The symbolism of Tuesday’s McGonigle Hall introduction for Aaron McKie as Temple’s new basketball coach right at midcourt was both obvious and powerful. McKie played his college hoops on that floor. He played two city-championship games for Simon Gratz High inside McGonigle -- won one, lost one, he pointed out. Every summer, the Sonny Hill League, on that court.
He could point up to a corner where a Temple worker told him something he never forgot -- the guy told McKie, finishing up as a Temple player, how he’d been watching him all along during his time in that building, how what impressed him was that McKie never changed.
I mentioned to McKie after the intro that the only knock I’d ever heard on him was that he might almost be too sane to be a head basketball coach. Sanity isn’t necessarily a job requirement.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,’’ McKie said. “I don’t want to change. Because I feel like I can impact, in a number of different ways. I don’t want to change. I think I give a lot of these kids in this area, a lot of these kids growing up playing basketball, I give them hope. I wasn’t LeBron James coming out of high school or Kobe Bryant. … I’m more like the average guy, the normal guy. I’m not the superstar. But I can be just as effective.”
True or false? McKie, a senior at Gratz, walked in and said basically said, “I’m coming here.”
“Begging,’’ McKie confirmed. “Begging. It was my dream school. It was all I wanted to be a part of it, playing for Coach Chaney. … By default, I got here. One kid signed with Duke. There’s a scholarship open. Coach will never admit that. ‘Ah, nah, he’s my top guy.’ ”
He soon was, and eventually Atlantic 10 and Big 5 player of the year, trading those honors with Eddie Jones before both went on to the NBA.
McKie will be only the second man in this city’s storied basketball history to play at a city high school, and at a city college, and for the city’s professional team, and then coach a Big 5 team. McKie and Tom Gola, that’s it.
“Aaron McKie is Philadelphia basketball,’’ Temple athletic director Pat Kraft said in his introduction, in front of a screen that showed McKie growing older: listening to John Chaney as an Owls player; conferring with Allen Iverson as his 76ers teammate; with Shizz Alston this past season.
As McKie took people on a quick tour of his basketball life, he got emotional when he began to talk about his Gratz coach, Bill Ellerbee.
“You put me in the race of life,’’ McKie said, looking over at Ellerbee, who was sitting with Chaney.
McKie noted when his own sister died, Chaney called and said he had to do something, what could he do?
“You did enough,’’ McKie told him, explaining what that involved.
Working under Fran Dunphy, McKie said, a big lesson drummed in: Be the same every day. No shortcuts.
McKie did allow himself to dream big, talking about making Temple part of the national conversation.
Those dreams didn’t come the night before, though.
“I didn’t sleep,’’ McKie said. “I was up all night.”
He understands this is a risky venture, comparing himself to a high-risk stock. But he won the press conference by being himself. A media scrum surrounded Chaney right afterward. McKie walked over and said, “Who’s press conference is this?”
Ellerbee was right there, admitting he shed a couple of tears as McKie shed a couple of tears talking about him. How far back do they go? Ellerbee said McKie’s older brother came into the Belfield Rec Center talking about his baby brother Aaron. How old was Aaron then?
“A new baby,’’ Ellerbee said. “His brother was talking about his new baby brother.”
Ellerbee eventually saw McKie when he showed up at the rec center. “I saw him in his carriage,’’ Ellerbee said.
Later, McKie’s young son came over to McKie -- he apparently had been sent over on a mission -- telling Dad that the person, the coach …
The rest of the family was over with Chaney. They wanted Aaron over for a photo with the legend.
Except there’s a new man in charge now on North Broad Street. Alert: more symbolism.
“Tell him I’m getting interviewed right now,’’ McKie told his son.