By JOHN BASSETTI
Unlike weather-related cancelled or postponed high school basketball games in northeastern Ohio this weekend, Sean McKeown, as Boca Raton High’s assistant varsity coach, won’t worry about a disruption to this afternoon’s scheduled boys game against Gulliver Prep in the MLK Classic.
“Gulliver Prep’s point guard is Jamal Mashburn Jr., son of ex-NBA player Jamal Mashburn and is one of the best sophomores in the country,” said McKeown, who moved to Florida a few years ago after three seasons as East Palestine High’s head boys coach.
“It’s been a positive move, so far,” McKeown said of his relocation from Boardman where he was Boardman’s freshman coach when his father, Dan McKeown, was the Spartans’ head boys coach.
Sean, a 2008 Ursuline High graduate who turned 28 today, then had a stint as Dolph Carroll’s varsity assistant at Youngstown Christian during the 2012-13 season when the Eagles won a Division IV district title before losing in the regional final to eventual state champion VASJ.
When Sean took over at East Palestine for the 2013-14 season, Dan McKeown served as his son’s assistant.
“I think we were able to do some things over there and leave the program in a good place,” Sean McKeown said.
Because his next career step took him to Florida, a big adjustment was inevitable.
“One of the biggest adjustments for me was — not so much the style of play, but the type of kid because we’re dealing more with kids who are specialized and want to play basketball year-round and work out year-round,” Sean McKeown said of both his position at Boca Raton High and as the coach of a U-17 South Florida Sonics team.
“The rules in Florida allow for a player to get in the weight room more and do a lot more things in the offseason [than in Ohio]. I wasn’t used to playing all the time, but, whether with travel basketball or high school, guys are in the gym 365 days a year. Although some programs are like that [in Ohio], you don’t see it as much, especially with the smaller schools. When I was with East Palestine, the best basketball player was also the best football player and the best guy on the track team. You didn’t have the numbers that they have down here.”
When McKeown moved to the Sunshine State, he started the Sonics travel basketball program.
“We have very high-level basketball players,” he said of the Sonics program, which comprises 14-U, 15-U and 16-U squads. “We travel all over the place and play in elite-level tournaments. This year, we’ll be playing in Atlanta a couple times.”
This is McKeown’s second year with Boca Raton, but, for the 2017-18 school year, he took the athletic director’s job at St. Ambrose Catholic School (K-8) in nearby Deerfield Beach.
John Peterson is Boca Raton’s head coach this season, replacing Max Spinner, who played at Westminster College.
“We have a kid who is committed to Division II and two potential Division I players — both have had offers,” McKeown said of Boca Raton, which was 9-3 prior to today’s game.
Boca Raton’s classification is 9A — one of the biggest public schools in the state with over 3,000 kids.
“Going from East Palestine that was lucky to have 300-400 kids to a school that’s between 3,000-4,000 is a big difference in what you have,” said McKeown, who explained Boca Raton’s season.
“It’s a little bit different than Ohio. Down here, a team plays every team in its district twice during the season. Then, at the end of the season, the top two teams from your district advance to the state tournament. It’s kind of a different dynamic, but I like it a lot better because it forces you to play teams the same size as you that are close to you. It kind of eliminates some of that travel that you see in Ohio — teams going all over the place and dodging this team and dodging that team.”
Atlantic High School is Boca Raton’s biggest rival, but other close competition comes from schools in Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach.
McKeown said that offseason basketball is huge.
“Back home, you have kids who play football, basketball and baseball. Here, you’re pretty much specialized by the time you get to high school. Our kids play basketball year-round and football and baseball kids go year-round. I think it’s because schools are so big and guys are fighting for roster spots and it’s very competitive.”
Sean explained that the Sonics program does a ton of travel basketball throughout the year because kids aren’t playing other sports.
“We’re not losing kids to baseball or football because they [basketball players] want to go all year round.”
McKeown said that Boca’s point guard has had offers from UMass and FAU.
“We’ve got another kid who’s gotten an offer from North Florida and we have a senior who is committed to Rollins College [Winter Park], which is in the Sunshine State Conference, which is the best Division II conference in college basketball.”
McKeown noted the Southern influence of styles and also the coaching philosophies employed or emphasized.
“Back home it’s more about systems where teams are known for playing zone or known for playing man and they work their system: like McDonald, known for pressing the whole game or Springfield Local playing a 2-2-1, then going into 2-3. Down here, it’s more about players. In our district, every team’s got a potential Division I player, so it’s more about how are we going to guard this player vs. how are we going to guard this team?”
Offenses are more fast-paced.
“It’s predicated on dribble penetration and kick-out because it’s fast-paced,” McKeown said. “You don’t see teams that run a ton of sets or pass the ball 10 times before a shot. Defensively, you don’t see a whole lot of zone. When I was with East Palestine, we saw a ton of zone in the ITCL; you don’t see much zone here. Instead, you see a lot of teams that want to play fast and press, and, if you have a really good player, you’ll see a lot of double-teams and focusing on guarding players instead of playing their system.”
When scouting and devising a game plan, McKeown said that the Boca staff’s strategy is aimed at “how do we take this guy away? or what can we do to get the ball out of his hands? or how can we get him to take a difficult shot?”
Well aware of the sleet, snow and sub-zero in Ohio, Sean McKeown is thinking about his father.
“I’m trying to convince my dad to retire and come down here with us. I’m working on [getting] him to retire and coach with us.”