Mike D’Antoni passes along sympathies regarding passing of NBA referee Greg Willard

The news hit Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni hard.

NBA referee and Long Beach State alum Greg Willard died at age 54 Monday after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.

“Really. Oh really?” D’Antoni said. “I didn’t know that. That’s too bad. He was a good guy, good referee. That’s too bad. That’s way too bad.”

Willard officiated 1,494 games in his 24-year career, his last one marking a Lakers’ preseason game this season against the Utah Jazz in Anaheim. My colleague Elliott Teaford noted Willard’s final game and detailed how both he and Kobe Bryant talked with the long-time official afterwards.

“He was always on top of his profession and always a great guy,” D’Antoni said. “Even yelling at him or yelling at me, he was a great guy. I really feel bad about that.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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