More than three weeks removed from a frustrating first season as head coach of the Temple men’s basketball team, Aaron McKie now battles new frustrations. The most pressing one is the regular cycle of finishing a conference call with his assistant coaches and immediately having to handle housework.
“It seems like every time I get a chance to catch my breath and sit down, my wife is like, ‘OK, let’s go clean the garage out,’” McKie said in a conference call late last month. “And I’m looking at her like, ‘Why do we have to do it now?’”
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Working from home isn’t for everyone.
But that’s the reality for McKie, his staff, and thousands of coaches across the country. Efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus left teams to deal with the disappointment of a season cut short and coaches having to quickly turn around to navigate a crucial offseason period with massive restrictions.
It was on March 12 that Temple’s season came to an abrupt end. For a 14-17 Temple team, winning four games in four days to get to the NCAA Tournament was a tall task. But a phone call to McKie after a Thursday shootaround ended those slight hopes.
McKie called in his team for a group meal and delivered the news. He felt hardest for seniors like Quinton Rose, the all-time leader in points scored for the American Athletic Conference, who didn’t go out on his own terms.
“I asked for their thoughts, I gave them my thoughts and it was just a tough day for us,” McKie said. “For me, safety was first. My job was getting them in a place where safety comes first.”
The team flew back to Philadelphia right away and the coaching staff quickly faced a new reality.
Coaches were unable to access the Temple facilities, forcing them to work from home. The NCAA also instituted new recruiting guidelines. Recruits cannot engage in in-person or on-campus visits nor can they receive letters of intent or financial aid information.
These rules are in the books until at least April 15 but can be extended. All coaches can do right now is talk on the phone and hope to secure non-binding oral commitments.
Phone calls are made regularly to recruits Temple is pursuing. The staff has also had potential recruits go through Temple’s virtual tour on the university website in order to get a sense of the campus without visiting.
“It’s something that we’ve had to be creative with,” associate head coach Monté Ross said. “And this is a very important time to shore up the recruiting you’ve been doing for the year and to get a jump on the next two classes.”
During this period, Temple secured the commitment of junior-college transfer Nick Jourdain, who announced his decision on Twitter. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward will join versatile small forwards Jahlil White of Wildwood Catholic and Quincy Ademokoya of Georgia’s Dacula High School, who each signed their letters of intent in November for the class of 2020.
Temple has one more scholarship to give for this class. Ideally it would be a capable shooter, something lacking on last year’s team, but McKie emphasized a desire to pick the “best available” player.
“We’ve tried to stay current with these guys, reach out and let them know that first and foremost we’re thinking of their health and well-being,” Ross said. “It’s frustrating but it’s what needs to be done to keep everyone safe.”
Temple’s assistant coaches, including Chris Clark, Jimmy Fenerty, Jason Ivey, and Mark Macon, have their own basketball responsibilities during the season, as designated by McKie, but have come together to coordinate recruiting plans. The full group of coaches meet through Zoom web conferences a few times per week, set up by the more tech-savvy director of basketball operations, Raheem Mapp.
“He’s made it so easy where you just click a link and type in the code,” Ross said. “I didn’t know anything about Zoom until the coronavirus. I have a hard time even turning on a computer.”
This summer will be crucial for Temple to improve upon a lackluster season. The Owls will lose three seniors with regular playing time and also saw three players enter the NCAA’s transfer portal: freshman point guard Josh Pierre-Louis, redshirt junior guard Monty Scott, and junior center and Justyn Hamilton.
Temple will look like a different team next season. In the meantime, McKie is choosing to focus on the positives that have come with this new normal.
“I’m watching a movie with my kids every night and I get to go bike riding with them,” McKie said. “I’m getting a chance to sit down at the dinner table. If it was business as usual, my kids play travel basketball and I’m on the road on the weekends, so we’re all over the place.