With 50 seconds left in the first half Friday night, Detroit point guard Jarod Williams drove the lane and scored easily in front of two Wright State defenders who stood flat-footed.
In front of the WSU bench, Scott Nagy jumped up and yelled to the Raiders, who didn’t seem to hear him as they ran to the far court and botched a play.
For an instant the coach was beside himself and he cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled to his players who again did not hear.
Were it any other game, he would have gotten their attention instantly with one stomp of the foot.
On this night he thought better of it — a circumstance he foresaw earlier in the week.
“When I get angry on the sideline, I’m known for stomping my feet,” Nagy said. “I’m a very loud foot stomper. It gets a player’s attention. But I’ve learned, you don’t want to be doing that when you are barefoot.”
And Nagy was naked from the ankles down Friday night — barefoot so other people can have new shoes and socks and an opportunity to stomp their way out of poverty, disadvantage and prohibitive circumstance.
His going barefoot — the second game he’s done so this year — is part of his long commitment to Samaritan’s Feet, a ministry-based, non-profit organization based in Charlotte that distributes shoes and socks to the needy.
Nagy was one of the first in what’s become some 3,000 basketball coaches from the college ranks (including Ron Hunter, the Georgia State coach from Chaminade Julienne and Kentucky’s John Calipari), high schools, AAU teams and other hoops ranks who have joined hands in an effort to help people around the globe and here at home.
Since the organization began in 2003 it has given out 6.5 million pairs of shoes in over 75 nations and 325 cities in the United States.
As of today the list will include Dayton.
Following the impressive 106-88 dismantling of Detroit, Nagy is bringing his 13-7 team to the Life Enrichment Center on Findlay Street in East Dayton this morning.
Not only will the players hand out shoes to those in need, but — as is the practice of Samaritan’s Feet, said guard Grant Benzinger — they first will wash each person’s feet in hot, soapy water and then give them clean socks before fitting them with the appropriate-sized footwear.
In August, Nagy plans to take his team to Haiti on a goodwill mission, similar to the trip he made four years ago with South Dakota State, the team he coached for 21 years before taking over WSU this season.
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In the past few years Nagy has also made two trips to Africa with Samaritan’s Feet — to Zimbabwe in 2012 and Burundi two years later — to distribute shoes, help construct a school, teach basketball to kids and run a clinic for coaches.
This is the eighth year Nagy has coached a game barefoot and Friday night was a repeat of the effort he made Nov. 30 at Georgia State when he and Hunter — his friend, former Summit League rival and the guy who introduced him to Samaritan’s Feet in 2009 — both coached sans shoes and socks.
Many coaches, in the heat of conference play and especially on a weekend when his team plays two games, would not embrace an effort that takes them out of their routine, much less away from the gym.
Nagy, who was named the Samaritan’s Feet Coach of the Year in 2012, sees the bigger picture.
“Basketball is important to all of us. We love the sport and want to win, but truthfully,” he said with a pause and then a little laugh, “just about everything is more important than basketball.”
Some 11 years ago, Nagy and wife Jamie adopted their daughter Naika from Haiti. After enduring lots of red tape, he went there and picked her up himself from the orphanage outside Port-au-Prince.
“After that I was really looking for a way to help Naika’s country and then when I saw Ron do his deal, I thought it would be a great way to raise awareness and do whatever we could to help Haiti,” said Nagy, who remembered all the kids at the orphanage had been shoeless.
“I talked to Ron about it and he introduced me to Samaritan’s Feet president Manny Ohonme.
When he was 9, Ohonme was living in Lagos, Nigeria when he was given new shoes — his first pair ever — by a Wisconsin missionary.
Ohonme later became a basketball player of note, got a scholarship to the University of North Dakota-Lake Region and later became a success in the tech industry.
But he never forgot that act of kindness when he was 9 and that prompted him to launch Samaritan’s Feet.
The organization first approached Hunter — whose heart is as big as his personality — about coaching a game barefoot to get shoes, funds and awareness for the program. The idea was a rousing success, drawing corporate backing and collecting 140,000 pairs of shoes.
The following year Nagy coached his first barefoot game and a tradition was begun. Soon after the South Dakota High School Coaches Association jumped on board to support Nagy and especially daughter Naika and barefoot coaches appeared on sidelines all across the state.
While Nagy’s basketball efforts were highlighted on his African trips, what seemed to strike the deepest chord with him was washing people’s feet.
“To wash someone’s feet is very humbling,” Nagy once told the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. “To have your feet washed is very humbling. It’s a very intimate way, to have someone wash your feet, touch them and be able to show them how important they are when a lot of them don’t feel important.”
Teased by players
A little over four minutes before Friday’s game, Nagy stepped onto the Nutter Center court wearing a dark suit, a crisp dress shirt with cuff links and a green necktie, all set off by pale white feet. His players all wore orange Samaritan’s Feet warm-up shirts.
They teased him and said they suspected he had gotten a pedicure, but he denied it. He said he had too much else on his mind.
Although Nagy has been their coach just nine months, the Raiders already have learned he expects a lot from them on the court … and off. And it’s the same with the fans who he hopes will join the Samaritan’s Feet effort and bring a new pair of shoes to Sunday’s 2 p.m. game against Oakland.
“We do a lot of community service and help a lot of people,” said forward Steven Davis. who scored 27 points Friday. “That’s coach’s main thing. He doesn’t want us to take anything for granted. There’s always somebody out there in need.”
This past Thanksgiving, the day before they’d play three games in three days at the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic at the Nutter Center, Nagy brought his team to the Dayton Convention Center to work at the annual Feast of Giving, which provides a turkey-and-trimmings meal for anyone who wants one.
Over the next three days WSU proceeded to defeat CSU-Bakersfield, North Dakota and North Florida.
“What we did on Thanksgiving may have helped us,” Nagy said. “No. 1, it relieves the pressure.
“And more importantly it can get you to relax because it helps you gain perspective and realize, ‘Holy Cow! There’s more important things going on than us playing tomorrow.’ “