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What We Discuss with Sean McDonnell
- Growing up, his friend’s father Tom Murphy was the Head Basketball Coach at Hamilton College which gave him access to basketball at an early age
- Looking up to the Hamilton players as his heroes and as he got older having the opportunity to play with and against them in the summer
- The Old Big East
- His players today talk more NBA than college basketball and follow the NBA more closely
- The decline of college basketball from a fan perspective
- Competing in multiple sports with his friends as a high school athlete
- His decision to attend Boston College
- His experience trying out for the team at Boston College
- Getting an opportunity to work with basketball staff at Boston College as an undergrad
- Doing whatever is asked of you as a young coach and how it never felt like work
- Getting advice from his mentor Rick Boyages
- Being an undergraduate “GA” at Boston College and the influence the coaches on Jim O’Brien’s staff had on him
- Be willing to work for free as long as possible and be ready to move at the drop of a hat – advice from Kevin O’Neil
- His relationships with players as a student assistant coach
- The process for getting his first coaching job at LeMoyne College
- His transformational experience with Dave Paulsen at LeMoyne
- Coaching in the Empire State Games
- Missing out on the LeMoyne Head Coaching job, but ending up as the Head Coach at Hiram College in Ohio
- How two months at Williams College helped him get the Hiram job
- Becoming a head coach at age 25
- Leaving Hiram to take the job at Case Western reserve University in Cleveland
- The importance of building relationships with players
- The highly motivated and focused student athletes he recruited at Case and what made them so special
- What makes The University Athletic Association unique
- Why the overseas experiences in Brazil and Costa Rica were so valuable for his teams at Case.
- Leaving Case to take the AD position at US and then later adding his coaching duties
- How the high school atmosphere differs from the small college atmosphere
- Coaching kids at all levels at University School
- Adjusting to high school coaching
- Teaching players something for the first time in high school
- Coaching multi-sport athletes and his role being an AD plays in that
- The challenge of getting more people to think of University School as a place for them
- Having his family around the school and his basketball program
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THANKS, SEAN MCDONNELL
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TRANSCRIPT FOR SEAN MCDONNELL – UNIVERSITY SCHOOL (OH) BOYS’ HEAD VARSITY COACH – EPISODE 351
[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here with my co-host, Jason Sunkle. And tonight we are pleased to welcome to the podcast from University School here in Cleveland, Ohio, Sean McDonnell. Sean. Welcome.
Sean McDonnell: [00:00:09] Thanks very much, guys. I certainly appreciate you having me on today.
Mike Klinzing: [00:00:15] We’re excited to have you on and dig into all the things that you’ve been able to do in the game of basketball at various levels.
I want to start out by going back in time to when you were a kid. Talk to us a little bit about how you got into the game when you were younger.
Sean McDonnell: [00:00:28] For sure. I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, just sort of off the New York state throughway between Syracuse and Albany. And there’s a liberal arts college in the town where I grew up Hamilton College and my best friend’s father was the basketball coach and the athletic director at Hamilton.
And, so it was a small town and, and we played multiple sports from the time we were kids all the way through high school. So everybody in the town, if you could walk and chew gum, you needed [00:01:00] to be a multi-sport athlete. And, so I was like all of my friends and yet I think because of my friend’s father, coach Murphy, Tom Murphy, who’s an incredible coach, won over 600 games at Hamilton.
I think it was growing up around his program where I maybe first had a little bit more of an appreciation for it, a love for basketball. Then, then all the other sports that I played as a kid, like every kid sort of flavor of the month and in playing multiple sports throughout high school.
And so it was probably that access and I guess awareness to basketball beyond my little bubble of a small town that was kind of unique for me. And it was maybe a little bit of a springboard for what I’ve been able to be fortunate to do all these years.
Mike Klinzing: [00:01:50] So were you able to get into the gym with that connection?
Sean McDonnell: [00:01:53] Yeah, for sure. sometimes. I was welcomed and sometimes I’d get kicked out. but, yeah, [00:02:00] absolutely. The campus was maybe a mile and a half from my house. And, so I was with my best friend, all the time, but when there were moments when I wasn’t with him, I would certainly try to weasel my way in.
And the guys that played for Hamilton, so many of them are still coaches to this day. Kyle Smith, who’s the head coach at Washington State was a really good point guard on a great team in Hamilton. And those guys were in many ways, my heroes, cause I had access to them in ways that maybe other people that were season ticket holders would have access to a pro team, but when you grow up in a town of a thousand people, that’s your pro team.
And so watching those guys play when I was young, getting a chance to play with them as I was older, whether it was during the summers, or breaks was something that was really cool and really memorable, but, yeah, for a town that didn’t have that much going on in it, we were always pretty lucky to be able to access a gym and access a place [00:03:00] to play, which was, which was pretty cool.
Mike Klinzing: [00:03:03] So did you get to go to a lot of games when you were growing up? Not only just playing in the gym, but just going as a spectator
Sean McDonnell: [00:03:09] For sure, so where I grew up was Syracuse Orangemen country and so New York state doesn’t have a flagship state university the way Ohio does or the way Michigan does. and really in central New York, there aren’t that many natural sort of fits in terms of professional sports.
So some people like the Yankees and some people like the Mets and some people like the Buffalo Bills and some people like the Jets and everybody loves SU so I grew up going to Hamilton College games all the time and playing with those guys. And, and so those guys were bigger, faster, stronger than me, but I could sort of view myself as maybe being like guys like that sometime. And then when you’d go watch SU play Georgetown in front of 35,000 people that was like watching, the Bulls against the Knicks. I mean, that was like watching superheroes.
So, yeah, [00:04:00] basketball was something that was a constant sort of part of my upbringing and my friend’s upbringing, and whether it was playing, whether it was attending as a spectator, whether it was going to watch other high school games, it was just something that was a great part of my childhood.
And it was certainly a different time. It was probably a time of a lot more innocence if you will. And so there wasn’t as much to do so you’d either be playing or you’d be watching other people play.
Mike Klinzing: [00:04:33] Yeah, no question about that. It was definitely a different era. We can get into that in a second.
What, when you think back to that time and being a Syracuse fan, who was your guy or guys that you grew up a fan of?
Sean McDonnell: [00:04:44] What’s funny. So I moved to upstate New York when I was in sixth grade. And it’s funny, I’d grown up in Grand Rapids, Michigan before then, and so the first day, like my parents took me to my new school and I’m [00:05:00] standing there in the middle school office and the varsity basketball coach just happened to be in there.
He was PE teacher. And, somebody said, this is Sean, the new student. And he was warm and engaging and started asking me what I liked, I started talking about basketball and he said that he works camps at this place down in the Southern tier of New York state.
It was Golden Valley Basketball Camp. He’s like, Oh, you should come with us, every year, whether it’s Hakeem Olajuwon or Pearl Washington, or Jim Boeheim. And I was like, yeah, you’ve gotta be kidding me. These guys come to camp, so I was sick. I think I was in sixth grade.
And so I was just mesmerized by the names, but it’s funny, after my first winter living there, although I went to SU games and as an adult, I probably had an affinity for SU I decided, I thought I’d maybe be the contrarian. So for Georgetown. Wow. I don’t know. I [00:06:00] don’t know why.
It’s probably something I’m not overly proud of. I later on went to Boston College and didn’t root for either of them but, so. But, but I got to see great, great players at Syracuse. My goodness back when Derek Coleman and Ronnie Seikaly and Sherman Douglas and Pearl Washington, I mean, it was just unbelievable.
And that was the time after Ewing, but you know, when David Wingate and Reggie Williams and Alonzo Mourning were at Georgetown. And I mean, the Big East was just awesome. I mean the Big East at the time, I think probably most people, unless you lived in a pro town, probably most people would have said that Big East basketball was the most entertaining basketball that there was.
Now maybe if you lived in Boston, you’d say the Celtics, or if you lived in Atlanta or something, you’d say the Hawks, but I mean, Big East hoops was awesome. So to be sort of right around the corner from it was something really cool. And something I’ll certainly always remember.
Mike Klinzing: [00:06:55] Yeah, people in the generation after us, I don’t think necessarily remember [00:07:00] how big those big Monday games were.
And just how much of a celebrity you think about the coaches that were in the Big East at that time, when you think about the players that went through and I can remember sitting on my living room floor, watching. All those names that you just went through and from a Syracuse standpoint, I always loved Pearl Washington.
I just loved the way he could handle the ball and do things. He never quite lived up to what he was in college as a professional player, but he was one of my favorite guys to watch as a college player Cause he just, the way he handled the ball, kind of that unbelievable showman for sure.
Oh my goodness. Yeah, kind of that quintessential. Like New York city point guard type of guy. When you think of New York point guards, he’d be in the, certainly in the top two or three that have names that you come up with when you think about New York city playground guys.
And so I just always, always gravitated towards Him, unlike you. I [00:08:00] was not a Georgetown fan. So I had an elementary school buddy who was a big fan of Georgetown, and I always liked North Carolina. So that. 81 Jordan final shot game was kind of the culmination of our Georgetown North Carolina rivalries.
I was always glad I came out on top on that. And despite that, It was kind of amazing. Just look back and think about the fact that the way basketball is played today, that Jordan spent three years at Carolina and Patrick Ewing spent four years at Georgetown. Whereas now those guys, they’d be out, one and done.
And as the league ends up, maybe changing that rule here, coming forward, that those guys would, at that time they’d be ready to come out. And those guys were both probably ready to play in the NBA right out of high school and probably would have had the same amount of success that they had and it’s amazing that they spend as much time in college as they did
Sean McDonnell: [00:08:50] Well, would they be one and done guys, they would have reclassified. And they would have been in college when they were like 16 or 17 years old and become pros as fast as possible, you know? And, it’s [00:09:00] certainly a different era.
And, I think one of the things that was really neat about college basketball back then is the. The household names, because you lived with these teams and these players for four years. And so you could think back upon last season and you could project the next season. And, and I’ve certainly thought over the last 20 years, as you know, I was a college basketball coach and now I’m a high school basketball coach and I’m like, goodness gracious.
Like, I don’t know if I could name the. 10 best players in America. When I was 10, 12 years old, I could name the 50 best players out there. I forget 10. I couldn’t name five players right now, really last year was the first year that I think, like we could all sit down and name and I don’t know if, maybe, I don’t know.
Who else could you name in that list? I don’t know, but I’m just saying like, you think about it now. I can’t even, I couldn’t name it now. I think not having March Madness this year hurt a little bit. Right.
Mike Klinzing: [00:09:57] Would you agree with that? Yeah,
Sean McDonnell: [00:09:59] clearly [00:10:00] for sure.
Mike Klinzing: [00:10:00] But what’s interesting is I could, to your point, Sean, I could name not only could I have named the college basketball players, but I could have probably named the first top 25 high school players.
I always used to read my blue ribbon college basketball yearbook that would have the top 15 guys. And then the next 35 as honorable mentioned, I remember going through and looking at that every single year and knowing where these guys were from and what high school they played at and these different things that the Scouts would say about them.
And it was just completely a different world. I go back and I think about the Ralph Sampson versus Patrick Ewing, Virginia Georgetown game, which is maybe like 1984, maybe it was when that game was played. And just how big of a game that was, I’m curious with your own players. So when you think about when you were at Case, and then now at us, when you have conversations with your kids off the floor and you’re just talking basketball.
Do they talk more or any of them talking college basketball at all or are they more talking NBA?
Sean McDonnell: [00:10:57] So it’s interesting. I would say for [00:11:00] starters, they’re talking NBA. And if they were talking college basketball around me, I would change the conversation because I certainly watch a lot more of right now, but I would say, like all kids in this generation, the kids that I’ve been around are drawn more to the players than the teams, and they’re drawn to the best players.
There are kids that will be Duke fans and I’ll give them a hard time about that are my own personal opinions or whatever, but I would say more than anything, I’d say, if we’re going to talk hoops, let’s talk pros because it’s the best players.
It’s the best coaches. It’s the highest level of competition. And frankly, it’s the level that I’m most familiar with in terms of being like spectator.
Mike Klinzing: [00:11:47] Yeah, exactly. I agree. We try to dance around it, but I think the big thing is that with college basketball, when you go back to the era when you and I were growing up, those players, because they stuck around for three or [00:12:00] four years.
You got to know those players. You got to know those teams. Like you can think of the Georgetown Patrick Ewing teams. You can think of the Ralph Sampson Virginia teams and a lot of those players were the same every year. So you got to know those teams, you became fans of them, even if you weren’t necessarily a fan of that particular university.
Whereas now. Let me just take Kentucky, every year Calipari has a completely different team. So unless you’re a huge fan of Kentucky, and you’re just a fan of the Kentucky Wildcats, it’s very difficult to build any kind of a connection with the team because it’s a one year deal and then it’s going to be a whole new team.
So I think that makes it more difficult to follow college basketball. And then the other thing is, again, especially when you talk about the younger generation is our TV viewing habits are so disjointed. Now you can go on and watch things whenever you want. And there’s so many more [00:13:00] choices and you think back to when we were growing up and you just laid on the floor. Heck I can’t remember not having a remote control and having to go up and push the button on the cable box to have to change it. Even before that, having to turn the dial to get to like an Ohio State game on the UHF channels.
And so it was a lot easier to watch college basketball back then. So then, because there wasn’t as many choices and it wasn’t all that on demand stuff and you got to know the players. Now the NBA clearly has more media coverage. And as you said, when you’re watching the best players in the world, that’s again where we all tend to gravitate.
At least I know that’s true for me. Like I said, I used to know everything about college basketball and I’d say in the last probably 15 years that completely shifted to where now I watched the tournament. I maybe will catch a Kent State game where I went to school and I’ve always been a Carolina fan.
So I might watch the Carolina Duke game. But other than that, I’m watching very, very little [00:14:00] college basketball at this point,
Sean McDonnell: [00:14:01] For sure. I don’t really watch television per se, but I would imagine if you were someone that was drawn to sitcoms or TV, cop dramas or whatever. And you didn’t know any of the characters.
Why would you find the show entertaining? Why would you tune in exactly, and all those years when I was coaching college hoops and I was like, geez, Oh, Pete, I know more about Small college basketball than probably anybody in America and I love the NBA, but who’s playing in the ACC or the Big 12.
I have no idea. I don’t know who they are. And so, it just sort of became a new normal for me.
Mike Klinzing: [00:14:37] So as you get older and you get more responsibilities in your life, you have less time to be able to dedicate to seeking out information and carving out time to be able to watch games. So I find you just have to pick and choose, find the things that you like the best and stick with those and just go with that because otherwise it’s really, really difficult to, we don’t all have endless time the way we did when we were 17. So it was nice. Wasn’t it? Back on that, you’re like, what did I do with all that time? I wish that would have taken more advantage of my life and realized how precious it was back then.
I think that.Time. It’s always they say age is wasted on the youth. Well, time is wasted on the youth. I think in a lot of ways that I wish you could go back and look at that time and say, boy, I should really try to accomplish some more things and get stuff done. But thinking of you back as a high school athlete, give me a memory or two could be from any of the sports that you play, just when you think of being a high school athlete, what are one or two memories that jump into your mind immediately about when you were a high school athlete?
Sean McDonnell: [00:15:41] Sure. like I said, I was sort of in season all the time, which I think is, maybe still commonplace in small school America, but it’s obviously less commonplace in bigger public and bigger parochial schools. So I really [00:16:00] reflectively appreciate the fact that I got to compete sort of year round and was onreally great teams, whether it was a soccer player as a basketball player.
The great, Catholic school where I grew up in central New York, it is sort of a midsize city, maybe like the size of Canton, Utica, New York. And so Notre Dame High School in Utica always had a great team, guys that would go play division one. And they had a team that won the state championship when I was a senior in high school and we had a good team, but that was probably the biggest moment of my senior year when we beat Utica Notre Dame because it’s a game that we shouldn’t have won. They had better players and so memories like that are fun and yet as a soccer player, I got to play for a, I don’t know what it was, sectional championship or something, but in the Carrier Dome, so we got to play on the turf in the Carrier Dome in our minds in front of 30,000 people.
Of course it was probably in front of 150 [00:17:00] people. They didn’t have the video boards back then, for sure. They couldn’t pipe in any fans for it. You just had to look at it. Yeah, no, that’s right. it was like our own bubble at the time, you know? and, So I just think that it was special to be able to compete at a pretty high level in a bunch of sports and be able to have some success and, all the while being able to do it with your buddies and, and doing it for your school, it was it was pretty cool.
So I don’t know if there’s a specific game or specific result, but those are a few kinds of things that stick out all these years later.
Mike Klinzing: [00:17:39] So when you were growing up and get into high school as an athlete, were you at any point along the way, thinking about coaching as being something that you knew you wanted to do, you thought you might want to do.
Explain to us where coaching started to enter your mind where you thought, Hey, this might be something that I want to do for a career.
Sean McDonnell: [00:17:59] So definitely [00:18:00] not when I was in high school, like I said, my best friend’s father, Tom Murphy was a great small college coach. And so I grew up around the Hamilton college team.
But for me, that was more just like access to college hoops and access to a gym and something to do for fun. It’s nothing I ever thought of as a career path or vocational. And as I was thinking about college choices and I was really lucky growing up, I was going to go to college, you know?
And so, as I was thinking about what I wanted to do, I just couldn’t envision being in a small town in the Northeast at a liberal arts college where I just spent all my years of middle school and high school and were I to continue to play, it would have been at a small college.
And so I had some family that went to Boston College and it seemed like a. It was sort of a natural fit. It was a good school. It was in a big [00:19:00] pro town. Right. Which to me was cool. And it was different. It was a Catholic school and my family is Roman Catholic. So it seemed like a great fit. And I got to BC and within, I don’t know, a couple of weeks of being there.
I thought okay. I might be a little bored and that I am missing competition. I know what I really miss. I really miss basketball. Paul and I, it was like this aha moment. because like I said, I’d been, whatever fairly accomplished in I guess a number of sports and yet it wasn’t that I just missed competing.
I missed hoops. And so I called Coach Murphy and I said. You know, I’m not an idiot. I know I’m not a Big East player, but I might want to try to try out for this team. Like, what would I even do? Like what does tha process look like? And so he was really good friends with, two coaches on the staff, Tim Cohan, who ended up going to be the head coach at the University of Buffalo and Jim O’Brien was the head coach at Boston College and coach had been the head [00:20:00] coach at Bates College in Maine, and he competed against Coach Murphy’s teams. So Coach Murphy said I know a couple of these guys, I’ll call them, they’ll call you. So a couple of days later they said, come on down, and so they’re like, listen, If you want to try to make the team, that’s great. You know, maybe it’s one in 10, maybe it’s a one in a million, but you’re welcome to give it a try. And so I sort of weaseled my way into open gyms. When the guys were playing and right away again, I have self-awareness if I don’t have anything else.
So I, it was very clear to me. I can play with these guys and yet I don’t belong out here, but I tried out, I didn’t make the team, but solely because of the relationship these two coaches had with Coach Murphy, they pulled me aside and were like, listen, you might really like this. I mean, you’ve been diligent, you’ve been resilient.
You’ve been coming around here and maybe there’s a path for you to find something that could work out for you. So my freshman year at [00:21:00] BC, I did whatever was asked of me. And I went to every practice and every home game, and I would wear a number of hats, sometimes a manager and sometimes a video guy and sometimes a gofer.
And it never felt like work, never. And I remember at one point in time, my dad had come to pick me up and we were driving from, from Boston back to my home and in upstate New York. And I said, I think I really want to be a coach. And he’s like, well, What does that mean? I don’t know, but what’s your major.
I’m going to figure it out, you know? And so I started to talk to all of the coaches on the staff, but especially. Rick Boyages, who’s now the associate commissioner of the Big 10 for men’s basketball and a great coach. And he was such a tremendous mentor for me. And I said, I think I want to coach.
And so here I am, I’ve got three years left at college and I don’t even know what that means. And he was really encouraged me and said Hey, just keep coming around and you we’ll give you stuff to [00:22:00] do, and you’re clearly smart and you’re reliable. And so before my sophomore year at BC, the NCAA got rid of the graduate assistant position.
It was the time during restricted earnings coaches and they were really trying to scale back and make a level playing field so that the North Carolina’s of the world and the Cleveland States of the world were maybe playing on at least what perceived to be from a staffing perspective, and even playing field.
So our GA left, he went and got a full time job somewhere else. And there was all this work that had to be done and it could have gone on the backs and on the plates of the full time assistant coaches, and, and Coach Boyages just advocated for me and said this kid, he can do a lot of this stuff and he’s smart enough. He’s reliable enough. He keeps coming back. And so like my last three years, while I was at BC, I more or less served in the role as a graduate assistant and by that of course I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I was spending all of my time doing this and skating by in terms of schoolwork. [00:23:00] And I mean what a privilege and just a tremendous amount of good luck and good fortune. I got to work with six guys that played in the NBA. I got to work on a staff with four guys that went on to become division one head coaches and two other guys that went on to be small college coaches like myself, Coach O’Brien left BC and had a nice run here at Ohio State.
And, so, as a young man growing up, no, I didn’t even think about wanting to coach, even though I was around it all the time. And the moment that I was away from basketball, I missed it dearly. And then, within a matter of weeks or maybe months, I realized that this is what I wanted to do. And it was all, like I said, good luck, good timing, and then getting a couple breaks and trying to not screw up.
Mike Klinzing: [00:23:48]So, alright I have two questions. One. I want to go back to your last experience as a player. What was the tryout process like at a school like Boston College? [00:24:00] What did they have you guys do, how many kids tried out for the team at the walkout trial? Just what do you remember about that experience? And then I’ve got a question about kind of moving from the playing side to the coaching side of things after you answer that.
Sean McDonnell: [00:24:12] Sure. So BC, although it’s a power five athletic program. It’s not a flagship university with 50,000 students. I don’t know, maybe there’s maybe 8,000 undergrads at BC or something like that. And, yeah, most of whom are worried about having a good time on Friday night in Boston, not playing college basketball.
So it wasn’t what I would envision at Ohio State or Michigan or North Carolina, but it also wasn’t three guys, there might have been, thinking back, let’s just say 20 to 30 guys who were there and to the coaches credit, I mean, they were thorough.
They were involved. Coach O’Brien was [00:25:00] there. You certainly didn’t need to be wasting his time with it. And, when all said and done nobody that tried out made the team, but a guy that was on the football team who played in the NFL down the road, he played after the football season ended and he was way, way better than I could have ever dreamed of being.
And so, but it was drill and skill based. Mostly just watching guys play, whether it was small sided half-court games or playing full court basketball. And I certainly knew in that instance, like, Oh yeah, I’m fine in this setting like I’m pretty good at it here.
It’s nice to come out. That’s when things get a little tougher for me, you know?
Mike Klinzing: [00:25:41] Absolutely. There’s something to be said for genetic gifts, right?
Sean McDonnell: [00:25:44] Yes. Yes. It goes a long way. It goes a long way. So, so that was sort of that that last moment and then, and, and honesty, I certainly didn’t play thereafter and yet, I spent most of my summers in Boston.
So the last [00:26:00] three years I would find myself playing a lot with the guys in the summer, find myself playing sometimes in the preseason, just depending on bodies. And then it was more because it would be my responsibility to sort of help solve a problem is a member of the staff or something.
and it’s something that I look back on really fondly in terms of just in experience and one that never needed to be made available to me but because of some phone calls and some, some coaches that were, were welcoming to a kid that was just eager and wanted to be around and it was really fun.
Mike Klinzing: [00:26:39] Yeah. But I think there’s something to be said there too, obviously. Things worked out and your connections helped and people sort of lifted you up along the way. But I think a lesson here is that it also doesn’t happen if you don’t reach out and say, Hey, I’d like to give this a try and you don’t pursue it.
And then once you get into that job, if you don’t just gladly take on all [00:27:00] the Menial tasks and things that other people don’t want to do. Maybe you’re not as well received by the coaching staff and you don’t then continue to get more responsibility and more opportunity. And so I think that’s a great lesson for any young coach that’s out there is.
And we’ve talked about this a little bit before. I think Coach Showalter from USA. Basketball was actually the first person who said it on the podcast, but basically you got to do a great job, whatever you’re doing, ] because that’s how you get noticed. And that’s how you get the next opportunity. If you’re already looking.
Out the door like this is kind of below me and I don’t want to have to go get coach coffee, or I don’t want to go run copies then you’re probably not going to get that next opportunity. You gotta be great wherever you are. And I think that’s a great lesson for all the young coaches out there
Sean McDonnell: [00:27:42] For sure.
Kevin O’Neill who is a long time college coach. He was the coach at Northwestern and a coach at Marquette. Maybe assistant at Marquette. He coached the Toronto Raptors for awhile, the Five Star guy. And, I remember hearing one time coach O’Neil said to a young [00:28:00] coach, some advice, what do I want to do if I want to make it in this profession?
It was be willing to work for free as long as possible, and being willing to move at the drop of a hat whenever the next time opportunity presents itself. So if you’re willing to work for nothing and move all over the country forever, chances are eventually, and then check daily. I remember one time also said some kind of video or something when I was a kid make the big time where you are.
So I guess if you’re willing to work for free anywhere in the country and you always treat it like the big time, then maybe. You’re going to have a shot, you know?
Mike Klinzing: [00:28:32] So the opportunity may come your way. Exactly. Then you get to go to all kinds of glamorous spots and make lots of money and do all these great things.
Right. That happens. That happens. That happens for everybody. That’s right. So my next question, when you transitioned from art, I was a player. Now I’m getting this opportunity as a student assistant coach, you kind of got to go behind the curtain of big time college basketball. What was something that surprised [00:29:00] you about what the coaches did on a day to day basis?
Was there something that you’re like, man, I had no idea they did this, or I had no idea. They spent this much time and doing that. What was surprising to you when you first got behind the curtain?
Sean McDonnell: [00:29:13] Well, the easy answer is everything because I had no idea, period. and I literally went from knowing nothing to your point behind the curtain.
And then all of a sudden everything was accessible to me. Coach O’Brien did a great job. I think of empowering his assistant coaches to have sort of specific rules. Now, some people would maybe say that he could have, or should have had more diverse experiences on the staff. But I think it, at the same time, it was very clear each assistant’s strength, how he was, it’s going to contribute the most to the program.
Let’s empower those guys like that and let’s run with it. So I got to work most closely with Rick . His primary responsibility [00:30:00] was either player development or preparing the team in terms of. Film breakdown next opponent self scouting, opponent scouting, et cetera. And, so that’s what I ended up.
You know, that’s probably where a lot of the grunt labor was. I would help the other assistant coaches, Paul Biancardi, who now works for ESPN, and at one time was the head coach at Wright State, he and Dave were two tremendously connected assistant coaches in the world of recruiting.and my way of helping them to your point would be make copies, cut this out, help me with some mailer and I would do it. I’d be thrilled to do whatever I was asked. I think I always had more fun when I was helping from the film perspective. Cause I was, I was learning more, at least I was learning the things that.
That I wanted to learn more and, I think right away. So we had some good teams where we had a couple of great teams at BC. We beat your North Carolina team in the second round of the NCAA go [00:31:00] after North Carolina was defending national champions. And so I got to be around great players, but we also had one season.
That was really lean. I was right after a few guys had graduated, had gone into that.
Mike Klinzing: [00:31:11] I got to interrupt you. Is that okay? And DC
Sean McDonnell: [00:31:13] it’s your, it was, Oh yeah. It’s so I was at that game. Oh, well that was a heartbreaker for you then. So it was because
Mike Klinzing: [00:31:19] I, so I’m going to interrupt you and just tell a funny story.
I’m sure I haven’t told this story on the podcast. So I had a friend who he’s like, Hey, let’s go to the NCAA tournament. Let’s just go to DC. I got a friend who lives there and we could just crash at his apartment, and we’ll go to the games. I know we’ll be able to get tickets. It’ll be no problem. We’ll be able to scalp the tickets we’ll get in for next to nothing.
You know, it’ll be great. I’m like, alright cool. So we drive to DC, we get to this guy’s apartment and we start looking and we’re calling like ticket brokers and the tickets are going for like, No, it’s like 500 bucks and I’m like a year or two out of school. And basically, I just drove to DC to watch these games on TV.
So he’s like, no, [00:32:00] no, trust me. He goes, we’ll be able to get in. I’m like, I don’t know about that. So we go and we drive to, I think at the time was the Capitol Center and we’re out in the parking lot and we got caught in traffic on the way there, we got caught on like the the, what do they call it?
They’re in DC, the inner belt, whatever it’s called. Sure. And. So we get there and we’re like, it’s like 10 minutes before the North Carolina game is going to tip off and they were playing against Liberty and we go in there and we’re walking around the parking lot, trying to find tickets. No, we can’t find anything.
Finally, we get to a guy he’s like, I’ll give you these tickets. The game’s about to start. And he ended up selling like 10 bucks for these tickets and he had three he’s like, they’re all, they’re all in different places. So me and my two buddies you’re looking at the tickets. You have no idea where the tickets are, , we don’t know the Capitol center, what section is, whatever. So we just, each one of us divvied up, we each one of us just grabbed a ticket. So then we go in, there you go in the arena and their two tickets were like up in like, The [00:33:00] second to last row of the Cap Center.
My ticket was in the third row behind. I was sitting directly behind the Reverend Jerry Falwell for North Carolina’s game against Liberty. And then I stuck around and watched that North Carolina BC games. So that’s, that’s funny the next day whatever the next night or two nights share two nights later.
So anyway, that’s my story. So I apologize for interrupting
Sean McDonnell: [00:33:23]Oh, it’s no problem. And the year after that, we had a team with some, good players. Chris Herren who’s become famous for, for many reasons, across the country and globally, he was a freshmen that next year at BC and he got injured.
Things didn’t work out. And so it was a team that wasn’t really prepared to win. There was no talent base in terms of upperclassmen. And, and that’s when I really started to realize, Oh, wow. If you don’t have good players, then you’re in big trouble loaded Allen Iverson, Ray [00:34:00] Allen, Kerry Kittles John Wallace at Syracuse.
I mean, it was loaded. And, and I’m like, geez, these guys are coaching their tails off. I I learned so much and I was so observant and, and I realized, geez, at a certain point in time, None of this matters, Holy smokes in terms of ultimately winning and losing all that preparation. And the next year Scoonie Penn came to BC.
He was a tremendous guard who ended up finishing at Ohio state. And we had a really good front court player. And the next thing you know, the team was really good again, because we had some dynamic Playmakers, but it was that one year I was a junior in college and we were not, From a talent perspective, just sort of be equipped to win at that level.
We could compete at that level and I saw it coaching and teaching and mentoring and preparing all over the place and it didn’t matter and that was, that was a, that was a really important, I think, eye opening experience for me. [00:35:00]
Mike Klinzing: [00:35:00] I’m sure moving forward. That it helps you to kind of understand that perspective about you got to have talent in order to be able to win and sure.
Coaching you can improve, but you can only. You can only take your team to the level that their talent will allow. And that’s, I think a good lesson for coaches when you’re out there is that you got we all think as coaches, sometimes that we’re, we’re doing great things. And then ultimately you realize that yeah, the coach can provide the structure, but if you should have the talent, the structure can be there.
And if you don’t have the players to compete at the level that you need to compete at, it doesn’t matter how great your culture is and how great your offensive system is and how great your assistant coaches are. You’re still not gonna be able to get it done if you don’t have, if you don’t have talent, which speaks to the importance of the college level of being able to recruit
Sean McDonnell: [00:35:48] For sure. And I certainly learned that then, and then went on to appreciate it for the next 20 years of my professional life when I was in [00:36:00] college basketball. And to your point, sort of the lifeblood of your program and you’re hitching your, your wagon in terms of wins.
Loss perspective is to the talent of the young men that you get to coach. And, it can be humbling, right? If you don’t have the horses and then you better feel really lucky and privileged when you do.
Mike Klinzing: [00:36:23] All right. One more question about BC and then we’ll move on to your first quote, unquote real coaching job.
So at BC, what was your relationship like as a student assistant? What was your relationship like with the players? How much interaction did you get with the players? And then I’m assuming, because you had such a great staff that those guys set it up where you we’re well-respected by the players, but just talk a little bit about what that relationship was like between you as a student assistant coach and the players on the team at BC.
Sean McDonnell: [00:36:55] For sure. The guys were great. I mean, they were my peers, right. I mean, they were, [00:37:00] they, they were my friends, so I would be, I think I was pretty mature to be able to sort of navigate what could be at times a fine line of the card game that I would be playing with. Tthe players on the back of the airplane, and yet when it was time to prepare for North Carolina or Washington state and the NCA tournament, I had the opportunity to sit and be quiet, but to sit in with the coaches, and the players were awesome.
And, I think they saw me as a, a friend, but I think they also saw me as somebody who could be an advocate for them. I would be a sounding board. I would. You probably get a lot of the degree for the complaining initially, and I could be a helpful filter. And then I would try to, I guess, navigate guys in a way that would seem to be what was right for the team while still being helpful for them.
But, I mean, just an awesome group of guys, BCS, a special place that draws a a really terrific kind of [00:38:00] person. And so those guys were all like that. They just happen to be. No bigger and faster and stronger than most of the rest of the kids at BC, but it was a ton of fun.
And like I said, it was a, it was not something that was planned and it was completely dumb luck and yet what a, what a wonderful springboard and what I’ve been able to do all these years.
Mike Klinzing: [00:38:21] All right. So talk about your first job. You get an opportunity to go to LeMoyne and talk a little bit about how that happens.
And what that process looked like for you going from being a student assistant to get your first real coaching job.
Sean McDonnell: [00:38:34] Yeah, for sure. So, my intention after I graduated from BC was to go back to BC, O’Brien had said I would be welcome. And so what else did I know? So that’s sort of what I was going to try to do again, it comes back to connection.
So I was on the phone with Coach Murphy talking about something and he said you should call Scott Hicks at Le Moyne college, his [00:39:00] assistant coach, Steve Evans, just left to go to Sienna. You know, you could be a good fit and I’d remembered coach Hicks as a player, he grew up a few towns over than me.
He was older than me, but he’s a great, great player. And he went on to be a great player at Le Moyne for John Beilein, who obviously was the Cavs coach and the Michigan coach. And, but he really cut his teeth in small college basketball and upstate New York. And so I called coach Hicks, coach Murphy said to reach out and.
Yeah, this is what I’ve been doing. And if you have a position I’d really like to talk to you, and I think it was the weekend, I can’t even remember, but yeah. Why don’t you come on out? So I got in the car. I, my parents’ house was 85% of the way to Syracuse. So I stayed with my folks and then I went to Syracuse the next day or a few days later where LeMoyne is and, and, Yeah, I know through the job and I got it and I spent four years at LeMoyne.
Coach Hicks was my boss. My first year. He went on to the University of Albany and then thereafter to Loyola college in Maryland. and after my first year of working with, with coach Hicks, Dave [00:40:00] Paulson, who’s now the head coach at George Mason, had been the head coach at st. Lawrence and got the job at Le Moyne.
And I got a chance to work, with Dave for, for three years. They’re both great guys and terrific coaches. but my experience with Dave was really transformational for me. And my first year when I was at Le Moyne, I was younger than I probably all of the seniors on the team. So there was still this sort of unique dynamic.
Those guys were awesome. They were respectful they, they never put me in a, in a tough spot. You know, being a young assistant coach, they treated me like an adult. They treated me like their coach and, And we had some really good teams. And then, my last three years getting a chance to work with Dave who is so smart and he’s a tremendous leader.
I think I learned a lot about ultimately maybe how I wanted to be perceived if that’s the right way to put it as a coach and, the connections with players and the relationships that you form with them. Can allow you to help them and build a [00:41:00] level of trust that they need from you off the court.
And then it allows you to have the platform to do your best, as their coach, as a leader of the program during practices, games, et cetera. And so I was at Le Moyne for four years. It was almost like a second college experience. I got my masters degree there and, had a chance to coach some really good teams.
Dave got the job at Williams College after his third year at Le Moyne, he was a Williams alum and went on to win the national championship at Williams a few years later. And I interviewed for the job at Le Moyne and, and I didn’t get it. And it was maybe the best thing that that happened to me at the time.
I probably wasn’t ready for it, but I I thought it was appropriate to put my hat in the ring if you will. And, and it was that summer, or maybe the previous few summers. Forgive me, just a little bit more about LeMoyne but New York state has, at least had when I was a kid, the empire state games.
So it was like a state Olympics and there was two levels, there was a [00:42:00] high school level and then an open division. And so in my summers, I was coaching, the empire state games team with some really great small college coaches. In upstate New York, Tom Spanbauer, who’s the head coach at SUNY Cortland and Kevin Brodrick who’s the head coach at Nazareth. and so over three years, the three of us coached the open division team. And so I was an assistant coach for two of those summers. And then the third summer I was the head coach. And again, I was coaching guys from Syracuse and from Sienna and you know, these high level players we’d have some small college guys that were really good.
And, and then you get to play against the best of the best in New York state. There’s a New York city team. There’s a long Island team. You said that in Ohio. Do you know that? I did. So from listening to some of your podcasts, I can tell that there was something similar in Ohio.
Mike Klinzing: [00:42:48] It was called the Ohio sports festival and it lasted for man, I don’t know how many years, not very many. I want to say two, three, four years, but I would [00:43:00] always put together, we’d always put together a team and we had. You know, again, other division one college guys, and then a one year we had Eric Riley who played at Michigan and, we just we, we tried to put together a team and my dad was kind of always my summer coach.
We had Scott Roth who played with us, who he’s probably six, seven years older than me who went to Brecksville and Wisconsin. Played a couple of different spots in the NBA and had a long career overseas. And that was a blast again, it just doesn’t exist.
Probably doesn’t exist anywhere anymore. cause it was just a different era, but man, that was, that was fun. I’m sure from your perspective doing it in the empire state games, I’m sure that was a blast. Getting a chance to work with all those guys
Sean McDonnell: [00:43:39] There was an unbelievable experience, especially because of how young I was.
and, And to have these two really successful small college coaches is we went into the third year of doing this together. Like, okay, well now you’re going to be the head coach. And I was like, that’s right. Like, are you kidding me? So all of the practices were convenient for me because I was the head [00:44:00] coach.
We had them all at Le Moyne and we had a couple of really good players from, from Syracuse. And that made sure that they always made it to practice because we were practicing right in town. And then, I mean we played against. No literally, I mean, just the best of the best in terms of college hoops, sort of out on the New York state Eastern seaboard, it was awesome.
And so it was something I really, I really look back upon is something that was, again, sort of transformational for me because I had a chance to run my own practice. I had a chance to call my own time outs. I had a chance to to win games and lose games and, and it mattered. The players competed at a very high level.
The venues always had great crowds. yeah, to your point, I don’t know if something like that could ever come back again. Number one, all those players are now on their own college campuses, training and stuff. Right?
Mike Klinzing: [00:44:48] Exactly. They don’t nearly have the summers that they did back when I was playing.
Sean McDonnell: [00:44:51] When I think back about my time at LeMoyne and it’s a wonderful school. And like I said, I got my master’s degree [00:45:00] there, which was awesome. And I made great friends, the people I coached with and the guys I got to coach Tobin Anderson who’s the head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas. Who’s been on your podcast is a great friend of mine.
He’s an awesome coach. We work together. For a couple of years, Jonathan Tsipis , who’s the women’s basketball coach at Wisconsin. we worked, for Dave, for our last year, while the three of us were all at Le Moyne and then the players themselves. So I got to work with great people. I got to coach at a high level, but those three summers of being able to coach in the empire state games were awesome and honestly, it’s funny. During that summer is when coach Paulsen went to Williams and it was Kevin Broderick and Tom Spanbauer, who said, are you gonna apply for this job? And I was like, I can’t meaning the LeMoyne job. I can’t get this job. They’re like, are you kidding me? Like, you’re totally ready to do this.
You could do this, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, Holy cow. So, okay. So I took her advice and I applied for the job. There was a job in New York state it, SUNY. Geneseo, which is a great, [00:46:00] a small college in the New York state system that had opened up. And they said, you’ve got to apply for that job. And I was like, really?
And Tom was in that league. You could coach you’d be great, blah, blah, blah. List me as a reference. So, so I did. So that was sort of my first introduction, even applying for jobs. I’ve been an assistant coach at loin for four years, and I’d never thought of applying for a job. And the third job I applied for that summer was the head coaching job at Hiram college here in Northeast Ohio.
And at that point in time, I had confidence in applying. I didn’t need to ask those guys for their opinion anymore. Yeah. And lo and behold, I didn’t get the loin job. I actually went. To Williams college with Dave that summer I paid rent for probably like August and September or something. And then I ended up interviewing for the, for the job at Hiram.
And that was my first head coaching opportunity, but I owe a lot of it again to good luck and good fortune in terms of who my friends and my colleagues were. and then the [00:47:00] advice they gave me.
Mike Klinzing: [00:47:01] Did you have a connection to Ohio or to hire them in any way before you applied for it or got the job?
Sean McDonnell: [00:47:07] I didn’t and, again, I mean, you just talk about dumb luck. So I’ll tell you a few things. Any young coach, who’s wondering how to get a job when you’re 25 years old. Let me tell you the secret formula. So I, so when I went to Williams College Williams is regarded as like the top liberal arts college in the country and they play at the highest level of small college basketball in the country.
And so when I got to Williams, I just sent an email to the athletic director at Hiram, assuming they’d already hired a coach. I had no idea, but I just sent him an email and said, Hey, I applied for your job. I’m not at Le Moyne college in Syracuse. I’m now at Williams college. I just wanted you to know that if you were looking for me here I am.
And he replied back and said, thanks. You know, that’s great. Williams is a great school. We’ve actually decided to slow our search down a little bit. We want to [00:48:00] have the players involved. And so we’re actually gonna wait, this might’ve been July. We’re going to wait until they get back to campus. And I was like, Oh wow.
And I told coach Paulsen that, and Dave’s like, that could be great for you because that timing is going to screw up other guys who would say, well, I can’t leave that. Can’t do that. Right. Yeah. So, So, I didn’t know. I had recruited Ohio a lot. We had some really good players at Le Moyne from Ohio, a great forward from Boardman named Jesse Potter.
We had a great great center from Mansfield St. Peter’s named John Thompson. So we had some really good Ohio players, but that didn’t mean anything to the administration at Hiram college. But what didn’t matter, what did it matter to them is that I was right now at Williams college. So they flew me out.
I’m out there interviewing. 25 years old. I couldn’t be any greener. And every person that the D would introduce me to and say, this is Sean McDonald from Williams College. And everybody would say, Oh wow. I was like, wow, this is really helping me out. There’s two months, two months at [00:49:00] Williams college. I never got a paycheck.
I paid rent in Williamstown, Massachusetts, but I never got paid up there. And, so yeah, I mean again, the good fortune of the timing. They’re the ones that wanted it to be later. And then I think that certainly helped me and the fact that I was at this great school. If I hadn’t gotten the job at Hiram, I would’ve gotten a small college job somewhere because small colleges are drawn to people from Williams.
Cause it is sort of the best of the best. And I was working for a great boss and Dave, but as it turned out, I, It happened for me sooner rather than later.
Mike Klinzing: [00:49:37] So what was the, this challenge going from an assistant, taking over a program for the first time? Maybe not specific to hire them or maybe specific to hire them, just when you think back to that time.
Clearly as I believe you were the youngest NCAA coach in the country at that point when you got hired. So what did the challenges look like in front of you when you walk in [00:50:00] the office for the first day?
Sean McDonnell: [00:50:00] Well, Again to be self-effacing there’s a reason. Yeah. They gave the job to a 25 year old so it was, the team had a good season the year before.
And, the head coach had gotten, another job. It’s actually the job in New York state SUNY Geneseo that I referenced earlier. And he’s still there, Steve mint. And he’s a really, really good coach and he’s had a good run up there and a coach man that had a good team at Hiram when he left. and a lot of the talented guys graduated.
And so my first year at Hiram, after we had like an injury or a something, we literally had nine guys on the team. And, we had four very good seniors, tremendous guys, Clinton Blocks, and who played on Cleveland Heights State championship team. So he’s a Cleveland guy and some other guys, we had three good players, so we had three good players, but we started a guy for whom college basketball wasn’t the right place.
And then everybody that came off the bench, was fortunate with that. They wanted to play college basketball that they were doing. So at Hiram, right. They were great, [00:51:00] great kids and worked so dang hard. What I would say there was the challenge of everything that I still didn’t know. I was still so green.
The team was in a place of just having experienced some success. And yet maybe wasn’t ready to sustain that success just because the roster was fairly thin. and then we’re playing against heavyweights. We’re playing against Steve Morris, college of Worcester team and great teams from Wittenberg.
I mean, we were playing against great, great competition. and so my first year, We did have a couple of special players. We had some great games with some of those programs. I just referenced. And, it was my second year when those last couple of guys of the Mudville nine graduated. And then it was literally starting all over.
We had 17 freshmen on the team my second year, like come in in, not all of them obviously played for four years. And that was really [00:52:00] like, As much of like rebuilding as I think anybody could ever imagine those guys that were freshmen. My second year, a few of them went on to be very, very good players at Hiram.
And I was privileged to coach them for a few years. And I left after a couple of years to, to go to Case Western Reserve, but I would say it was just sort of the fact that the program was in a place where there’d been a little bit of success. And so there were some yeah.
Expectations that were wonderful and yet maybe they weren’t as realistic as yeah. Maybe they should have been. and so trying to navigate that while playing against these awesome teams and then really having to hit the reset button. that second year. So there was a lot of learning, a lot of hard work being in a lot of high school gyms and thank goodness I was 25 years old at the time.
So, but it was awesome. I certainly, forever have a soft spot in my heart for Hiram college, just for sure.
Mike Klinzing: [00:52:59] So [00:53:00] what did you learn there? Maybe pick out one or two things that you learned in that first stint at Hiram as a head coach. That you took with you when you got the case job that helped you to be better prepared to walk in there on day one and kinda know what you wanted to, what you wanted to accomplish.
Sean McDonnell: [00:53:20] Sure. So I, because I’d worked for Dave Paulsen for three years, I mean, he was just really spectacular at building really meaningful relationships with players and then holding them to a really high standard. And so I was coaching guys at Hiram. I was doing everything I could to. Help them achieve the things that they wanted to on the court, but probably more importantly, try to help them achieve all the things they wanted to off the court.
And so at times serving as their career counselor and getting them an internship and introducing them to a friend of mine in Cleveland and really. [00:54:00] Building trust with those guys by being an advocate for them. And then all the while being able to, be demanding of them as their coach, as we had aspirations that we we thought were attainable and that we want to do achieve, There were things that I wanted to do at Hiram that when I saw the opportunity at case, I thought maybe those things were more attainable in case.
And whether it’s just because of the nature of the university, the, the resources that were there, the name recognition of the school, I thought that there were things that I’d be able to do for guys at case that, that I really wanted to do at Hiram. And, and maybe I couldn’t. when I was an assistant LeMoyne, we took a team.
Maybe after my first or second year abroad, we went to, to London for seven days or 10 days. And I was part of raising the money and the kids had to chip in a little bit, but it was clearly like the best experience that these guys had had during their days as college players. and we played in the [00:55:00] NCA tournament I mean, we, we played great games, but I think to, to a player, to a man, everybody would look back on.
That experience. So I told myself, I want to do this. I want to provide this for my guys. And, I wasn’t hire them long enough, to, to, to pull that off. But it all, it was always something that was really still important to me. So when I got to case, I just realized how impactful things like that would be for my guys and, And so whether it’s providing them a basketball experience or it’s providing them access to something in the professional world, but ultimately having every one of them say, I got to do things, I got to meet people.
You know, I got to have a better experience as an undergrad because I played in that program, whether it was at Hiram or if it was at Case Western Reserve. And I would hope in a small part, they would say, and because he was my coach, because he’s the one that this is what he valued. So, I think it was sort of just.
No tightening that focus, that it needs to be all about the players. It needs [00:56:00] to be all about their betterment, their development and their advancement. And then it was my job as their coach to serve them in those ways.
Mike Klinzing: [00:56:09] Talk to me a little bit about your recruiting philosophy. And obviously it has to do with the type of institution where you’re working at in terms of the type of student that you can recruit, but just let’s, I guess let’s focus in, on Case Western Reserve.
Just talk a little bit about as a division three school, what your philosophy was in terms of recruiting and how you went about trying to attract players.
Sean McDonnell: [00:56:32]. Sure. So cases unique because it is an incredible, incredible school, highly selective. And, almost all of the guys that I was privileged enough to coach over the years were very type a in terms of what they wanted to do as students, what they wanted to do professionally when they graduated and.
College was going to sort of be a means to an end. And [00:57:00] so I learned that right away. I learned that from the guys that I inherited, who were good players and really great people. And if they said they wanted to be a dentist, that’s what they did. And if they said they were going to go to law school, that’s what they did.
And so. for me, it was having an appreciation for where I was working. So you’re referencing Case. So was Case knowing that that’s the Case kind of kid that would be drawn there. Somebody who was incredibly smart, but also was very, very focused about what he wanted to do. Somebody who was really smart, but was thinking more broadly about their college experience.
You know, and I’ll figure it out. Eventually I’m going to go to school undecided. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do what my dad does. You know, that kind of thing. Those guys wouldn’t necessarily have found what they were looking for at case they ultimately probably wouldn’t have enrolled at case. So I tried to just be very methodical about knowing who we were and then looking for guys that, were looking for that.
And then checked all [00:58:00] the measurables as players, but really, it was like the physical attributes of a player. That were the last things that we considered, because if somebody didn’t want to be a doctor or didn’t want to be a biomedical engineer and they didn’t have a 33 ACT. Yeah. But then Case Western Reserve, wasn’t going to be the fit for them.
So I think it was really important to know where I was working, who was going to find fulfillment there. And then. Look for the best players, sort of within that, within that box and over time. And we were really lucky. I was privileged to coach some awesome, awesome small college players. And yet when you got done checking all of those boxes, you are looking at a unicorn.
I mean, you were looking at somebody who was. Really really unique. I can tell a quick story. I don’t mean to tell too many stories. Tim Matus, who’s the coach at North Royalton over on the West side, he had a great player, a kid named Ned Tomich, maybe 10 years ago or something like that. And, that ended up going to Cornell and a was a great [00:59:00] high school player.
He was a 34 act. He wanted to be a doctor and it was. I think it was the morning after Thanksgiving. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving. And Tim called me and said, I want you to know that Ned’s decided to go to Cornell and you did great. There’s nothing you could have done. You know, you represented yourself in case so well but it’s division one, it’s the Ivy league.
And I saw it. If you don’t have to, you don’t have to explain it. Like that’s a no brainer. Like what a great opportunity for the kid. He’s a great young man. And Tim said, okay, well, trust me the next time we have another guy. You know, I’m going to make sure that you’re the first guy we call. I mean, getting to know you and respect you and it’s was very flattering.
And I said, Oh Tim, hold on. Now you could coach for another 30 years. You’re never going to have another guy. Right? Like Ned Thomas, you might have a Big 10 player. You might have 10 big 10 players, but you’re never going to have another guy like Ned. He’s like, what do you mean? And I said, six-seven. Number one in his class, 34 ACT really good, but [01:00:00] not too good.
You know, not like Stanford. Good. You know, like it’s just so unique, the niche that we’re looking for and he’s like, Oh gosh, I never really thought of that. Behold a handful of year later when Villanova’s winning the national championship. I can’t remember the name of the kid now. Yeah. Yeah, but they had a great, great player who in high school was from North Royalton before he ended up going to prep school out East.
And then I saw Tim at a Baldwin Wallace team camp, or shoot out when I was at us. And I went over and reintroduce myself and he’s like, Oh yeah, this guy recruited Ned. I said, I don’t know if you remember, but I told you you’d have an NBA player before you add another kid like that. And you sure did.
It was pretty funny. So, I mean, that’s in a nutshell, I think it’s really just important to know where you are and who’s going to find fulfillment at your place and then work like heck to try to find guys like that, you know? And, and when you’re at a place that’s as unique and as special as his case, [01:01:00] and you’re sort of pigeonholed into these metrics, a lot of coaches would see it as a negative.
Like my team’s average sat act would be 31 or 32, and guys would say, How on earth and I’m like, well, they’re out there. You know, there’s not a thousand of them, but they’re, they’re out there. And when you find the ones that are also looking for a place like yours and you play in this great league, you don’t apologize for anything.
You get your fair share and you have a great experience. So, yeah.
Mike Klinzing: [01:01:27] Talk a little bit about the league for people that maybe aren’t as familiar with it. I know we’ve had. You know, we had coach McGinnis on who succeeded you. And we had code Zimmerman on from Emory and they both talked just a little bit about the, the big city feel of the universities and the league.
So just talk a little bit about that and what that experience meant to you as a coach, but also meant to your players.
Sean McDonnell: [01:01:46] Sure. So it’s, it’s really unique and, and, and you’re right. I appreciate your reference it. So the university athletic association is eight like-minded research universities. They’re in these.
No great urban [01:02:00] cities across the country. Emory university in Atlanta and the University of Chicago and NYU down in Greenwich Village and Washington university and st. Louis, just to name a few of them. And so they’re places that when college athletics sort of made the decision to go from sort of major college and small college to maybe different divisions.
You know, the university of Chicago is every bit, the place that Georgetown or Notre Dame or Vanderbilt or Duke is, it’s just that. Those division one schools just made the choice to take athletics in one way as a part of their university. Yeah. And then these division three schools that I referenced, you don’t have the same endowments the same selectivity, the same sort of, no panache in the world of academia.
And they just decided to go, go another route with athletics. And so, But it was a chance to compete against, I mean, hall of fame coaches, Mark Edwards at Washington [01:03:00] university in st. Louis one back to back national championships and you referenced Jason Zimmerman. Who’s such a great friend of mine and, he’s done an unbillable well job down at Emory.
And, and so you’re playing against incredibly talented players playing for these. Awesome program is led by these tremendous coaches at these world, renowned universities. I mean, it’s like fantasy land, and anytime I would get a call from a coach and I’m doing it now as a high school coach and somebody would say, Oh yeah coach Johnny here, he’s the, he’s the best kid I’ve ever had.
And I’m like, of course he’s the best kid who that’s why we’re talking because my whole team yeah. Is everybody’s best kid they’ve ever had. I mean, it was, it was like fantasy land. And so being able. To work with the guys. Like I was privileged to work with a case and able to compete against guys that became really good friends of mine at these great universities and flying all over the country.
And having this division one experience while they still got to have the [01:04:00] balance that small college athletics provides was, was really unique. you know, Elon Musk’s, Space X company just put human beings into space and, and, and just had that splash landing. And one of my former players at case who was a great, great player.
Mason, Conrad is a launch engineer for space X. You know? So Mason Academy is a part of what is now like sort of the next step in space exploration. And when he was 18 to 22 years old, he just wanted to complete compete, play basketball, and Get a great degree in mechanical engineering. So, stories like that time and time again are the real privilege of being able to work at places like those.
Mike Klinzing: [01:04:41] Absolutely. So I know you mentioned. When you were talking about the transition from hiring the case, you had referenced the ability to maybe take a trip abroad. And I know when you were at case you got a chance to go to both Brazil and Costa Rica. Can you talk a little bit about those experiences for you, both from a basketball standpoint and a [01:05:00] culture standpoint and the impact you felt like it had on your kids
Sean McDonnell: [01:05:02] For sure. so I appreciate you asking we, We did, when I got hired, it was my goal, to take my first recruiting class on, on a trip abroad. And, and we were able to do that in 2007, we went to Brazil and I was fortunate to be given some flexibility and some autonomy from a fundraising perspective by our development office.
And they basically said I could. Cultivate relationships with former basketball players who didn’t have an established history of giving to the university. So I saw that. Know, half full instead of half empty and began building relationships. And first asking guys my first few years, for sure, their time for help, could you help a kid get an internship?
Could you help a kid who wants to work on wall street? You know, could you help a kid who’s going to interview for medical school or whatever, those kinds of things. And then eventually here’s this idea I’ve got [01:06:00] and could you help me in a different way? So my first phone call to. All these incredibly generous guys was not asking them for money, but by the time I was asking for money, they were, they were ready to help.
And so I fundraise for trips. We went to Brazil twice. We went to Costa Rica twice, and then I fundraised for the, team to travel to Billy’s. And that was the summer after I had left. And so, my goal was if somebody was going to play for four years, at case Western reserve, they were going to have the opportunity to.
To travel abroad and have this basketball experience. And I was motivated for many reasons, but one of them is I think studying abroad is something that’s a really cool part of a small college experience and yet basketball players play two semesters. So they really can’t do that. Football players can do it in the spring and baseball players can do it in the fall, but, but basketball players really sort of miss out on that.
So I thought. It was a natural thing to do, [01:07:00] try to provide for our guys who are these worldly guys. And, and if certainly had the opportunity to travel. Before they came to case, or when they were successful in their professional lives would have a chance to travel later on, but to be able to do it as a member of a team, I thought it would be unique.
And, and frankly, we went to Brazil for many reasons, but one of them was, I assume that none of my guys had been to Brazil. I knew none of my guys spoke Portuguese. And, and I thought, well, then this might be something that’s different. Everybody’s going to Italy. And frankly, the kids from case have been to Italy or they’re going someday.
Let’s do something different. So we went to Brazil in both 2007 and 2010. The reason we went back in 2010 is I learned so much from 2007 about what I would do differently, how I would change or shape the experience. And I don’t want to say the second trip was perfect, but. But it was pretty close. And, and then the one thing that I learned from that is it was a little less magical for me because it was [01:08:00] my second experience there.
And that’s why I decided we’re not going to go back to Brazil a third time. Cause I don’t want any part of my familiarity. To be contagious and rub off on the guys. I want to be as mesmerized and inspired, whether it’s service that we’re doing and providing, or it’s sort of experiences in nature that we’re being able to have, or it’s competing in this sort of awesome basketball environment.
I want it to be every bit as special for me so that the players can, can see that and feel it for me. And so that’s why we didn’t go to Brazil a third time, but, Mason, who I just referenced, we had a game against the team in 2007, he got hit in the eye or hit in the mouth. I don’t remember, but he had a deep, deep cut and we had to take him to the hospital.
And so our guide was going to take him, he spoke Portuguese and he’s a guy that I could, could trust. And he said, well, we’re going to take Mason to the private hospital, not the public hospital. And he gave me the sort of look of you can trust me [01:09:00] with this. And I was like, okay. So Mason came back later and, And the PO the guide said it was really good.
I didn’t know. Mason’s parents are doctors. I said, yeah, yeah. They’re doctors. He said, well, when Mason said that, Hey, should I give my dad a call? My dad’s a doctor. Everybody’s antenna went up even further or in the room. And so he sort of got the A-plus treatment. I was like, Oh, that’s great. So later on, I said, it made sense.
How’d it go? You know? And he’s like, well, coach, it was, it was fine. It was, it was it was great. And they took care of me. He’s like, But if that’s the private hospital that really concerns me, what is it that the public hospital looks like? And what are those people subjected to? So we did lots of service experiences on these trips and lots of clinics.
And yet, sometimes there was that unscripted real life moment. cause even when we would drive through the FA of Ella’s in, some Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, which are sort of the slums for the lack of a better term, I mean, there. There there’s these impoverished villages on Hills. We’re just like, Tens and [01:10:00] tens of thousands of people live.
And it’s like, where COVID was running rampant in Brazil. Cause people live in such close quarters. Well, even as we would go by the favelas, that would be scripted. We’re on a bus. You know, the guide is sort of saying this is this is why these areas exist. And this is how they’re unique, but Mason’s trip.
To the quote unquote private hospital was one that I think was eye opening for him. And as a result was something that was impactful for all of us. So we got to have lots of new experiences like that. And again, I think every kid that I coached, I would hope we’d look back and the trip that we provided for them and say that was the best experience of my college basketball days, or it was certainly among the best.
And I was really. Pleased and proud to help be a part of that.
Mike Klinzing: [01:10:50] So, yeah, that’s fantastic. I think when you can give kids a unique experience that they may or may not ever get a chance to [01:11:00] duplicate later on in their life, either by design or by choice, that they may not get back to Brazil, they may not get back to Costa Rica.
And the fact that you could put them in a different environment, especially at such a young age. I think that that just widens. Kids perspective. And we all know that when you widen your perspective, especially when you’re talking about the kids, that you were fortunate enough to coach who are bright, intelligent kids with a future that they’re probably going to be the future leaders of whether it’s companies or in the, whatever their chosen profession is.
Those are the people that you want to have that wider perspective and that understanding of how the rest of the world lives and the fact that you were able to provide that as part of your basketball program at Case I think speaks to what you were trying to accomplish. And we’ve, it’s kind of been a theme.
That’s run through the podcast, Sean, about just using the game of basketball to teach more than basketball and making sure that you’re trying to have an impact on young people. And I think that those trips that you just described. [01:12:00] Are things that I’m sure they helped your team from a basketball perspective, whether it’s through bonding or the basketball that you played, but as you said, what’s more important is the impact that it had those on those kids as human beings and people that eventually you go out into the world and have to try to make a positive impact.
And there’s a lot of positives. I’m sure that came out of that for everybody who was involved, as you mentioned.
Sean McDonnell: [01:12:21] Yeah, for sure. I appreciate you saying that. I feel, Exactly what you just stated. And it was a really special thing to be a part of that’s for sure.
Mike Klinzing: [01:12:29] All right. Let’s talk a little bit about where you are now with University School.
You try out, you move back from the college ranks and you are at the high school level. So talk a little bit about the transition and then we’ll talk in a little bit about your program and what you’re trying to accomplish at US
Sean McDonnell: [01:12:46] That’s great. Thanks. So, I always had an appreciation for US. I’d recruited guys, at all of my stops along the way, as a college coach from US.
but it was always from afar. And, in my [01:13:00] last second to last year at Case our athletic director job opened, and I had this humbling groundswell of support within our department. Everybody’s saying, you should do this. You should do this. You would be great. And I thought I had a sense to what coaches were looking for in terms of an athletic director.
I thought I knew how I could help and, and, and really what would be most impactful for, for coaches and for students. And it didn’t necessarily always align with the people that I had worked for. So I tried to get the job and, and I didn’t, but, but it was a really good experience for me. So maybe fast forward a year, two years later, one of my former players at case who also a U S grad, Tim caner, you should have him on your podcast.
He’s outstanding. Tim’s the head coach at Fairmont state, but he’d been the head coach at Notre Dame college. And Tim called me and said, Hey, U S is, created this position. And it’s a lot, like a lot of the things that you said you wanted to do it in case. And I said, well, geez, I, [01:14:00] I know what a. No high school athletic director does, and nobody has more of an appreciation for what they do.
But I was interested in raising money and I was interested in sort of you know, career planning sort of next step in life for the students and the players. And he’s like, no, I’m telling you. So he sends me this job description. It jumps off the page. So I thought, Holy smokes, this, this maybe could be great.
And so the, the head of school at the time is a guy that had played at Amherst college. Out in new England. And I was friendly. I’d served on a few committees with the head coach at, at Amherst. So I and said, Hey, I think I could be interested in this job. Your former player is the head of school there.
Could you put me in touch with them? Cause I don’t want to apply for something. If, if I’m not interested, I like what I’m doing. I work at this great place. And so he said, sure. And yeah, so I went out to us at every time I would go out to you informally and then eventually formally. People would hear what I was doing and they’d say, Oh, well, we’re looking for a coach too.
And it’s because the coach at us, Terry Lipford, who’s [01:15:00] a. Great guy, a great coach, had resigned for being the varsity coach while he was still staying at us to teach. And, and I said, well, I’ve got the coaching job I want, but you know, who knows? Maybe it could work out. And, so I was fortunate enough to get this administrative position that I accepted and, and have to this day.
And as soon as I was offered that job, the next question is, well, we now have to solve the basketball job. The search has been, it’s been going on and it’s been open. And so we have sort of option a option B. Or you could be option C. And I was like, well, geez, I certainly hadn’t thought about coaching. I thought about this other, this other role and this other responsibility, but I did think there’s no better way for me to have an appreciation for what it’s like to be a student or what it’s like to be a coach at U S than doing it myself.
And so I said, listen, it’s going to be a ton of work. It’ll be a ton of time. And if it’s going to pull me from some other things, I just want to say right now, like I can’t do this Half ass. You know what I mean? Like I only have one absolute one way, I’m going to be able to do this. And he said, no, [01:16:00] no, you’ve got support.
There’s great people here. And he was right. We have unbelievable people at us. And, so I said, okay, well then I’ll coach as well. And, as a small college coach, I always had an appreciation for the high school. Experience because of the big crowds the EDS Ignatius game or the shake or Cleveland Heights game.
I mean, yeah, when you’re a small college coach and you’re in an atmosphere like that, it’s like, Oh my God, this is intoxicating because that’s not typically what you play in front of that is not what small college basketball is. I mean, I played many games, played, coached. Yeah. Any games when I was at Case against literally the number one team in America, And it might’ve been with a hundred people in the gym, you know?
And so, so I thought, well, this, this could be fun. You know, coach in high school, basketball could be fun, it could be different. And I thought about some of those things and, we have a son who is now in third grade at us, which was a real draw to allow him to be a part of this community and this, through this experience with me.
And so there was all these things that, that seemed really cool about [01:17:00] it. My first year at us, we had a lot of really good athletes guys that were really good football players across players, but guys for whom basketball, wasn’t their primary sport. And as a result we had some wins and some losses and, a few years later, we’re in a really fortunate spot where our guys, almost to a young man identify themselves as basketball players first.
And, I have more college basketball players on my team right now than I certainly did my first year at Hiram College. I can tell you that. So, so it’s been fun playing and coaching in atmospheres that, have passionate. I heard Dan DeCrane when he was on your podcast recently and Gilmore and University school have a really neat rivalry.
And I tell our guys almost every time before that game, I’m like, listen guys, like. Don’t take this for granted. You guys want to go to college and playing college, and I’m telling you like, this is really unique. You know, this is really special. We had a district game two years ago against shaker Heights where the [01:18:00] gym was completely packed.
We played men are in the Euclid district last year, that gym was packed and I’m like, this is awesome. So there’ve been so many things about being high school coach that I thought would be different that I would enjoy. There are also some things that I didn’t. Anticipate, that, I’ve now learned to sort of navigate on the fly, but I feel so fortunate and so blessed that things worked out.
And again, it it’s dumb luck that the guy who was looking to fill this position had played college basketball for a friend of mine. And I made a phone call.
Mike Klinzing: [01:18:30] Well, what were some of those things that you learned that you didn’t expect as a high school coach? Some things that were surprising to you?
Sean McDonnell: [01:18:35] Yeah, for sure. So. so I’d say three things that I’ve sort of learned to navigate on the fly. number one is the autonomy and the independence that college students and college basketball players have. That 15 to 18 year olds do not and I never thought about that. And then if you think about your [01:19:00] experiences as a high school player, you probably live close to your school and as a result you had sort of in that community.
And yet us, we draw from everywhere, so not only is there not the autonomy that a kid has, where if I just change, practice on the fly, or I say come to the gym at a moment’s notice they live 40 minutes away from this and they’re not just walking across the parking lot that’s for sure.
And, We’re going to have a really special team next year, which really excites me. And two seasons ago when these guys were all 10th graders, I mean, my whole varsity team was in 10th grade and almost none of them drove. So I was like, Oh my goodness. So, so that was certainly one thing. the second thing was working with multi-sport athletes is something that I didn’t have to do as a college coach and I was open to it and I’ve really been energized by it and the cool opportunities that presents, the challenges it presents. but it was really [01:20:00] new to me. And then the third thing I would say is, being able to teach guys something for the first time. And that’s really cool. when you coach somebody as a college player, you might teach them a different way to do it, but they’ve probably been told how to do whatever it is.
And, and as a high school coach, And we’re a K through 12 school. So I’m teaching kindergarten through third graders on Saturday morning, how to dribble a ball. and I’m teaching 10th grade varsity players, you know how to do something that, that nobody’s taught them before. And so those things, some of them, I expected some of them I did, but I’ve really grown to certainly appreciate in terms of differences.
Mike Klinzing: [01:20:41] I want to ask you about the, your role as the AD when it comes to multi-sport athletes. Cause this is something that I think is an issue in high school athletics. And when it comes to players, we referenced it that you grew up playing multiple sports and. I only played one sport in high school, but I grew up playing [01:21:00] multiple playground sports, I guess, for lack of a better way of saying it.
So when you think about yourself, obviously as a basketball coach, you have a desire to have your kids playing more basketball, and yet as the D your role is to be able to facilitate all of the programs in the school. So how do you work with your coaches as the head of the athletic department to help them to understand.
Your desire or the players and their parents desire to be able to play multiple sports if that’s what they want to do versus the needs of that individual coach and their program. Is that something that you said a I’ll policy as the athletic department, that this is how we handle it? Is it on a.
Individual basis. Just talk a little bit about how you handle that particular situation.
Sean McDonnell: [01:21:50] It’s a great question. And we’re in a unique position at us. we not only support multi-sport athletes, we rely on multi-sport athletes. You know, we’re a [01:22:00] school of about 400 boys at the high school. but we compete at the division one level.
So we’re obviously competing at schools with. Yeah, 2000 boys, 1500 boys. And so we really need our best athletes to play as many seasons as they can during their four years at us. we also. Are really accomplished in terms of our outcomes. We’ve won 25 state championships kids go on to play at the college level and varying sports every single year.
And so we’re this unique hybrid where if you were going to stereotype schools that still really have multi-sport athletes, you’d probably say, well, they’re smaller, maybe community schools. And that’s just kinda how it has to be like where I grew up. And if you were going to stereotype the schools that win state championships, you’d probably say.
Well, those are probably big public or big parochial schools. And if you don’t have your mind up in terms of which sport you’re going to play on day one, somebody you gotta make your mind up for you. On day two, we really, really encourage young [01:23:00] men to play as many sports as possible. We’re really lucky to have a tremendous strength and conditioning coach at us.
Carlo Alvarez. He’d been the director of strength and conditioning for both the Pittsburgh pirates and the Cincinnati reds before he came to us. So when we have him talk to athletes and we have him talk to people, it’s about, listen, you can have a favorite sport and you can certainly emphasize that, but specializing, it’s that healthy for you?
It’s not good for you. And frankly, in terms of the outcomes that you’re looking for, a lot of that is going to be determined. Like we said earlier. By genetics, not by just over-training. And so have a great experience while you’re in high school. and let the chips fall where they may thereafter. And so we have coaches that really do believe in that and embody it, and more than anything.
I think what we say is when an athlete is in season, he should be focused on that sport and only that sport. But frankly, when it’s the summertime let’s let the kid choose. [01:24:00] What is most important to him and let him apply those talents and that passion where he wants to, but let’s try to have kids play as many sports, for their four years at us as we can.
And so we’ve had some really good stories and some great success, because of that. And, and we really believe in it, but. There is a time, as I said earlier, when you’re talking about highly skilled sports, like basketball, like soccer or at some point in time, maybe guys do have to choose to go from three sports down to two.
If they really want to sort of hit their peak, in that highly skilled sport just because they do need that refinement. And yet when you hear. Well, this new, many of NFL guys were multi-sport guys. There’s the cynic in me that says, sure they were NFL athletes. they played multiple sports for sure.
They can do anything they want, you know? so I have great empathy for families when they struggle about how to advise their son. When I was coaching at case, and I was coaching these incredibly talented guys who, by the time they were seniors, a lot of times we’re so worried about getting into medical school are so worried about going to work for Goldman Sachs on wall street.
And I was like, guys, you only have one last chance at college basketball. Like the rest of the world, we’ll wait like enjoy this. And so I find myself sort of echoing that to families and to. To our students now, like listen to high school is so much fun. Like, yes, there is an aspect of college.
That’s awesome. And if you’re lucky college sports, that’s awesome. But don’t, don’t take this for granted because before you know it it’s going to be gone and you could have some, some really severe regrets. And so, that’s kinda how we try to navigate it, Mike. So
Mike Klinzing: [01:25:52] I think that’s a hundred percent right.
And I’ve said that. Quite a few times here on the podcast that I think one of the issues that we have [01:26:00] as a country in terms of youth sports and youth basketball is in particular, is that so many people, no matter what level they’re on, they could be a fourth grade travel basketball player. They could be a seventh grade AAU player.
They could be a. 11th grade varsity player, they could be a college player. It seems. And in a lot of cases, their families are so often focused on what’s next. Instead of just being in the moment and enjoying the season that they’re playing, it’s always will, where am I going to go to high school? Or where am I going to get a college scholarship, a hundred percent of this year, I’m on JV, but you know, I want to be on the varsity next year instead of just saying, Hey, let me have a great JV season and enjoy it.
And as a parent, just sit in the stands and watch your kid and have fun. And so many people that I see and that I talk to are so focused on what’s next that they forget to live in the moment. And I wonder. That if you got to talk to those people five years after their [01:27:00] basketball career is over and after their youth basketball parenting career is over.
Do those people look back on it and say, man, I really wish I would’ve just taken the time to enjoy my high school experience or enjoy my time as the parent of a high school player and just sit in the stands and enjoy and watch a plan. I know I’ve told people that when I think about. My playing career.
Like I love playing college basketball, but playing college basketball was hard. I mean, there were many more moments probably I would say that were. Difficult. Yes. Challenging, and maybe not as much fun as compared to when I think about my high school career, I can’t think of one moment where I was like, Ooh, this drill, I don’t like, or man, this practice is really hard or I’m not having fun or this or that. Whereas I can think of those moments in college. I can’t think of any from when I was a high school player. And I think so many kids today are just focused on that end game of I got to get a scholarship or I got to get to my college experience and they [01:28:00] forget how great the high school basketball experience can be.
Sean McDonnell: [01:28:03] Almost every time before we have a big game or a rivalry game. I never talked to my players about the fact that I was a college coach, they don’t care nor should they, but the two times that I will are where the position now, where we have a number of seniors that want to play in college and have the ability to play in college.
And so I’m calling my friends and I’m going to help advocate for them and open doors for them at schools that frankly, maybe many of them have never heard of. And yet it could be another transformational experience in their life’s trajectory. So at those points I will talk about my time as a college coach.
And then the other times I’ll talk about my time as a college coach is when I say don’t take this for granted because this. Yeah, with this atmosphere against Gilmore, this atmosphere against men, or last year we went down and played at Massland Jackson. Like this atmosphere tonight, like this is not what most of you will experience college basketball if you’re fortunate enough to do it, because [01:29:00] this is really unique, this is really special.
You have fun with your buddies and just love it. So, I feel really lucky to, to be able to share that. And I pretty much draw the line at that. And only that I don’t, I don’t. Talk about my previous days, really? Other than that, because they don’t care. Oh, sure. Absolutely.
Mike Klinzing: [01:29:17] All right. We’ve blown by an hour and ] a half here.
Sure. No, ] man. It’s all good. It’s good. Every time I say this all the time, you look up at the time and all of a sudden what seems like was 15 minutes. All of a sudden is an hour and 15 minutes. So I want to ask you one more question before we wrap up. And that is just as you look forward. There at us.
Number one, what do you see as the biggest challenge for continuing to sustain the success that you’ve built? And then number two, what’s the biggest joy that you get when you get out of the bed in the morning, and you think about having the opportunity to be the Ady and basketball coach there at us.
What gets you out of bed in the [01:30:00] morning with a smile on your face? So what’s your biggest challenge and then what’s your biggest joy?
Sean McDonnell: [01:30:04] Yeah. So the, I’d say the biggest challenge is, I mean, as a school, I mean, US is an incredible school with just incredible teachers and these wonderful families and great young men.
And yet there’s a perception sometimes that people might say, well, I’ve heard of US, but I know that it’s not for someone like me or it’s not for a family like ours and that’s not true, you know? And so I think we just constantly want to be ambassadors for our school to say if, if your son is a poet, an artist an athlete, whatever.
But yeah, if he’s bright and he’s talented and he has potential to achieve great things, then. You know that this is a place that’s been teaching boys since 1890. We want you to take a look. And so it’s, it’s a great challenge to be at this [01:31:00] unbelievable place that in many ways is still more of an unknown.
So I would say that’s a challenge that I would say my greatest joy. There’s probably two number one is being able to work with young people who do have this incredible potential and then sort of help guide them to become the young adults who ultimately will become these high achieving adults and being a part of their life a very transformative time.
And in many ways, probably much more so than when and they’re college age. So I’ve enjoyed that. I’m really enjoying being able to help my rising seniors, who want to play in college, sort of navigate this process because so many of them have this tremendous future in front of them. And yet. Yeah, I think I can play an important role in, in helping make an introduction to them that frankly might pay off for them the way all these countless introductions have paid off for me over the years.
And then the second thing is selfishly, but like I said, I’m a dad. [01:32:00] We have two daughters and we have a son who’s in the middle. And, I worked for an administrator, years ago, who at one point in time sent out this. I’d say thoughtless, email, all the coaches and made a statement, no kids on the sideline or no kids on the field or something like that.
You know, your children shouldn’t be there. And, and I’d been in the department long enough that coaches came to me and like, what is this? And like, I won’t even call it, which if this is how it is. And so I sort of thought about how to navigate, like we have to address this, but maybe, yeah. I’m not the one that should be bringing it up, but whatever.
So, and thankfully that person realized maybe that wasn’t the right statement to make well. I’ve had more fun these last few years, having our son, who’s now eight, you know? And, so it’s when he was seven and eight, these last few years come to every practice come to every game, look up to these guys like his superheroes, and then look at the way that they.
Treat him like the special little guy that he is, that has been [01:33:00] the most fun and, and honestly the most joy and appreciation I have. And it’s probably the thing that I’m most proud to tell every parent, As well, like this is how your son in a moment when nobody’s looking at him, this is how he treats a seven year old, you know?
And, and he thinks of all of them as, like I said, his super hero. So if that’s a challenge and that’s a moment of joy, I would say, those would be two things that, I reflect on all the time. So,
Mike Klinzing: [01:33:26] Well, that takes us full circle back to the very top of the podcast with your experience at Hamilton, when you were a kid, for sure. You kind of had a similar, a similar type experience and your son is even more of an insider than you were because it’s not a friend’s dad, it’s his own dad. That’s getting an opportunity to do that and have him be around. And I know that from talking to coaches and from talking to kids whose dads were coaches, that there’s nothing better than that experience of being able to share that coaching your coaching duties and your team and everything, your players, to [01:34:00] be able to share that with.
Your family, I think makes it extra special. So I want to wrap things up, Sean, just saying it to you. Of course. Thanks for spending some time with us today. I really appreciate it. The conversation was a great one for coaches to be able to listen to. I think there was a lot of things that a coach could pull out and learn from your journey and your experiences.
And I’m appreciative that you were willing to take time out of your schedule with your family to jump on and share with our audience. So you’re on the hoop heads podcast. So before we get done, I just want to give you a chance. To let people know how they can reach out to you. Find out more about your basketball program and your school there at university school, and find out a little bit more about what it is that you’re building there.
And then I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.
Sean McDonnell: [01:34:45] It’s great. So in terms of reaching out, we would certainly welcome any parent or any, No young coach who would like to connect with us about anything, feel free to reach out to me. My email is S and then my last name is [01:35:00] McDonnell, M C D O N N E L email@example.com.
And we have a website, like all schools as well, and it’s easy to remember www.us.edu and University School is a really special place that is an expert in teaching boys and helping. Our, our, our mission statement is to inspire boys of promise, to become young men of character who lead and serve.
We do that every day. And, it’s a privilege to sort of be a small little spoke in the wheel of, all the great things that happen at US. And we’re always excited to hear from people that want to learn more.
Mike Klinzing: [01:35:37] So we’ll put all that in the show notes, Sean, again, I can’t thank you enough for spending the time with us tonight and to everyone out there.
Thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode.