CONSISTENCY: con•sist•en•cy (noun) – conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy or fairness.
Every good or especially great team has that one guy who does all the little things. A guy who quietly goes about his business while others get all the positive press. A guy that does the dirty work, stays steady and shows consistency in all facets of his game.
When you play alongside the likes of a Dejuan Wheat, Samaki Walker, Nate Johnson, Alex Sanders, Marques Maybin or Alvin Sims (among others) it’s easy to sort of get lost in the fray. That’s kind of how I would categorize the Louisville career of Damion Dantzler. Dantzler, a four-year letterman for the Cards from 1994-98, never seemed to care, however, as to how much publicity he received. Instead, he always struck me as the type of guy who preferred flying under the radar while still being an integral piece to the teams he played on. His even-tempered approach and will to get better year after year made him a very important piece to some of Denny Crum’s last teams to find success in the NCAA Tournament.
Please join me as I go in depth with Chicago native Damion Dantzler as we discuss his days at UofL, his pro playing career and his current post as an international head basketball coach.
So, tell the readers a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up and how did you get involved in the game of basketball?
DD: I grew up on the west side of Chicago and I actually got involved in basketball late. I started playing at 13 at Howe elementary school just down the street from my grandmother’s house.
Did you have any favorite collegiate teams growing up? How familiar were you with Louisville?
DD: Growing up I didn’t watch much basketball except for the Chicago Bulls and the fab 5 at Michigan. As for Louisville, I didn’t even know where it was located until I started getting recruited.
Once you became a high school star in the Chicago area, how did you get recruited by UofL?
DD: I signed with Louisville my junior year of high school. Coach Crum and Scooter McCray came to a summer tournament where the majority of the top players in Chicago were playing and they saw me playing against the number 1 player in my class at the time - Jerry Gee (played at Illinois). I guessed I impressed them so they got in contact with my high school coach Roy Condotti and he set up an in school visit at my high school because I was staying in the projects at the time.
I didn’t even know who Coach Crum was. In fact, my high school coach asked if I knew anything about him and I said no. He said “That’s a Hall of Fame Coach coming to see you son.”
(Editor’s note: you have to almost admire Damion’s genuine honesty as it relates to not knowing who Cool Hand Luke was)
Did DePaul show any interest in you coming out of high school?
DD: DePaul and all the schools in Illinois recruited me but I wasn’t going to attend any schools near Chicago because I wanted to get away from all the distractions and danger I experienced growing up.
(Editor’s note: this question was solely for you, Mike)
Was the decision to attend Louisville an easy one? What other schools recruited you that you considered?
DD: I narrowed my choices down to Marquette, Xavier, and Louisville. After I visited them all Louisville was the obvious choice for me. I went to a basketball game and a football game and was impressed at the fan base. It didn’t hurt that they announced me at both games.
So, once you arrived on campus to start your college career was it culture shock for you?
DD: When I arrived on campus it was a complete culture shock. I went to an all-black grammar school and high school. That was the first time I’ve mingled with so many different ethnicities.
You played on some very good UofL teams and alongside some terrific players. Who were the teammates you most enjoyed playing with?
DD: I enjoyed playing with all my teammates. They all had some impact on my life and I still stay in touch with some of my brothers until this day. Samaki, Alvin, Alex, Dejuan, and Tick are the guys I talk to more often though.
(Editor’s note: Maybe I can get Damion to coax Samaki to come to my annual summer party I host at my home)
Talk a little bit about Coach Crum. The resounding take on him thus far from other interviews, not to my surprise, has been that he was a great guy, an excellent X and O coach and someone who was patient and treated players w/respect? Do you find that to be accurate?
DD: Coach Crum had a big impact on all of our lives on and off the court. He and my high school coach are the reasons I coach professionally today. The impact they had on me personally has been life changing.
Name three or four of the best players you competed against in college...
DD: Well, there were a lot of great players I competed against in college. But off the top of my head I would say Marcus Camby, Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, and Danny Fortson who was also the strongest player I competed against in college.
For me personally, I’ll always have one specific play of yours that rings in my memory. It occurred in the 1997 Sweet Sixteen game against Texas. After hitting your second consecutive 3-pointer late in the second half, one of the announcers (Quinn Buckner) exclaimed, “Dance Mr. Dantzler, Dance!” Do you remember hitting those shots and have you gone back and watched/heard Buckner’s call?
DD: I remember that game. Dejuan went down with an ankle injury and we needed someone to step up scoring wise so me and Alvin (Sims) did just that. I’ve watched that game a few times and heard the call from Mr. Buckner and I still believe that if Dejuan was healthy, we could have beaten North Carolina and possibly won a championship that year.
(Damion’s shot that I mentioned occurs at the 1:41:49 mark)
(Editor’s note: I, too, think had Dejuan been healthy that their Cinderella run could have gone longer)
In looking back at your career at UofL what are the two or three things you are most proud of? Anything you wished you had done differently?
DD: One of the things that I am most proud of is having the chance to play for the name on the front of that jersey and beating Kentucky 2 out of my 4yrs. Louisville is a great basketball city and a historical school. Hindsight is 20/20 but if I could do anything differently it would be redshirting my freshman year to get used to the college lifestyle both on and off the court. It would have made a huge difference in my development.
(Editor’s note: anyone that admits that beating Kentucky is something they’re most proud of can be my friend anytime)
So, after leaving Louisvile, you then played professional basketball for quite some time. Provide the readers if you would with a quick overview of your pro career as a player.
DD: I played professionally for 12 years. I played in the CBA and ABA minor leagues and I also played in Puerto Rico, Croatia, South America, Asia and in Finland, which is where I live currently.
Once your playing days were over you then got into coaching. Where are you currently working and what has that experience been like?
DD: I’ve been coaching professionally for 9 yrs now. I’ve coached in the Finnish top league and won 3 championships in Finland.
I also have been blessed to be able to coach in some of the top leagues in Europe with those being the VTB and Eurocup. It’s my passion and it’s a way to give back to the game that has given so much to me and my family.
Who has had the biggest impact on your life personally and from a basketball sense?
DD: There are 2 people who have had the biggest impact on my life and that’s my high school coach and Coach Crum. They all were like father figures to me.
(Editor’s note: At this point after doing several of these interviews, I’d almost be more surprised if a former player DIDN’T list Coach Crum as one of the individuals who most positively impacted their life)
I ask everyone this question: do you still follow Louisville Basketball? And what do you think about Coach Chris Mack?
DD: Yes, I still follow Louisville basketball and I think Coach Mack has done an excellent job at the helm. His style may be different from what Louisville fans are used to but it works in today’s age of basketball and you can see his passion in the players. I think Louisville is in good hands. Hopefully one day I’ll get a chance to be a part of it.
(Editor’s note: Coach Mack, you hear that???)
I want to thank Damion for help making this interview happen. There was one thing about him that I failed to ask about but only because I was completely unaware that it ever happened. But, I thought the readers may find it interesting to know that aside from playing and coaching basketball, Damion has also played the role of a body double in 5 different commercials….once for Tracy McGrady, twice for Kobe Bryant and once for Lebron James (as pictured below)