By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Replacing a long-time coach like a Dean Sanderson is a hard task to do just because of the expectations set moving forward beyond that long-time coach.
For KJ McCrae, a McNary-grad who took over the program on an interm-basis, the challenge of getting McKay back in the win column after a tough 2019 season that followed two-seasons of reaching the 6A State Play-in round is there as well as replacing a longtime coach.
“For me…when I came in for the job it’s ‘hey. I want them to be competing’,” said McCrae on taking the job. “That’s pretty much what we’re doing. I don’t know what Dean did before, I refed him a few times. So I’m not trying to tear down what he did or build up what he did, I’m just trying to come in and say ‘hey this is fresh’.”
The former football and basketball star that saw success in college with football, playing for Portland State to close out his playing career before starting his post-playing days career in 2008.
Current Willamette Football Head Coach Isaac Parker told McCrae something that he’s taking into as the Head Coach as the Scots: Effort, focus and attitude. Three controllable’s that McCrae is trying to teach this young McKay team that will have one Senior on it’s roster once the Winter season kicks off here in November.
“So that’s what I’m trying to get out of these kids is to working hard and playing attention and having a good attitude about it,” “At the end of the day, you’re going to run into the Silverton team’s who are very talented, but I want to see how they respond to that because we’re going to play teams like that and you’re going to have to compete.”
McKay closed out their twin-bill of games Tuesday night at Sprague with the Foxes as the Scots were taking shots that the group featuring Khyler Beach, Izzy Garza and Drioji Joel did two-years ago under Sanderson.
Yes, they didn’t fall as it did back in 2017, but that confidence of not shying away from those shots is a sign in the right direction that McCrae is trying to show the kids. Show them to go ahead and develop something new now during Summer Basketball while they have a chance.
“When I first came around I said, ‘I don’t know any of you. I’m meeting all of you guys for the first time. I want to know who the shooters are’, so everyone has the green light,” starts McCrae. “This is summer ball, develop that. If you never had that before, if you never had green light, you got it now. Let’s work on that. This is the time to do it because these games don’t count, so everyone’s out here working on something they’ve never done.
“Some of these kids never knew that was apart of their game. I put it like this, if you want to be a good varsity team, I need at least three of the guys going to score unless you have some big post. So, if you’re going to be on the court, I’m going to need you to be a weapon.”
Now they’ll tail it back, McCrae said, when the Winter basketball season begins. But for now, they have two more weeks of Summer Ball to get ready for when the games do count down the road while both sides get to know each other.
“It’s just about meeting the kids and getting to know the kids, we’re all new staff at the school so we’re meeting all the kids for a week-and-a-half, trying to input offense, input defense, chance the culture as far as body language is huge for us,” said McCrae. “It hasn’t been as much negativity, but when everything is going bad, how do you respond. Battling adversity and I think from this side of town, kids are used to that in different aspects because I grew up on this side of town, so I know what goes on.
“I know what it’s like to battle adversity, but I need them to reflect that on the court.”