Korey McCray: From the AAU Atlanta Celtics to regal UCLA?

Two Atlanta Celtics stage an alumni reunion. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

An Atlanta Celtics alumni chapter. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The college basketball world is a-twitter with word, first reported by Jeff Goodman of FoxSports, that the proudest program in the land stands ready to offer an assistant coach’s job to someone known for his work in AAU circles. The program is UCLA. The AAU man is Korey McCray, the 32-year-old CEO of the Atlanta Celtics.

“I’m right there in the running,” said McCray, speaking of the UCLA post. “I’m probably the favorite right now.”

McCray played college basketball at Mercer and served as assistant there under Mark Slonaker. He was a graduate assistant under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State and also worked at Chipola (Fla.) College. Today McCray coaches the sophomore boys’ team for the summer-league Celtics — he once played for them; his father Karl helped found the club in 1990 with the late Wallace Prather and remains its president — and runs a basketball training program called Fundamentals.

You might never have seen the Atlanta Celtics play, but you’ve seen dozens of alums. Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Randolph Morris once comprised the Celtics’ front line. Derrick Favors was a Celtic. So were B.J. Elder and Isma’il Muhammad, members of Georgia Tech’s 2004 Final Four team. Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire wore the Green. (No, you don’t have to be from Atlanta or even Georgia to be a Celtic.) Two former Celtics — Trey Thompkins of Georgia and Chris Singleton of Florida State — figure to be first-round picks in the June NBA draft.

Over the past decade, debate has raged over whether AAU clubs have become too mighty. The big ones have their own shoe deals — the Celtics are an adidas team, just like UCLA — and some believe AAU coaches have come to influence recruits’ decisions more than family (and far more than high school coaches). For UCLA to hire McCray would be, depending on your slant, either a breakthrough moment or a sign that even a collegiate giant is willing to stoop to sign players.

Said McCray: “AAU guys get such a bad rap. I would embrace it. I’ve been in basketball my whole life. I have my Masters in  adult education. I love summer basketball … If that’s how they’re going to label me, I hope to represent AAU basketball very well.”

Then: “I’m going there to learn from Coach [Ben] Howland. I’m going there with a mindset to learn. And I’ve got to be a good recruiter.”

Technically, McCray doesn’t yet have the job. He said he “networked” with Howland at the Final Four, but he hasn’t been to Westwood for a formal interview. McCray expects that to come next month, though UCLA might not name its new assistant until June.

A call to UCLA seeking a comment from Howland was unavailing. Said Bruins spokesman Marc Dellins: “We never talk about candidates for a job until a hire is made.”

There’s no question McCray would open doors for UCLA, or for any school. The name “Atlanta Celtics” cuts a huge swath in hoops circles, and he can also point to his role as a trainer. In that capacity he worked with Howard, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, and John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010. But not everything, McCray said, is about access.

“We have a history of so many pros coming through our program. We’ve been blessed with so many good basketball players. But there’s also someone like me — I was never able to go to the NBA but I was able to get a good education and a Masters degree. One thing we do is special: If a kid plays for us, he doesn’t go to a JUCO. We make it our business to get him into a four-year college.”

Stop right there: We make it our business. Isn’t such a statement an admission that the AAU Celtics are what critics insist — a placement service for basketball players?

Said McCray: “I wouldn’t say we’re that powerful. If you’re Duke, people are going to say you get all the calls. That’s part of being successful. We love kids; we don’t just love the superstars.”

If McCray is indeed UCLA’s choice, he’ll be representing a program that has won more national championships than Duke and North Carolina combined. He’ll be scrutinized. If  he succeeds, he might help change the perception of AAU basketball. And maybe he’s the guy to do it. Said McCray, speaking of his prospective employer: “[Howland] likes how I carry myself as a young man.”

By Mark Bradley

63 comments Add your comment

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
2:14 pm

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
2:16 pm

HewittFan will be tickled-& even more outspoken….

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
2:19 pm

There’s no question the Atlanta Celtics are a huge deal in basketball circles. Nobody can seriously dispute that.

me

April 20th, 2011
2:27 pm

Ben Howland is on the ultimate hot seat and this is his last ditch effort to save his job. Hire an AAU guy from the Atlanta area to help me land East Coast players. SMH, just pathetic. The guy has ZERO coaching experience. And don’t say he “coached” AAU. McCray will have to get used to not coaching with a bluetooth in his ear. Sad.

Joshy

April 20th, 2011
2:36 pm

You gotta start somewhere. At least he used basketball to get his education. He’s probably more worthy than some of the other scrappy AAU coaches.

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
2:38 pm

I don’t have a problem with UCLA being interested in Korey McCray. He’s a college graduate. He has his Masters. He has a basketball background. If the idea is to get good players, why wouldn’t you consider a guy who has been around some of the best players?

ormewood

April 20th, 2011
2:41 pm

Mark,

True, UCLA has won more championships than Duke and UNC combined. How many have they won in the last 30-35 years? One. Those other two schools have won eight, I believe.

me

April 20th, 2011
2:47 pm

Because its a desperate move Mark. You have to understand the UCLA people are like Alabama in football and UK in basketball, they expect to win it all every year. Howlands teams have been very average the past few years. He cannot get West coast players to buy into his system and now Sean Miller is kicking his tail in recruiting. DESPERATE move and it will not pay off because these East coast kids are not going to go to play at UCLA. He doesn’t play an exciting style of ball. And a slick AAU guy isn’t going to out-recruit the folks in the East.

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
2:47 pm

so firing Hewitt won’t affect that pipeline, it was going to be diverted, anyway…problem with aau IS FUNDAMENTALS……can’t see these kids hitting free throws(hit 3’s better!),inbounding, dribble without carrying-go to Europe to find fundamentals…..Butler got any aau kids?

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
2:52 pm

Matt Howard played AAU ball. Shelvin Mack played AAU ball. They’ve done OK for Butler.

Just about anybody any good anywhere plays AAU ball.

daveo

April 20th, 2011
2:59 pm

Hey, McCray, I’m a UCLA Alum living in GA, that is until I can get back to 21 Century CA. Know this; UCLA hoops has ALWAYS recruited nationally, unlike UGA’s joke of a basketball program. If you can come in, keep your nose clean, tap into the rich ATL talent pool, bring IN the kind of guys who can handle UCLA’s academics and learn your craft under Coach Howland, you could be an asset to our program. BEST WISHES!

GT84

April 20th, 2011
3:01 pm

Mark is correct. All the really good college players play AAU. They were recruited to colleges through summer ball and AAU ball. Very little recruiting happens at the high schools anymore.

me

April 20th, 2011
3:09 pm

Silly arguing Butler doesn’t have AAU players. Everyone plays AAU today, well everyone worth a crap plays AAU. The whole point of the argument is Howland reached out to an AAU guy because he’s getting his ass kicked in recruiting by Miller and is on the verge of being shown the door at UCLA.

drive by dawg

April 20th, 2011
3:10 pm

The better question is why is Mark Fox too proud to hire this guy? He’s had his chances.

ormewood

April 20th, 2011
3:13 pm

Hiring this Atlanta Celtics guy and trying to mine the Atlanta pipeline seems a much better strategy for Howland than subsisting on UNC defections (see Wear, Wear, Drew II).

me

April 20th, 2011
3:14 pm

Drive by, you don’t want this guy. Its not a loss. The Atlanta Celtics were pissed that Paul Blewitt was fired at GT and want to send their players elsewhere. Someone forgot to tell them that GT doesn’t have players from the Atlanta Celtics. Its just the AAU folks doing what they do best, pretending they run the world. Howland can have McCray, no ATL kid is going to UCLA. Tony Parker, Jordan Adams, Charles Mitchell, etc, THEY AREN’T GOING TO UCLA. Its a terrible hire, its a desperate hire. ZERO coaching experience, and AAU doesn’t count. Ray Charles could coach an AAU team and be successful.

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
3:17 pm

so Butler had 2 out of how many? & Tech? just wondering if it is the best way to work TEAM basketbal…..

Mark Bradley

April 20th, 2011
3:18 pm

I didn’t check every Butler player. Just the two biggest names.

me

April 20th, 2011
3:18 pm

juvenal, STOP POSTING. Every player on UGA and GT’s roster played for an AAU team. INCLUDING THE WALKONS. smh

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
3:22 pm

& they play in the pros-just hate watching all those missed FT’s…..

Bill

April 20th, 2011
3:33 pm

Congrad to Korey McCray….Best of Luck !

coach

April 20th, 2011
3:52 pm

AAU is an organization that has proved to promote individual stats over team. the players don’t improve their game by playing games they just get better at all the bad habits they have formed.

juvenal

April 20th, 2011
3:56 pm

coach, that’s the point-the USA no longer dominates internationally, & not just because some of the talent gap has been closed……sorry, me, i’ll stop now……

Connie Lingous

April 20th, 2011
4:00 pm

I have read and re-read this article, Bradley. You state that “word” is that UCLA “stands ready” to offer an assistant coach position to this dude.

You go on to report that he has not been interviewed.

And the only source you cite for this “word” is McCray himself.

Wow . . . .

LS

April 20th, 2011
4:10 pm

Sounds like he is touting himself for the proverbial “go between”($$$$$$)assistant job.

me

April 20th, 2011
4:11 pm

From what Im hearing, McCray has been going around telling all his AAU buddies he has been offered and has accepted the job. Folks at UCLA don’t seem to want to admit that. Something is funny here.

Jake

April 20th, 2011
4:25 pm

If I’m McCray, I keep my mouth shut until I’ve got the job. It wouldn’t surprise me if UCLA hires someone else after finding out that McCray was bragging to the media.

David

April 20th, 2011
4:50 pm

If this guy is such a good coach, why didn’t GT hire him? It looks AAU is send players and coached to CBB.

coach

April 20th, 2011
4:58 pm

juvenal please continue i could go on and on all day. i love that someone else has my point of view

Hewitt Fan

April 20th, 2011
4:59 pm

I told everyone that we determine if GT wins or loses! congratulaions coach Mc..

Hewitt Fan

April 20th, 2011
5:02 pm

LOL at my spelling, i am just so excited for coach MC…GT will never get another celtic..but we did like the hiring of Dollar…good luck GT and Coach Gregory, it is time to start a pipe line to LA baby!

straightcashhomey

April 20th, 2011
5:22 pm

I guess the days of actual coaching teaching are secondary now to access

KWYTA

April 20th, 2011
5:25 pm

Nored played AAU ball as well. Alabama Challenge while in HS and a number of others while in Middle School. And for the GT guy, Crittententon played with the Celtics. Also to the person that said this guy has no coaching experience, the article states he was an assistant at Mercer, FlaState, and Chipola JC. I’ve also know a number of former AAU coaches that’s gone on to coach HS and win Championships.

Take the bluetooth out..........................

April 20th, 2011
5:36 pm

What’s the problem? This guy is well-educated and seems to be extremely qualified. Plus he went to Cedar Grove High School!!!!!!! Go Saints!

DW

April 20th, 2011
5:49 pm

It is highly unethical for UCLA to leak his hiring and tell McCray he has the job but not hire him officially. By promising him the job and letting the media know he has the job, he can go out and recruit for UCLA without any regard for the rules until he is officially hired. There is currently a silent period for contacting recruits, but he doesn’t have to acknowledge that restriction or any other since he is not a coach yet. I don’t think it is an accident that UCLA is waiting to officially sign him until after he has a chance to contact recruits that no other coach can.

Cigar Guy

April 20th, 2011
5:57 pm

Over here across the pond, I say AAU basketball is a sha unless the coach is working for Georgia and then I’m o.k. with it. Cigars for everyone!

drive by dawg

April 20th, 2011
7:05 pm

Doesn’t matter if this guy can coach his way out of a wet paper sack – one assistant is needed simply for recruiting. Korey could bring the elite Atlanta talent to Athens on a consistent basis. That’s all he needs to do. He could play Xbox the rest of the time and he would still be worth the $$$. There are enough other spots on the staff for guys who can coach.

MannyT

April 20th, 2011
7:14 pm

Oddest thing abut this story is that McCray seems to ignore the standard coach silence & deflection on getting a new job. I cannot think of one college or pro coach that chats up getting a job with a specific team before it’s a done deal.

Paul in RDU

April 20th, 2011
7:15 pm

In the hope of improving recruiting, colleges have hired coaches from high school and AAU ranks for a long time (anybody remember Kansas hiring Ed Manning when his son was a HS HR?) If Korey McCray is hired by UCLA, good luck to both him and the school.
I don’t understand McCray talking about the hiring though – these things must be different in b’ball than in the real world.

Bigrue

April 20th, 2011
8:53 pm

Korey is a good man…Credentialed and has access. Lets be real, you have to have access to get the best kids. This guy is a good dude and I have been at his practices and know he is a good coach. If you do nothing at least pray for his success and hope he continues to focus on the kids and not self…Congrats man….Celtics Coach..B

AUG2424

April 20th, 2011
8:54 pm

Why would you talk about a job you don’t even have with the media? That isn’t very bright.

Tech Forever

April 21st, 2011
12:19 am

Thank goodness. PLEASE get him out to California!!! Then maybe the Celtics will be run by someone with less of a victim mentality who doesn’t whine about the officiating in the ACC and is admittedly hesitant to stear kids to non-Duke ACC programs.

OhWiseOne

April 21st, 2011
12:38 am

Enter your comments here
This is a no brainer! This guy will bring 3 maybe 4 of the top 50 class of 2012 with him 2 westwood! And should be able to recruit strong in the south and nationally for years 2 come. He is an excellent coach, and well deserving. If he gets this job he will become a head coach in the future. U heard it here first!

RambleOn84

April 21st, 2011
7:45 am

And cue “Hewitt Fan” to remind people that his silly little rec league team got its feelings hurt when Tech fired an awful coach.

RambleOn84

April 21st, 2011
7:45 am

UCLA hired a rec league coach? Good luck with that.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
7:58 am

Hewitt Fan send then ALL to LA. Thank God they will not come to TECH. We don’t need your ONE & Done players that don’t want to even attempt to graduate from college.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
8:11 am

I love it McCray is always crying about DUKE getting calls. The guy is a crybaby loser.
Hewitt Fan gets his talking points from McCray. IT IS NOT FAIR. Coach K and DUKE get all the calls. HAHAHAHAH.

51WTGW50

April 21st, 2011
8:27 am

To ALL TECH FANS if you have a chance today get down to Juniors Grill. Today is the last day of operation. Juniors opened in 1948 so I know many of you have enjoyed a meal or 2 there.
BYE JUNIOR’S we loved you.

you can't fix stupid

April 21st, 2011
8:27 am

why don’t you move out to CA with him, Hewitt Fan. Take your “pipe line” too.

me

April 21st, 2011
8:31 am

Hewitt Fan: you are literally too stupid to insult. “Start a new pipeline?” Since when did the Atlanta Celtics send anyone to GT? Dominique McKoy, ya you did wonders for him. Kid will barely graduate and can’t get into any major D1 school. You are a pathetic organization who uses kids. Better hope you get the UCLA job because you are going to look like an even bigger fool if they reject you!