Mike D'Antoni was the biggest thing in Italian basketball for three decades, but he was just a trivia question here in the United States. He was the 20th pick in the 1973 NBA draft...

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Mike D’Antoni was the biggest thing in Italian basketball for three decades, but he was just a trivia question here in the United States.

He was the 20th pick in the 1973 NBA draft by the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, which started a nomadic basketball journey that has taken him from his home in Mullens, W.Va., to short stints in the NBA and ABA and Milan, Italy.

Before returning to the states, D’Antoni played 13 seasons for Milan and became the club’s all-time scoring leader. He also coached Benetton Treviso of the Italian League and led them to a league championship in 1997.

Last year, he became the 12th head coach for the Phoenix Suns and guided them to a 21-40 mark. This season, the 53-year-old coach has led the youngest team in the league to the best record in the NBA.

Seattle Times: How has your experience in Italy prepared you for your job?

Mike D’Antoni: I don’t know exactly how much I use from Italy and how much I use from the NBA and everything else. I think as a coach, you just rely on years of playing and coaching. You try to take things that work and throw things out that don’t. I like my European experience because it gave me a chance to be a head coach at age 39, and I kind of learned on my feet. A lot of the communication style, just being around different people, different cultures and different backgrounds with the different Europeans that played on my team, that helps me as a person and as a coach.

ST: Still, the style of the Suns, and you guys lead the league with a 109 scoring average, seems to be more aligned with what’s going on in Europe than other NBA teams who play that half-court, one-on-one style.

MDA: I don’t know about the style. There were a lot of things that we did in Europe, but a lot of the stuff that we did, I did in college, I did in the NBA. I just think it’s a combination of stuff, and where the European influence begins and where the American stuff ends, I don’t know.

ST: It’s definitely an unconventional route to the NBA, but any reason why more coaches don’t choose to coach in Europe before coming back this way?

MDA: I went that route because I couldn’t get a job anyplace else. As a player, they kicked me out of here, the NBA cut me and that’s why I went over there. It’s not like I actually planned it. I was thinking, I’d go over to Europe and that’s probably the last that anybody would hear from me ever. It just worked out.

ST: Would you ever go back?

MDA: Yeah. Hopefully, I don’t have to go back. It would be of my choosing, but it might not be. But yeah, I’d go back. It’s a great living. I enjoyed it.

ST: There’s been talk that the international game has surpassed the NBA. You’ve got perspective on both, so what do you think?

MDA: I think the international game is catching up, which it should. There’s no reason why we (should) have a monopoly on it. Golf, tennis and everything else is kind of evolving. But still, the best basketball players are here. This is the highest point that you can get to.

ST: You have an ethnically diverse team, a kid from Spain, a kid from Japan, Brazil and Serbia. I gotta think that your background allows you to relate to them a little better than most.

MDA: I can understand some of the mentality of international players coming over here. I did the same thing, but in reverse. So having patience is important. I get frustrated a little bit with Leandro (Barbosa) with the language a little bit, not frustrated but wanting him to learn a little bit. Then I catch myself. It’s going to take awhile, so just settle down and relax.