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The Republic File Photos Columbus North coach Pat McKee talks to the team during a timeout in the Class 4A state final March 3 against North Central at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute. McKee, who guided the Bull Dogs to within one shot of the state title, is The Republic%u2019s Coach of the Year.
PAT McKee would peck at his computer for hours, hammering out notes to players and parents of the Columbus North girls basketball team. As head coach of the Bull Dogs, it was his job to keep those closest to the program informed.
And McKee didn’t leave a thought unreported.
“A lot of coaches send out weekly notes, but his notes are day-to-day, minute-to-minute accounts,” North athletics director Jeff Hester said. “I’m not going to say he works harder than any of our other coaches, but I can say Pat is the most detailed coach that I’ve ever worked with.”
McKee’s meticulous mind was the brains behind the North basketball operation in 2011-12, whether the former Indianapolis Star sportswriter wants to admit it or not. In his second year at North, McKee, 53, guided the Bull Dogs to 19 straight wins, all the way to the Class 4A state championship game, a half-court heave away from winning the program’s first state championship.
For his efforts, McKee has been named The Republic’s 2011-12 Coach of the Year.
“He’s a great guy,” Hester said. “He loves the kids. Nobody’s perfect, but Pat tries to be perfect.”
Shortly after graduating in 1980 from the University of Missouri, McKee began splitting time working for the Indianapolis Star and serving as an assistant coach on the Butler women’s basketball team. By 1989, he was coaching travel basketball teams, fully immersed in a hobby that didn’t stop until 2004.
McKee and his wife, Lori, moved to southwestern Florida, where he took a job as an education reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press. A few years later, the couple began looking for an opportunity to move back to the Midwest. There were personal reasons, and there was basketball.
McKee wanted to coach again.
“I think generally it’s been what I expected,” McKee said. “Good kids. Good parents. Strong administrative support. I think most people want to work hard and understand what it takes.”
A 2008 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, McKee had the accolades to go along with a golden reputation. But replacing longtime North basketball coach Debbie Marr wasn’t easy.
Hanna Ballard, who’s approaching her senior year at North, said some of the older girls on the 2010-11 team had trouble accepting McKee as their coach.
“They had such a close connection with (Marr) that they struggled connecting with him because he’s so different,” she said. “Not me, personally. I knew he was always trying to help us.”
And help he did.
The Bull Dogs went 19-7 in McKee’s first season and followed with the 2011-12 dream season. North began rolling after a Dec. 13 loss to Seymour and didn’t stop until
suffering an overtime loss to Ben Davis in the state championship game. Ali Patberg’s half-court shot for the win hit the back of the rim and then the floor.
“From mid-December on, we found a rhythm and communication wavelength where they understood what I wanted,” McKee said.
Ballard said the success started with defense. The Bull Dogs utilized a furious full-court press that limited opponents to such scoring totals at 28, 32 and 34. They finished with a 24-3 record.
“I think we finally figured out how we worked,” Ballard said. “Defense was our strength, and he helped us with that.”
It’s not all about basketball, though. McKee and the North girls have grown close through good times and bad.
McKee showed his fun-loving side last year when he set up a dancing station during practices. As players moved from drill to drill, they’d occasionally take a break to break it down.
And to Ballard, who’s battled knee injuries, McKee opened up and revealed his soft side. Ballard, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee as a sophomore, shredded her left ACL earlier this summer. The injury has forced her to miss workouts with teammates, but she doesn’t feel left out.
“(McKee) always makes me feel like I’m still part of the team,” Ballard said. “He’s asked me to be his so-called assistant.”
McKee refuses to take credit for North’s recent success, instead giving the nod to his players and assistant coaches. He said he doesn’t run an authoritarian regime. Rather, it’s a team effort.
“I definitely think I’m a collaborative-style coach,” McKee said. “Our coaches have real input. I don’t try to micromanage them.
“It’s not a one-man band.”
Besides, McKee said, hoops success isn’t everything.
“Rarely is it all about winning,” he said. “You want to win, you try to win, you strive to win, but you’re trying to help the players be the best they can be.”
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