yet another team off the court with their scintillating brand of speedball, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier was likely praising New York for their “omnipotence” in “swooping and hooping” to a victory. The Twyman brothers, however, were instead focused on the mechanisms of the game. Chris and Max pointed out to their father, Jay, that – yes, indeed – the Knicks were running the same offense as the team they play for, the Rye Garnets.

There’s nothing surprising about a high school team cribbing a professional one’s plays, but there is one very unordinary reason for the stylistic similarities between the teams. Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks’ head coach, isn’t just the architect of New York’s breakneck offense. The coach, a Rye resident, has taught portions of his renowned offensive playbook to the home team in person.

D’Antoni’s son, Mike Jr., is a sophomore who plays for the Garnets and the reason the former NBA Coach of the Year has made himself available to the varsity team. From running offseason pickup games at Rye Recreation to teaching professional drills at the Carver Center and attending practices, the West Virginia native is keen on sharing his basketball acumen.

“As long as they’re enjoying the game, that’s enough for me,” said D’Antoni, who, true to what you see on TV, is all smiles and laughs in person. “The coaches do a great job with the team; I just want to encourage them further and make sure they’re loving basketball.”

Rye head coach Chris DiCintio grew up a fan of the Knicks, so becoming friendly with the franchise’s coach is something of a boyhood dream. Quick, somebody pinch him.

“He’s the most down-to-earth prominent figure I’ve ever met,” said DiCintio. “Speaking with him I actually lose sight of the fact that he’s the head coach of the Knicks. He’ll talk basketball with me like we’re just two regular coaches. He never makes me feel beneath him in any way, and has been nothing but an absolute pleasure to have around.”

Rye head coach Chris DiCintio

As any NBA fan can tell you, D’Antoni is master of the fast break. His high-octane Phoenix Suns of 2003-2008, led by Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, washed away the foul taste of the NBA’s grind-it-out style of the late 1990s, and provided a far more enjoyable viewing experience. Although those Phoenix teams failed to reach the NBA Finals, they never finished with fewer than 54 wins in the regular season when D’Antoni and Nash were together.

With the Garnets, D’Antoni has assisted the fast break and preached floor balance. As part of their daily routine, Rye now performs some of the same drills the Knicks use at practice. DiCintio even tried to install the Knicks’ pick and roll, the system that spurred New York to 13 of 14 wins earlier this season, but – even with the freakishly athletic Brian Pickup on the receiving end – it’s not the same minus Raymond Felton dishing and Stoudemire delivering a thunderous dunk. Nevertheless, D’Antoni gives DiCintio useful pointers on Rye’s floor spacing and other nuances of the game.

“He comes to practices because he can’t make many games, but keeps his distance unless I go to him and ask for input,” said DiCintio. “I’m not foolish. I still want to learn after all these years, so I don’t let him sit there quietly.”

D’Antoni joked that he was in hiding the last two years because of the Knicks’ place among the dregs of the NBA. The Knickerbocker revival coincided with his son making varsity, so he’s become more visible even while keeping a low profile. He loves watching Mike Jr. play, but emphasized that it’s just one part of his son’s life. D’Antoni said that he’s happy as long as his son is, and praised DiCintio for teaching both basketball and life lessons.

Mike D'Antoni Jr.

DiCintio noted that while D’Antoni will tell him what he thinks of, for example, Rye’s zone defense compared to its man-to-man, he never puts pressure on the coach to play certain athletes or run certain schemes. He’s all about watching his son and being a dad. And it’s evident that his good-natured personality has trickled down.

All you need to know about Mike D’Antoni Jr., Rye’s five-foot-nine combo guard off the bench, is that his favorite player is the aforementioned Nash. The coach’s son admires the two-time MVP for his ceaseless drive to make teammates better, as well as that silky smooth shot. The affable and humble D’Antoni Jr. says that it’s amazing being his father’s son, and that he’s had a great life despite moving around a lot. He’s never known a time when his dad wasn’t a basketball coach. The side effect of that is an understanding of what it takes to reach the highest level.

“Being around the professionals, you learn how hard they work,” said D’Antoni Jr. “They put in so many hours each day. Obviously my goal here is to play hard and work hard. My concern is fitting into my role and improving my shot.”

Coincidentally, D’Antoni Jr. isn’t the only Garnet with a noteworthy basketball pedigree. The Twyman brothers’ grandfather, Jack Twyman, is a Basketball Hall-of-Famer who played 11 seasons in the NBA for the Rochester/Cincinnati Royals, now known as the Sacramento Kings. He played in six All-Star games and was the first NBA player to average more than 30 points per game for a season. His son, Jay, played college basketball for Rick Pitino at Boston University. In college, Jay Twyman sometimes went against Michael Ice, who was a bona fide banger for the late Jim Valvano at Iona College. And guess what? Ice’s son, Teddy, is a junior forward on the Garnets.

Max Twyman

“You do see it a lot in basketball where the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” said Jay Twyman. “It creates exposure, but there is always the expectation to do well and not mess up on or off the court. It has been fun to watch the team though, and sit next to coach D’Antoni, who absolutely loves to talk about basketball. I just hope the kids cherish it.”

Chris Twyman

Like most of the Garnets, the Twyman boys have been playing since they were little, but were never forced into the game. Chris, a senior, said basketball has taught him discipline, and he’s well aware how lucky he and his teammates are. Max, a rising sophomore star, noted how fortunate he is to be surrounded by so many great basketball minds.

Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Twyman

Teddy Ice, who DiCintio believes will soon morph into a force on the court, credited the team as a whole for having a high basketball IQ, which has allowed them to absorb lessons from what he referred to as a “full-length coaching staff”. Ice did, however, add that it was his father who taught him everything, including his deadly low-post moves.

“D’Antoni teaches the philosophy of open offense, and to some degree Rye is now running the Knicks’ offense,” said Michael Ice. “He harps on ball-handling, dribbling, footwork, and positioning yourself, and I think the lessons have more emphasis coming from someone other than Dad.”

Michael Ice in his playing days at Iona

The elder Ice praised DiCintio for handling the situation fantastically, in dealing with the pressure of knowing there are three fathers in the stands who understand the game very well.

“I’m not even in the business, I watch and study the game as a fan,” said Ice. “Coach D’Antoni does that professionally, and I’m sure he always has an opinion. But, he’s a good, laid-back West Virginia boy like me, so he sits back, watches, and waits until he’s asked.

Teddy Ice

Despite the bloodlines of their teammates, it’s senior captains Pickup and Conor Smith who have the most varsity experience. Pickup is a four-year starter, and Smith is in his third year with varsity. The two, along with junior point guard Kamal Logue, provide steady leadership on a team stocked with talent.

Brian Pickup

It seems it would be easy for the Garnets to buckle under the weight of their high-profile lineage. That hasn’t happened yet, and it likely won’t. Rye is off to a 4-3 start to the season, and most recently defeated Sacred Heart on the strength of 29 combined points from the Twyman brothers. It seems those offseason lessons at Rye Rec and the Carver Center are paying off.

Conor Smith

“Coach D’Antoni makes sure the kids are relaxed and avoids putting any pressure on them even when he shows up to practice,” said DiCintio. “It’s still nothing but surreal seeing him sit there. It makes me feel so good being able to dig into that knowledge any time. We’ve been pleasantly blessed.”

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