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D'Antoni goes from Rocky Mountain Revue to New York
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Rocky Mountain Revue is dead, but one of its most successful alumni continues to prosper.

Meet Mike D'Antoni, the head coach of the New York Knicks, who won't win the NBA championship but could win a playoff series for the first time in over a decade.

"I like Mike," said Raja Bell, who played for D'Antoni when they were both in Phoenix.

"I thought he was awesome to play for. He's a friendly, down-to-earth guy, and he really makes you feel like you are part of one big family when you're with him."

Amare Stoudemire also played for D'Antoni in Phoenix.

Today, he is the Knicks' cornerstone.

"He allows you to play basketball at your skill level," Stoudemire said. "He's definitely one of the best coaches you could want."

D'Antoni got his first chance to coach in the NBA when, as the Nuggets' director of player personnel, he did an eye-opening job on the bench with Denver's entry in the Utah-based Rocky Mountain Revue summer league.

D'Antoni lasted only one year with the Nuggets, who finished 14-36 during the lockout-shortened 1999 season. But D'Antoni, who had been a successful player and coach in Italy before his brief gig with Denver, was in business.

D'Antoni became an assistant in Portland and Phoenix where, 21 games into the 2003-04 season, he replaced Frank Johnson as head coach.

Under D'Antoni, the Suns returned to glory.

With Steve Nash running his frenetic, end-to-end system, Phoenix won 50 games in four consecutive seasons and reached the 2006 Western Conference Finals.

"When he was in Phoenix, guys always played hard," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "They seemed to be very comfortable. He made the game pretty simple for them. ... They always looked comfortable playing for him."

Beyond the Rocky Mountain Revue, which shut down in 2008 because teams and agents started sending their summer leaguers to Las Vegas, D'Antoni has another connection to Utah.

His name?

Phil Johnson, Sloan's longtime assistant. In the early 1970s, Johnson was a coach with the Chicago Bulls.

On a college scouting trip — a requirement of assistants at that time — he saw a junior point guard from Marshall named Mike D'Antoni.

"I liked him," Johnson recalled. "I liked how hard he played. I liked his attitude on the floor — the way he played with so much enthusiasm."

After his senior year, D'Antoni was drafted in the second round by the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

During his rookie season, Johnson replaced the legendary Bob Cousy as their coach.

D'Antoni was the team's backup point guard, until star Tiny Archibald was injured three games into Johnson's regime.

"He ended up playing quite a bit for me," Johnson recalled.

During D'Antoni's second season, the Kings acquired another point guard and future NBA head coach, Rick Adelman.

He moved ahead of D'Antoni in the rotation.

Eventually, D'Antoni was waived.

"I always felt that was a mistake on our part," Johnson said. "We were struggling like crazy, but we should have kept him."

A few years later, D'Antoni played for the Chicago Bulls in a summer league.

Sloan was the coach and Johnson was an assistant: "We wanted him to stay. But he had guaranteed money over there and left. ... He could have made our team. We liked him."

Fast forward to May 9, 2008.

After being forced out at Phoenix, D'Antoni signed a four-year, $24 million contract to coach the Knicks.

Again, he's done a remarkable job.

"His system gives you confidence," said point guard Raymond Felton. "There's a belief you can make plays."

luhm@sltrib.com

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