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BOYS’ BASKETBALL: La Salle's McKee Coming Into His Own Since Returning Home To Coach in the Catholic League

01/07/2019, 5:00pm EST
By Rich Flanagan - Photos: Liam Turnbach

La Salle College High School first-year head coach Mike McKee has the Explorers off to a 12-0 start.

By: Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33) Photos: Liam Turnbach, La Salle College HS Jr. Reporter

WYNDMOOR, PA –As he roams the sideline, Mike McKee is able to reflect on the many sidelines he’s roamed or been a part of.

The first-year La Salle College High School head coach has been in a coaching role for nearly a quarter of a century and has accomplished his fair share of accolades along the way. His coaching career has taken him across Pennsylvania to Virginia and even out to Colorado. Even with everything he’s done in his time instructing and teaching players, he always wanted to return to the Philadelphia Catholic League where his basketball career began.

“I longed to get back to the area and this opportunity came open,” McKee said. “There was a teaching opportunity going forward with the coaching job. Coach [Joe] Dempsey did a nice job bringing together a nice, talented group.”

McKee took over the Explorers program in June when Dempsey was let go after compiling 208 wins in 14 seasons which included an appearance in the PIAA Class 4A final. McKee’s affiliation with the PCL started when he was a member of Roman Catholic’s 1989 and 1990 league championship teams. McKee started on both title teams under Dennis Seddon, who claimed 10 league crowns. Some of his teammates included former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison and Bernard Jones, who played at St. Joseph’s. 

La Salle College High School head basketball coach Mike McKee - Photo by LCHS Jr. Reporter Liam Turnbach

McKee was instrumental in each title run, particularly his senior season. He was named Southern Division Second Team All-Catholic in 1990. In the semifinals against Neumann-Goretti, he had 14 assists then in the title game versus La Salle, the program he now oversees, he posted eight points and nine assists. 

After a successful career with the Cahillites, he played four seasons at Lehigh University under Dave Duke, now an assistant coach under Fran Dunphy at Temple University. Duke was the head coach at then-St. John Neumann High School for five seasons and led the team to the 1984-85 PCL title. McKee noted “there was that Philly and Catholic League connection.” He flourished as a senior being named team captain and averaging 5.9 points per game in 27 games. He finished his career with 160 assists, sixth-most in program history.

Following his playing career, he returned to Roman as an assistant under Seddon for one season before going to Kings College as an assistant for a year. In 1997, he was hired as an assistant at Lafayette College under Fran O’Hanlon. He served in that role for four seasons helping the Leopards win three Patriot League titles and advancing to the NCAA Tournament twice.

He began his first stint as an associate head coach under Joe Scott at the U.S. Air Force Academy from 2001-04 and his final year there he served under former Archbishop Ryan standout and 1990 Northern Division First Team All-Catholic Chris Mooney. McKee followed Mooney when he took the head coaching job at the University of Richmond. He was an assistant there until 2007. 

Coach McKee speaks with his players during recent PCL victory vs. Conwell-Egan - PSD Photo by Liam Turnbach, LCHS

Scott took the head coaching job at the University of Denver that year and he hired McKee to join his staff, where he remained for seven seasons. He helped the Pioneers to back-to-back 22-win seasons in 2011 and 2012, which included a Western Athletic Conference regular-season title.

McKee had a variety of roles following his time at the University of Denver. He was the interim head coach of Division II Purdue University Calumet for one season. He also served as an Advance Scout in the National Basketball Association for the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Additionally, he was an assistant at Kent Denver School (Colo.) and finally in the same role at Regis University last season.

Despite all of the movement from one program to the next, McKee always wanted to return to the PCL in some capacity. After Dempsey had been let go, McKee “had heard through a couple of alums that they were moving in another direction and that’s how I found about it.” It was a perfect fit for someone with a wealth of coaching experience at various levels and while the league has changed since he last took the court, he never felt taking the helm at La Salle would be too big of a challenge.

“It’s changed, for sure. It used to be the Northern and Southern Division,” McKee said. “Fortunately, all of the members of our staff played in the Catholic League so they have a good understanding of it. I think it’s one of the best high school leagues in the country. I’m sure every coach in the league is honored to coach at their school.”

La Salle vs. Bishop McDevitt - Game Highlights by Rich Flanagan

Following a 58-35 victory over previously unbeaten Bishop McDevitt (9-1) and a 73-28 victory against Conwell-Egan, McKee has La Salle off to an 12-0 start (5-0 PCL). Three of those other PCL wins have come against Ryan, Cardinal O’Hara and West Catholic. The Explorers also have victories over 2017-18 PIAA 2A champion Constitution, Cheltenham, Springside Chestnut Hill and Malvern Prep. He has taken over a talented, veteran group from Dempsey and helped elevate their play. Senior Titus Beard, sixth man on last year’s team, scored 18 points and added two steals against McDevitt. 

After being under Dempsey for three seasons, Beard stressed how the transition was seamless after McKee stepped in.

“It wasn’t a hard transition at all,” Beard said. “It was more of trying to get used to his system and his philosophies. We’re looking at what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. It’s getting to know his looks on things.”  

Senior point guard Allen Powell, a Third Team All-Catholic a season ago, had eight of his 16 points against McDevitt in the second quarter. Senior Konrad Kiszka, a 6-7 forward who is committed to Princeton, had eight points including a ferocious two-handed dunk over McDevitt’s Kevin Young and 10 rebounds. 6-8 forward Zach Crisler, a third-year starter and Rice commit, finished out with 11 points and 10 boards. 

Powell concurred with what Beard had described about McKee.

“Basically, he just wants us to take good shots and move the ball,” Powell said. “It’s been about the same.”

McKee’s journey has come full circle as he has returned to the league where he once played and also won a championship. He’s hoping to do that once again but this time as a head coach and he feels having this veteran group can make that a reality.

“I think they’ve been through some battles and I think when you go through those battles you understand mentally how to prepare for games like this,” McKee said. “The other thing is that they’ve been open to coaching. They’re done a good job of paying attention, doing what we want and being open-minded. I can’t say enough about that. I think it makes more and more sense of what we’re trying to do here.”

Looking Ahead: La Salle will host Lansdale Catholic on Friday at 7:00 p.m. 

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