After taking job just last month, coach sets big goals for Bishop Canevin

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | 1:49 AM


Aaron McGee gave away some of his Bishop Canevin gear when he left for an assistant coaching job at Moon, but fortunately he held onto some shirts.

He couldn’t have predicted two years ago that he’d soon need a long-sleeved white shirt with “BC” on the arm, but he wore one Tuesday night as the Crusaders won their WPIAL playoff opener.

“It feels like home,” said McGee, a former Bishop Canevin assistant who returned in late January as head coach and now wants to get the Crusaders back to their trophy-winning ways.

“The first time walking out of the tunnel for the first home game was kind of nostalgic,” he said. “Canevin hasn’t changed much.”

But much has changed in his three weeks as head coach, after the school’s administration decided to make a rare in-season coaching change.

McGee, 30, didn’t take the Canevin job to be basketball’s version of a substitute teacher, simply trying to use someone else’s lesson plans for the rest of the semester. Instead, his newly hired staff revamped the offense and emphasized a man-to-man defense for what had been a zone team.

All things considered, the transition seems to have gone well for the fifth-seeded Crusaders, who defeated No. 12 Burgettstown, 62-41, in a WPIAL Class 2A first-round game Tuesday. The clock ran nearly continuously for the final six minutes under the 30-point mercy rule.

“I’m here to win,” said McGee, who was on the coaching staff when the Crusaders won two WPIAL titles and a state championship in 2021 and ’22. “I told everyone when we had our first team meeting, ‘The goal is to win the section, win the WPIAL, win the state.’ We won the section. We just won the first round in the WPIAL playoffs. I’m not trying to win next season. We’re here to win now.”

Bishop Canevin (13-10) advances to face No. 4 Fort Cherry in the quarterfinals Friday at a site and time to be determined.

Canevin sophomore Drew Allen had a team-high 18 points, and senior teammates Michael Vaughn and Jason Cross scored 12 apiece. Zack Schrockman led Burgettstown (16-6) with 21 points and topped 1,000 for his career.

Vaughn played for McGee as a sophomore, so the former assistant was a familiar face for him. With that experience, Vaughn said he took on the responsibility of helping teammates learn plays and schemes he already knew.

“When Coach McGee came in, he told us one thing: ‘We’ve got to work to get where we want to be,’” Vaughn said. “Most teams with a new coach would fold under pressure, but we knew we had a group of athletes who could go win.”

Cross, a West Virginia football recruit, finished Tuesday with a double-double and led a team-wide effort to win the rebound battle.

The Crusaders had only a six-point lead after the first quarter but were ahead by 20 at half, thanks in large part to its defense. They started the second quarter with a 13-2 run that let them pull away.

“It’s been a total buy-in from the players,” McGee said. “I give them all of the credit. They didn’t have to buy into me and my philosophies and my coaching style, but they did right away, which kind of made the transition really easy.”

Working against them was that the coaching change came during a busy stretch in the schedule. The team had five games in an eight-day stretch, which limited time for practice. Yet, they went 4-0 against section opponents in that span, and then were rewarded with an eight-day layoff before the playoffs.

“That was huge,” McGee said. “If we don’t get that week, I don’t know if we get the result we had today.”

Said Vaughn: “We look like a new team out there. Before, we looked really ball-dominant – a lot of one-on-one. Now we’re sharing the ball and getting open looks. It’s really cool to see the team develop like that.”

McGee said his first task as coach was to convince an offensive-minded team to embraced defense. They held Burgettstown to nine, eight and nine points in the first three quarters.

“I knew that I could teach them the defense pretty quickly,” McGee said. “I told them if they work hard for me on the defensive end of the floor, I’ll give them freedom on the offensive end. That’s kind of how we’ve been rolling.”

It helps that Cross, a future safety for WVU, is an aggressive on-ball defender. He’s a key piece for a team that’s focused more on the defensive end nowadays.

“He lets us shoot and wants us to shoot with confidence,” Cross said. “But defense and rebounding is what he stresses the most.”

Canevin led 37-17 at halftime Tuesday and was ahead 52-26 after three quarters.

A 2011 Montour graduate, McGee played basketball and football for the Spartans. He won a WPIAL title and was a state finalist on the hardwood and later played linebacker at Mercyhurst.

In his first stint at Canevin, he was an assistant under Gino Palmosina, who left the Crusaders two years ago and became head coach at Moon. McGee followed him there, and the Tigers are now the top seed in the WPIAL 5A playoffs.

With a potential title run ahead there, leaving Moon wasn’t an easy decision.

“It was tough just because of my commitment to Moon and my love for those players,” McGee said. “Those guys have given everything I’ve asked for the last two years.”

But after talking it over with some mentors, he took the Canevin job.

“I’ve had support from the boosters, the school, it’s been a total buy-in all around,” McGee said. “It’s been an easy transition, a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. That’s credit to a buy-in from the players.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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