Even without the title, McKie coaching young players

Posted: July 10, 2007

Aaron McKie is back on the practice floor with the 76ers, at least for the time being. He is helping send the young summer leaguers through drills, coaxing them through new variations of halfcourt sets, offering suggestions and observations.

He is not playing, although he still might for some NBA team later on. He is not a coach, even though he is functioning as one this week during the Las Vegas summer league. Thirteen years after being a first-round draft choice of the Portland Trail Blazers, McKie is an unrestricted free agent, simply trying to determine where the game might next take him.

As he is trying to find his own path, he's also trying to create one for disadvantaged families. Through his AM8 Foundation, he will host his second annual Golf Challenge July 30 at Commonwealth National Golf Club in Horsham. His mission: to help enrich the lives of Philadelphia-area families.

McKie, 34, learned his lessons well at Simon Gratz High and at Temple. He put in seven-plus seasons with the Sixers, winning the league's Sixth Man Award in 2001. He enjoys passing on information about the game to the next generation, much as others passed it on to him.

But the last two injury-splotched seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers affected him more than he might have anticipated. Over those two seasons, he appeared in a total of 24 games for 252 minutes; in 2004-05, his last with the Sixers, he was on the court for 1,118 minutes.

"The [years with the Lakers] kind of took a lot out of it for me," he said. "I had an opportunity to be able to play [over my career], being able to earn a living doing it, but the last couple years weren't the best; I had to keep my head up and be as professional as I possibly could be.

"This [coaching] might be something I decide to do. I might say, '[Playing] basketball is done for me now,' so I could feel like I could offer these guys a lot to help them with their careers. This is home for me; if I had an opportunity to be able to work with [Sixers coach] Mo Cheeks, that'd be great. He was one of the guys who were instrumental in my development.

"[As an assistant coach], he used to stay and shoot with me and just help me with little things of the game; the small things of the game become big. He was just great for me. He helped me put things in perspective a lot. I want to be able to pass that down to some of these young guys."

He's already doing it with Rodney Carney and Louis Williams.

"I told Rodney right away, just from watching film he could be a player like [the Phoenix Suns'] Shawn Marion," McKie said. "He's quick off his feet; he could be great around the basket. But it's a matter of how much he wants to work and how much he wants to get better. I said, 'You've got all the tools and you're a much better shooter than Shawn Marion; that's my opinion. If you work at it, you can be that kind of player.' I don't think that's a bad goal to shoot for."

On Williams: "He's getting a lot better as far as being able to run a team. I think he's got a ways to go, but the talent level is there. It's no easy job, being a point guard in the NBA. I think this is a big summer for him. There's no doubt in my mind that he can flat-out play, but the commitment to being a point guard, it takes time. It's not an overnight kind of thing. He's put in the work."

So far, the results on the two players have been mixed. Carney was arguably the best player in the Sixers' 5-day presummer league minicamp, but he shot only 6-for-25 in the first two games in Las Vegas, a victory over San Antonio and an overtime loss to Detroit. Williams showed some leadership skills in the camp and was reminded about the importance of cutting down his turnovers; he had 13 in the first two games.

Still, McKie goes about his unofficial work - Cheeks says he is "just hanging out" - with the same enthusiasm he has had every summer. Assistant coach Bernie Smith is coaching the Vegas entry; assistant John Loyer will coach during the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City.

"I've always done this," McKie said. "Not with these guys, but when we play pickup ball, when the older guys come back, when you've got the college guys [involved]," he said. "It's obviously a different setting when you've got guys in here trying to make a team, and you want to help them as best you can, and you have to tie it all into what the head coach is trying to do.

"I'm enjoying it. Mo allows me to be able to have fun. He keeps it light. You could play for a coach where all the laughing and joking [aren't allowed]; we know enough to know when to be able to turn it on and off. You don't want to overdo it, because the players see it and they start to kid around and lose their focus.

"I've seen all kinds of talented guys come in this league; 2-3 years and [some of them] are gone. If you want to have some longevity, you better work at it." *

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