Salem — Its been over a year since the Royal Scots tasted victory, with their last victory coming on February 9th, 2018 against #1 Sprague in a 90-83 double overtime thriller. Since then, McKay has endured through a 27 game losing streak, with only one game being within single digits over their last 27 games, with that coming on December 7th, 2018 on the road against Century. An 0-24 season lead to the resignation of Dean Sanderson and the hiring of Keista “KJ” McCrae, a first time basketball coach with little basketball background. However, with a strong attitude, cultural shift, and a wealth of experience with his assistant coaches, Coach McCrae looks to take McKay from bottom feeder to competitor.
Coach McCrae’s Non Prototypical Coaching Fit
When you look at Coach McCrae’s resume, you would think you were looking at a guy applying for a head football coaching gig. A former DL coach at Willamette, college football player at Portland State, and defensive coordinator for McKay Football, Coach McCrae doesn’t have the basketball experience you might look for. However, that’s not a concern for Coach McCrae, who has great consultants for assistant coaches.
Coach McCrae: “I actually don’t have any basketball coaching experience, but I’ve been around the game for about eight years officiating high school and college basketball, and I played high school basketball so I guess you could call me a student of the game. The best addition I could’ve made was my assistant coaches, who played D-1, D-2, overseas basketball. They are guys with a lot of basketball knowledge and people I can consult with. I’m really good at managing and developing relationships with kids, so that’s what I bring and have strength in. I’m also a competitor, so I wouldn’t say I’m a basketball guru but I am knowledgeable and my assistants help where I lack at.”
Coach McCrae enters Year 1 facing the challenge of bringing McKay back to competitiveness, a team viewed as a threat to challenge any team instead of a free victory for the opposition. Before that can happen, Coach McCrae needed to see what he was working with and jot down his first impressions of the program.
Coach McCrae: “All the kids are hungry, they’re hungry for a chance to try and do things they’ve never done before. We encourage kids to be creative and use their skillset to help us be better, but we also dial it down a bit to help McKay be better as a program. They’re all fun kids, fun kids to be around, and they’re all pretty hungry for a win as its been a while. We’re not teaching wins and losses, we’re teaching competing and be competitive, the scoreboard will take care of itself if we do the right things. We teach defense, effort, and attitude, and if we accomplish those three things then we’ll be in a lot of high school games. I’ve seen a lot of teams win from defense and effort, and that’s what we’re instilling in these guys.”
Leadership, Competitiveness, Scholarship
For many high school coaches, they have pillars that represent their core values as a coach and their program. Coach McCrae has three pillars that are vastly different from one another, yet all connect together at the end of the road. Coach McCrae explained each of these pillars and what they mean to the Royal Scots program.
Coach McCrae on leadership: “These are our pillars here at McKay, we teach our kids to lead by example with everything they do on and off the court. We want them to be comfortable being put in a spot of leadership because after basketball they might be put into a spot of directing people and where people are looking at you.”
Coach McCrae on scholarship: “The goal is to get these kids into college. Its not about basketball or football, its about getting these kids to be able to experience college. I tell the kids all the time that college was the best time of my life, and I’m sure there are other coaches that could say the same thing. I was able to travel the entire country playing football because of college, Coach Jarmal (Reid) played at Oregon State and got to travel the country playing, and some of my best friends in life are from college so we encourage kids to get out and try what life can offer them outside their community. Its a bigger world out there and college is part of that.”
Coach McCrae on competitiveness: “We want kids to compete, we want them to get used to putting their best effort forward and being okay with it. It doesn’t always translate to wins and losses. Sometimes you’ll put your best effort and so will everyone else, but you’ll still lose. I tell kids that you can be ok with that, its not when you lose its about how you lose. There’s heartbreakers, there are times when the coach is frustrated because things didn’t go the way they hoped, and so we’re working on being competitors.”
In his task of changing the McKay program, Coach McCrae is implementing a style of basketball that is more freestyle and basic compared to a complex, Rob Ryan style system. Coach McCrae goes in-depth with his reasoning for the decision and his goals with it.
Coach McCrae: “I can tell you for a fact that it is very basic, not because we don’t have kids that can do more, but we want to start from the bottom and build something with it. To me basic stuff is just where you are on the court, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and what things you can do from your position. Before you dump a five or six play system on a player, they need to be able to execute one play well, and we’ll run those until they’re bored out of their minds. That’s going to be our identity and I can’t really tell you what offense we’ll run, we’re going to run what fits our kids. Defensively, we run man and some zone stuff. We haven’t ran a lot of press because we’re still feeling out conditioning.”
Program Expectations and Goals
In the last two decades, McKay found success with coaches Jake Martino and Kevin Turner, with both coaches making the Royal Scots competitive in the Willamette Valley every season. With those years behind them, Coach McCrae has memories of those years and has expectations and goals that can hopefully get McKay back to where they used to be.
Coach McCrae on expectations: “We want to change the culture of basketball here, I mean there was a time when McKay was a team to beat and they dominated the Valley. The entire part of town would come out and support them, and its my job as a coach to get a program that people can believe in. I’m not going to promise wins and losses, but we’re going to compete and play a fun style of basketball. Hopefully, they have memories and experiences that they can look back on and that’s my job as a coach is to give them those memories of playing at McKay.”
Coach McCrae on goals: “The goal is to compete each week. No matter who is on the table, no matter their ranking, no matter where the game is at, our job is to compete and leave whether it be a dub in the win column or an L. That team is something different, they compete differently, they talk different, their attitudes are different, and they’re walking and carrying themselves different. We’ll build on that and see where we can go on that next year.”
McKay opens their season with a Girls/Boys doubleheader at home against North Salem on Friday, with Oregon’s Elite providing coverage of both rivalry matchups!