Marist College has been able to show off some notable alumni that have made their way into the sports world, such as NBA All-Star Rik Smits and NFL kicker Jason Myers. In a few years, Marist might be able to add head coach Sean McGee to that list.
McGee is currently in his first season as an assistant coach at Division III Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT after starting his coaching career at Manhattanville College. Last season, McGee was thrust into his debut at just 23 years old after head coach Chris Alesi was ruled out for a game due to COVID-19.
As a kid, McGee knew coaching was in his future. For him, at 16 years old making scouting reports on high school games and missing Super Bowls to travel with the teams, there was more than likely a certain obsession towards basketball that’s higher than the average kid.
“Once I got to the end of 10th grade it became a dream of mine. I was never really that good at basketball but I always thought I was one of the smarter players,” McGee said. “Me thinking I have a high IQ only stems from the amount of hours I put in. I was so willing to forgo my free time and socializing to pursue this passion and dream of coaching.”
Sean McGee is 5-foot-4 — he wasn’t going to play Division I basketball. So instead of hanging around and playing with no future, McGee gave up playing to join the coaching staff at his local high school, Brewster High School, where his dad was an assistant coach.
McGee went on to attend Marist in 2016, majoring in sports communication. He went down the video route and was eventually put in charge of filming for the men’s basketball team before graduating in 2020.
At this point, McGee was a basketball fanatic, despite having minimal experience playing the game, he certainly knew what to look for.
McGee then became an assistant coach at Manhattanville right after graduating from Marist, his first step in the coaching career he had always dreamed of.
“I realized I could be something in basketball when I took this graduate assistant position and started coaching players around my age and earning their respect,” McGee said. “As an assistant coach, I did every single scouting report.”
McGee looks heavily into the weeds when scouting opposition and tries to give the best information to his head coach– the most important being player personnel. These are the keys to uncovering the most important things about an opposing team.
His scouting reports tend to go as follows:
- Predict their starting five
- Is their point guard a shooter?
- Get back if the point guard likes to get the ball in transition
- Does the big man shoot over his left shoulder or right shoulder?
- What are his post moves?
- Does the athletic wing always drive with his right hand?
- If their wing is a driver, I’m gonna put my most athletic player on him
- Percentage of shots this player takes
- Does he score over one point per possession when using a ball screen?
- Pushing players into cold zones
“If there’s a point guard and we know he can’t shoot off the dribble, we’re gonna tell the players to go under the ball screen, because he’s not a threat, if he does, statistically we’re gonna live with the chance when he takes a shot,” McGee said. “One of the things I love to do is taking away teams ‘under out-of-bounds sets.’ That’s when a team is inbounding the ball under your basket. You do that by watching film and seeing which players move when.
“If you can hold a team to zero points in those sets, it might be a -10 in total points. It’s all averages, if you can hold teams below their averages you’re more likely to win. You can save about 10 points a game just off scouting reports.”
McGee’s basketball life was built around strategically helping the team, uncovering everything he could about the X’s and O’s and the tactical side of the game. While it was certainly impressive, he would soon discover there was so much more to basketball that he had yet to experience as a coach.
This past January, Manhattanville had a matchup against USMMA. For this game, McGee would have a different title, and now a different outlook on basketball.
“Nobody knows unless they’ve done it, how hard it is to make decisions in-game. I didn’t have an assistant to bounce ideas off of, and you don’t have the time to second-guess yourself or have any regrets,” McGee said. “We were down 12 points in the second half, one thing I learned is focus less on the part that got you down 12, focus more on getting that down to eight, then four, then even.”
McGee learned a lot from this first shot at a head coaching gig, one being the ability to keep players engaged when explaining things to them and avoid being too “analytical.”
Additionally, McGee adds, “The thing I learned is to be detailed in your own reports, then keep it to the keywords when relaying it to the players,” McGee said. “I think the best thing was that all the guys were behind me, even before the game saying ‘coach we believe in you.’ I asked them on the last possession if they wanted to go man or zone, they chose man and unfortunately, they made a floater at the buzzer.”
Managing different personalities on a team can be difficult but for McGee, it is all about faith having in one another. “It’s about the communication and trust between your players, and to help other players and give them the tools in life.”
At just 23, McGee had many hats, he could now add ‘NCAA head coach’ to the rack.
Despite its notoriety, his college coaching debut wasn’t the biggest accomplishment of his career thus far.
The Basketball Tournament (TBT) is an ESPN-broadcasted event consisting of 64 teams playing a single-elimination format with a $1 million prize for the winner. The 13-seed in the Wichita region was McGee’s Team Mental Toughness.
“The summer after my first year at Manhattanville, I made a team centered around mental health awareness and partnered with the JCK foundation,” McGee said. “Starting a team from fresh, getting players to travel to Wichita, that was definitely a moment where I said ‘Wow! What could it be in five years?”
“It gave me a sense of why I wanted to coach, and the indication that I was on the right track. Spreading mental health awareness is the biggest thing I wanted to achieve outside of basketball,” said McGee. “I had to convince professional players to join a team that wasn’t even sure that they were playing, I got a head coach from the Czech Republic, some players weren’t vaccinated so we had to test them in Wichita, get them to Kansas on airplanes, fundraising, sponsorship, brand awareness, and all that work for was for one game.”
Yes, after all that, Team Mental Toughness would be bounced after a 76-73 loss to the L.A Cheaters. But for McGee, his job was done regardless of the result.
“It was more than just one game. With the foundation’s help, hopefully, just one person got the courage to reach out then it was worth it, it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, Said McGee. “When you look at the amount of people that take their own lives every day, if we can get that number down to zero and let people know that their lives matter, that’s the ultimate goal.”
From the 16-year-old obsessing over scouting reports, McGee could say to himself that he’s not only found himself as a basketball coach but as a man.
There’s still a ways to go until the Poughquag native feels complete, under the piles of game plans and reports, there’s a piece of paper from January 2022, where he wrote to himself that he would be a Division I head coach by age 33.
“There’s a lot of different avenues that I see, the dream career for me is to work my way up from basketball operations and then become a Division 1 head coach, and after that commentary,” McGee said. “In five years I think realistically I could be in the running to be a Division III head coach and become one of the youngest in the country.”
McGee knows that he is far from the smartest coach in NCAA history, but for him, it is more about the work that goes into becoming a better coach each and every day.
“At the end, I don’t need to be the smartest or most intelligent, I want everyone to know that there is not a person that worked harder than me. I will not be outworked, and I will build better relationships with players and coaches than any other head coach. I’m a very good communicator and I think it gets misconstrued that it’s not important. Your players won’t play hard for you and your coaches won’t listen to you if you don’t have good relationships.”
After the long-winded response, McGee smiled and asked, “Do you want the cocky answer?”
“I want to be remembered as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history,” McGee said. “If I can say I’ve made a March Madness tournament game, and people say ‘Wow look what he’s done and what he’s overcome, I think that’s a pretty good story.”
Edited by Isabella Cicinelli and Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Wesleyan Athletics