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New UCLA basketball assistant Korey McCray out to show what he has to offer
The former Atlanta club coach is confident he can do more than attract top prospects. McCray has developed a reputation as a strong teacher of fundamentals.
By Ben Bolch
The Los Angeles Times
5:00 PM PDT, July 21, 2011
Korey McCray won't need to wear the standard-issue UCLA polo shirt in Las Vegas gyms the next few days for two of the Bruins' top recruits to identify him.
He used to be their coach.
Jordan Adams and William Goodwin both played for McCray's Atlanta Celtics club basketball team until UCLA Coach Ben Howland added McCray to his staff last month as his newest assistant.
The easy punch line: If you hire him, they will follow.
McCray didn't burden himself with perception. He's confident he has more to offer than a couple of blue-chip prospects who may or may not come to Westwood.
McCray, 32, effortlessly relates to college freshmen and sophomores. He's also developed a reputation as a strong teacher of fundamentals, working with NBA stars Dwight Howard and John Wall in the off-season.
And over the next five days, as he travels from one high school gym to another keeping tabs on the major club tournaments that commence Friday, he can show his new boss his ability to identify which players have the most game.
McCray said he doesn't view himself as a torchbearer for club coaches as much as someone who wants to make proud a family with deep basketball roots.
"I just want to represent myself well, my family well, this university well," McCray said earlier this month as he sat in his new office, which was bare except for five NCAA championship trophies perched on a top shelf. "Hopefully by doing that, I put AAU basketball in a good light."
McCray is hardly the first club coach to be hired by a major school, even in the Pacific 12 Conference. Arizona assistant Emmanuel "Book" Richardson once coached the New York Gauchos and helped the Wildcats land New York natives Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom, both former Gauchos.
UCLA already has received a non-binding verbal commitment from one of McCray's former players. Adams announced earlier this month that he would become a Bruin, calling McCray "a great factor" in his decision.
"They were recruiting me before he got the job," said Adams, a small forward who could become the first player from storied Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy to play for UCLA. "I pretty much already liked them, but he kind of helped."
Just as the Bruins can thank McCray for Adams' commitment, McCray can salute Adams and Goodwin for his arrival in Westwood. McCray said he first met Howland last fall as part of a tour of universities his players had listed as potential destinations.
"I didn't want to put my guys in a situation that I didn't think was a good situation," McCray said, "so I was just looking at all the schools they were interested in."
McCray liked the way Howland ran his practices. Howland began to develop an appreciation for McCray's endearing smile and ability to relate to young players.
"He's got a great personality," Howland said. "He's really upbeat; he's positive."
He also had an intriguing back story. A former point guard at Mercer, McCray has made coaching stops at his alma mater, Chipola Junior College and Florida State as a graduate assistant under Leonard Hamilton. The Seminoles coach praised McCray for his communication skills and attention to detail.
"UCLA is getting a guy who has the whole package," Hamilton said. "He's more than capable and qualified to do a great job for them."
McCray also helped coach the Celtics, a collection of boys' and girls' teams that have produced 16 NBA players — including Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson — and approximately 400 college players since being co-founded in 1990 by Karl McCray, Korey's father.
The McCrays are well versed in the criticisms of club basketball. Among other things, skeptics say it is rife with coaches eager to provide access to their players in exchange for a spot on a college staff or other perks.
"It's always bad when people put everybody under the same label," said Karl McCray, president of the Celtics and coach of the organization's 16-under boys' team. "We're all individuals; we all do things differently.
"I always drill into my coaches three things: It's got to be legally, morally and ethically correct. That's what I've always had as my motto because it's critical that we do the right thing."
The younger McCray is such a stickler for proper fundamentals that he started a skills development program out of a church gymnasium in Atlanta. Its name? Fundamentals. McCray's clients included Howard and Wall.
Howland said McCray would primarily work with the Bruins' perimeter players, but his reach as the youngest member of the coaching staff should extend to the entire roster.
"I understand the music they're listening to," McCray said. "I'm not so far from where they are now."
He's suddenly a few thousand miles from home, though he fully expects to help UCLA make recruiting inroads in a region where it has traditionally struggled to land top prospects.
As he leaned back in his office chair and contemplated his new opportunity, McCray smiled. Just as quickly, his lips straightened. The pinch-me moment had faded.
"I had to tell myself just this past week, OK, the excitement is over," McCray said. "Now it's time to produce."