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Playing for a Legend
By Donald Hunt
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2003 Donald Hunt
All rights reserved.
Coach's Pride and Joy
When they met John Chaney during the 1989–90 season, Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones didn't expect to become rich and famous. McKie, a 6'5" guard and clutch performer, helped the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001. He also received the league's Sixth Man Award that same year. These accomplishments were especially sweet for McKie, who, as a North Philadelphia youngster, was a big fan of the Sixers.
His solid defense, clutch shots, winning attitude, and professionalism have been well received in his hometown. McKie, 30, was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 17th pick of the 1994 NBA Draft. In his third NBA season, he was traded with Randolph Childress and Reggie Jordan to the Detroit Pistons for Stacey Augmon. In December 1997 the Pistons dealt McKie, Theo Ratliff, and a first-round draft choice to the Sixers for Jerry Stackhouse and Eric Montross.
McKie played three seasons at Temple after sitting out his freshman year for failing to meet the NCAA Prop 42 requirements. He finished his college career tied with Mike Vreeswyk for sixth on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,650 points. Only NBA great Guy Rodgers scored more points over three Temple seasons.
Jones, a 6'6" guard, played 41/2 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. In his first season, he was named MVP of the NBA Rookie Game after scoring 25 points. Jones, 31, also participated in the 1997 and 1998 NBA All-Star Games. During the 1998–99 season, he was traded with Elden Campbell to the Charlotte Hornets for Glen Rice, J. R. Reid, and B. J. Armstrong. After one year with the Hornets, who have since moved to New Orleans, Jones was traded with Anthony Mason, Ricky Davis, and Dale Ellis to the Miami Heat for P. J. Brown, Jamal Mashburn, Otis Thorpe, Tim James, and Rodney Buford.
Jones played three years at Temple, where he became the school's 13th-leading scorer (1,470 points) despite sitting out his freshman year. In 1994 the Lakers made him the number ten pick in the first round of the NBA Draft. He was Jerry West's only lottery pick as GM of the Lakers.
Jones and McKie started their collegiate careers in 1991 as victims of Proposition 42. They had to sit out a season and pay their way. Today Jones and McKie sponsor teams in the Sonny Hill Community Involvement League. Jones has started his own foundation. McKie has bought new homes for his aunt, Rose Key, and mother, Pearl McKie. McKie resides in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Jones also has purchased a home for his mother, Frances Jones. Jones resides in Weston, Florida, approximately 45 miles from Miami.
Both players have earned respect around the NBA. "I've known Aaron and Eddie since my days at Duke," said Grant Hill, star forward for the Orlando Magic. "I remember playing against them in college. They're both good players. You can tell they've learned a lot from John Chaney. Aaron used to play for us [with the Pistons]. I remember one time I got hurt and Aaron replaced me in the starting lineup. He got a triple-double that game. You can always count on him to give you a great effort."
Theo Ratliff, who teamed with Aaron in Philadelphia and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, feels McKie is not only a good player, but also a terrific person off the court. McKie made a huge impression on him when Ratliff was first sent to Philadelphia by agent Joel Bell.
"Aaron is a very caring person," Ratliff said. "I know all the things he went through when he was younger. I know he didn't have it easy coming up. Before I got drafted in the NBA, I met him through the little practice sessions in the summertime. I came out to work with John Hardnett, and that's how I met Aaron. John holds workouts for college and pro players around the city. Aaron is a down-to-earth person. He's very aware of this [NBA career] being a short-term situation. He's taken care of his family. I really don't know coach Chaney. But everything Aaron tells me about him, he would do anything for him."
McKie's caring and understanding personality has touched Sixers teammate Allen Iverson, who won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 2001. Iverson is the most exciting player in the NBA. He also has been in and out of trouble throughout his career.
Several years ago, Iverson and former Sixers head coach Larry Brown had a very difficult time getting along with each other. In fact, it got to a point where it looked like Brown was going to trade Iverson. During those struggles, Iverson needed someone levelheaded. McKie was there for him.
"Aaron is a good friend of mine," Iverson said. "He's a guy I can always talk to. He's made a big impact on me. He's a great person for the city, the Sixers organization, and the kids. I really admire the way he carries himself."
Iverson is not alone. McKie has impressed a lot of people in the Sixers organization. It's well documented that Brown is a big fan of McKie.
"He's very coachable," Brown said. "He plays the right way. You hear Sonny Hill and coach Chaney talk about him all the time. He's not only a good player, but a great person."
Eric Snow, one of McKie's teammates, won the 2000 NBA Sportsmanship Award for his conduct on the court. Snow received $25,000 and a trophy from the NBA. He gave half the money to his middle school in Canton, Ohio. The other portion went to McKie's alma mater, Simon Gratz.
"I wanted to do something good for Aaron," Snow said. "He's done so much for people in the area. If the students at his school can aspire to be like him, they'll turn out to be great individuals."
Jones played one season for coach Paul Silas (now head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers) when he was in Charlotte. Silas acquired him in a trade with the Lakers. Before Jones put on a Hornets uniform, Silas spoke to Chaney.
"I gave John a call when Eddie came here," Silas said. "John told me I wouldn't have any problems with Eddie. And he was right. Eddie was a great player for us.
"I remember John talking about him and Aaron McKie. He gives these guys plenty of guidance. That's why they know how to conduct themselves."
Del Harris, former Lakers head coach and now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, enjoyed coaching Jones. Harris could see the Chaney influence right away.
"You only had to explain things to Eddie once," Harris said. "He came ready to play all the time. He's a great team player. I think a lot of these attributes come from John Chaney. He's established a good foundation for players like Eddie and others. When you get a player from Temple, you know he's going to be sound fundamentally and well disciplined."
McKie and Jones owe a lot to Chaney.
I don't know where I would be without coach Chaney. He didn't know I was going to play in the NBA, but coach Chaney knew that going to college would help me become a well-rounded person. It would give me a chance to do something good with my life. Whenever I got down, I could always call him. Sometimes it would be late at night. It didn't matter. Coach Chaney would always try to help me. He's spent a whole career helping people. He's taken a particular interest in helping the less fortunate. I'm glad he took an interest in me.
He's made a big difference in my life. He realized things weren't all peaches and cream for me. But coach Chaney never let me feel like I couldn't make it. Coach Chaney knows how hard it is for somebody to succeed without a good education. He knows society can squeeze you out of a lot of opportunities if you don't have a college education. Although I'm doing well playing in the NBA, once my career is over I'll be ready for the next step.CHAPTER 2
First Impressions of John Chaney
Most of Chaney's players have been poor and have come from one- or no-parent families — kids who have struggled to survive with limited resources. Chaney has recruited carefree, middle-class, two-parent honor students, too, but few of them have chosen Temple. Those few have thrived and helped their less fortunate teammates.
Chaney can identify with underprivileged youngsters because he had to overcome some of the same obstacles. He was raised by his mother and stepfather in Jacksonville, Florida, and South Philadelphia. Chaney took odd jobs to help his family put food on the table.
Chaney was a sensational basketball player for Philadelphia's Ben Franklin High School. In 1951 he was named Public League Player of the Year. But Chaney didn't receive one scholarship offer from any Philadelphia college. He wound up playing for Bethune-Cookman College, a small black school in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was an NAIA All-American.
Chaney was fortunate to go to college. He didn't have terrific grades in high school. He wasn't placed in a college preparatory program. A Ben Franklin guidance counselor said he wasn't college material. Chaney has encouraged kids to go to college. He realizes that if someone hadn't given him a chance, he wouldn't have succeeded in life. Under current NCAA rules, Division I Bethune-Cookman wouldn't have given Chaney a chance.
He's a man who wants to get the most out of his players. It's similar to the person who is trying to get the best pitcher of orange juice. He squeezes the orange until all the juice runs out. That's the way Chaney coaches the game. If you watch him on the sidelines, he's living and dying with every call the official makes. With sweat pouring off him, tie pulled down, and sleeves rolled up, Chaney grimaces whenever a player throws the ball away. In case you didn't know, turnovers are not permitted at Temple.
Whatever you do, protect the basketball. Don't throw it away. And you better play defense. He doesn't care about behind-the-back passes, between-the-legs dribbling, or dunks. That doesn't excite him. He wants players to do the things that help them win.
These things all center around the basic fundamentals. Chaney's style of play isn't attractive to a lot of high school players today. It seems like most kids are more interested in running up and down the court. They want to take off from the foul line and make a spectacular dunk. Or they want to shoot a three-pointer with three players hanging all over them.
They want to do anything that will get them a 10-second highlight spot on the local TV news — or better yet, ESPN's SportsCenter. These guys are not Temple players. Basically, this means they're not John Chaney–type players.
Not everybody can play for him. He likes discipline. He wants kids who are going to listen. He doesn't want kids who think they're the greatest thing since Wilt Chamberlain.
It takes a special kind of person to play for Chaney. You have to practice at 5:30 a.m. He places heavy emphasis on education. If he finds out that you're not going to class or study hall, he'll throw you off the team.
Some college coaches are only interested in winning basketball games, making money, and appearing on television shows to promote themselves. That's not Chaney. He wants kids who are respectful of others and know how to conduct themselves off the court.
Some people see his demeanor and think of Bobby Knight, former Indiana head coach who now coaches Texas Tech. Knight has won national championships. He has coached such great players as Isiah Thomas, Quinn Buckner, and Scott May. He's also known for throwing chairs and berating players.
"Some people think I'm the black Bobby Knight," Chaney said.
That's scary to a lot of high school players and coaches. Chaney is not like Knight. Both coaches are tough, but Chaney has a different personality. With that being said, Chaney is noted for his outbursts. He does read his team the riot act on a regular basis.
"I don't want him yelling at me," said one Philadelphia basketball standout. "Plus, he doesn't let you run and play your game."
Chaney has recruited some kids — such as Johnny Miller, Johnnie Conic, and Ronald Blackshear — who ended up transferring to another school.
Jonathan Haynes was one of Chaney's best recruits and a good friend of McKie. In 1991 Chaney signed Haynes, who was regarded by many high school sportswriters as one of the best guards in the country, on a full scholarship. He played his scholastic basketball at Philadelphia's Germantown Friends School.
Haynes, a 6'3" player, could score any time he wanted to on the court. He could dribble the ball around any defender. His hands were among the quickest in the city. With his long arms, he could pick anybody's pocket. In addition, he scored more than 2,000 points in his high school career.
In spite of Haynes' brilliant skills, he wasn't a good fit for Temple. He excelled in the open court, where he could make spectacular plays. That's not the way Temple plays basketball.
Haynes, an intelligent player, had trouble with the Owls' defensive-minded, slow-down, bump-and-grind style of play. When it appeared he wasn't going to receive a lot of playing time, he decided to transfer. He would eventually finish his career at Villanova, where he would play against Temple during his senior year.
Chaney wants his players to dream. He doesn't want to take their dreams away. In North Philadelphia, where McKie was reared, dreams vanish quickly. Aaron hails from 10thStreet and Susquehanna Avenue, one of the worst sections in the city. In his neighborhood, you can see drug deals being made in the open, kids hanging out all night, sometimes in vacant homes.
Aaron is the youngest of five children of Woodrow and Pearl McKie. He got involved in sports at a young age. He used to watch his father play softball. He became very attached to his father. Unfortunately, McKie's father died of a heart attack and a stroke when Aaron was nine. During that time, McKie was living in the Germantown section of the city.
McKie was in ninth grade when his elderly aunt, Rose Key, took him into her home at 10th and Susquehanna. Aunt Rose was a highly religious widow with no children of her own.
John Hardnett and Bill Ellerbee also played significant roles in Aaron's development as a young man. Hardnett was McKie's coach in the Sonny Hill League and an all-year mentor. Ellerbee was his coach at Simon Gratz High School (and is currently an assistant on Chaney's staff).
"As a youngster, Aaron went through quite a bit in his life," Ellerbee said. "It was hard for him to lose his father at a young age. I've known Aaron since he was about eight years old. He played on my 12-andunder team at Belfield Recreation Center. Before Aaron officially joined the team, he used to sneak in my car with the rest of the players to come to the games. I used to tell him he couldn't come because he wasn't on the team. He asked if he could be the manager. I said that would be fine since all the kids like him.
"He really liked basketball. You could tell he was going to be a good player. The game brought a lot of joy in his life. Basketball was a good outlet for him, but I was really worried about him. His family situation wasn't very solid. I can remember times when he didn't want to go home. I dropped him off one night after a basketball game. The next thing I knew, he was walking down the street. So, I knew something had to be done.
"Aaron was in the ninth grade at Lincoln High School. He wasn't doing particularly well in school. He was a young man with all kinds of potential. He moved in with his Aunt Rose in North Philly. She really did a nice job of providing a home for him.
"Once Aaron came here, he worked very hard on and off the field. He was not only a great basketball player, but Aaron could play some baseball, too. He was one of the best pitchers in the Public League. He was scouted by the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox. I remember when John Chaney was recruiting him to come to Temple. Aaron told him he was on the baseball team here. John thought Aaron was a catcher. So, he said to him, 'You're not wearing the tools of ignorance are you?' Aaron said, 'No, Coach, I'm a pitcher.' Basically, Aaron is a guy who battled on and off the field. And he never once thought about throwing in the towel."
Ellerbee would spend a lot of time with McKie during the day. In the evening, McKie would be in Hardnett's basement lifting weights and watching television. Pooh Richardson and Doug Overton also developed leg strength with Hardnett's weights.
"Aaron is one of my all-time favorite people," Hardnett said. "He's always appreciated everything. I've known Aaron since he was eight years old. He played on my Sonny Hill League team. He came to all my workouts. I followed Aaron in high school and college. I realized Aaron didn't have very much in terms of resources. I tried to help him as much as I could. If there was anybody in the world to have a reason to complain, it was Aaron. He's gone through a lot.
"Nevertheless, he's never complained about his situation. Aaron was fortunate to have some people who really cared about him. For example, his Aunt Rose really liked him. She was a strict disciplinarian, too. She didn't trust too many people. Aaron didn't have a radio, so I bought him one. Aunt Rose wouldn't let him bring it in the house until she saw a receipt. I turned my car upside down trying to find the receipt. She didn't want any stolen merchandise in her house. They do a lot of stealing in her neighborhood. I found the receipt and everything was all right.
Excerpted from Chaney by Donald Hunt. Copyright © 2003 Donald Hunt. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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