Sean McGee clearly was overmatched and understood there was little he could do to remedy the situation.
After all, he stood only 5-foot-4 and was overwhelmed, getting backed into the post by opponents who were several inches taller.
It was then, as a 10th-grader, when the Poughquag native realized he probably wouldn’t make it far as a basketball player.
For a moment last week, there was a similar feeling of uneasiness and doubt when McGee learned he would become one of the youngest people ever to coach an NCAA basketball game.
With head coach Chris Alesi quarantined and the Manhattanville College men’s basketball team returning to action after a month-long series of COVID pauses, the 23-year-old assistant ran the sideline on Wednesday.
“When I found out,” he said, “the first half hour or so was nerve-racking, like, ‘I’m gonna have to do this by myself.’ Then I started thinking about how long I’ve been preparing to coach and wanting to do this.”
He had coached solo before in AAU games and at Hoop Group camps, but the stakes were a little higher this time.
The Arlington High School grad made his college head coaching debut, leading the Valiants in a dramatic 66-64 loss to the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget, and the number of calls and texts I got afterwards, despite the loss, was amazing,” he said of the one-game stint. “This was due to COVID. It’s not like I got hired to be a head coach, so I didn’t want to get carried away. My mind was consumed with trying to help us win.”
They nearly did. Manhattanville rallied from down 12 and Jackson Leech’s jumper tied it at 64 with 17 seconds left, but Kody Robinson sank a floater that put USMMA ahead with two seconds remaining. The Valiants got the ball up court quickly, but a 3-pointer at the buzzer fell just short.
Petey Galgano had 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists for Manhattanville, which fell to 4-6 and 1-2 in the Skyline Conference. Tommy Lotito added 10 points, five assists and four steals.
“The guys were upset about the loss, but they congratulated me,” McGee said. “I’m appreciative of them sticking with me after we fell behind by double digits. I wanted a win badly for them because of the adversity they’d been through, and they were saying it would’ve been significant to win for me.”
Basketball Hall of Famer Phog Allen was the youngest head coach in college basketball history. He helmed the Baker University team in 1905 as a 20-year-old.
McGee, who turned 23 in October, is only three weeks older than fifth-year senior Mike Granda. The guard was among several players who offered their coach encouragement. During the game, McGee said, there “weren’t any nerves.”
“We have a lot of seniors and great leadership,” he said. “There wasn’t any concern about losing the huddle. They weren’t second-guessing me or questioning substitutions. My age didn’t matter.”
His dad, Jim McGee, is a longtime assistant coach of the Brewster High School boys basketball team, alongside Tom Nelligan. As a junior in high school, Sean McGee made his foray into coaching, preparing scouting reports for that team. From there, his passion for the sport grew into an insatiable craving of knowledge about it, and a desire to teach.
McGee graduated from Marist College in 2020 and joined Manhattanville’s staff as a graduate assistant months later, although the team played only two games amid the pandemic.
He created a team that competed last summer in The Basketball Tournament, an open-application tournament, broadcast by ESPN, that carried a $1 million prize. His team, “Mental Toughness,” partnered with the JCK Foundation, a Dobbs Ferry-based nonprofit that seeks to improve mental wellness among youngsters.
He was the founder and administrator then, but not the coach.
When assistant Brian Sondey left Manhattanville to become the head coach at Rockland Community College before this season, McGee was promoted to replace him.
The Valiants had last played Dec. 9, before a series of positive COVID-19 cases in and around the team forced them into an extended pause and caused the cancellation of three games. McGee tested positive earlier this month, then Alesi days later.
McGee was cleared to return on Jan. 7, but Alesi still was quarantined until Thursday, which led to McGee taking the driver’s seat Wednesday.
Manhattanville is scheduled to host St. Joseph’s College on Saturday and Alesi is expected to coach.
“Even being an assistant, you don’t quite realize how hard it is to be the head coach,” McGee said of what the experience taught him. “When you’re making decisions on the fly, there are so many things going through your mind, and quickly.
“I got a better idea of how to talk to officials, how to talk to my team when we’re behind. I definitely got a better feel for the game.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Sean McGee coached Manhattanville men's basketball as a 23-year-old