J McKeown hadn’t even made it back home from his team’s playoff loss at Middle Township before a couple of people asked him a question he knew would be coming:
"Are you coming back, coach?"
McKeown, the West Deptford girls’ basketball coach and father of graduating senior Danielle McKeown, is noncommittal about his future in the program.
However, whether he decides to come back for another year or not, there is no denying that a sea change will be taking place on the court.
For the better part of two years—and parts of two others—the trio of Megan Kirschling, Tarryn Bundy and Danielle McKeown were the fuel that kept the team running. It wasn’t uncommon for more than 80 percent of the team’s scoring would come from the three players, and there was certainly no question leadership seeped out of their pores.
It was at the thought of the trio moving on that left the vibrant coach suddenly at a loss for words after he watched his team fall in the second round of the Group 2 playoffs last week.
“I couldn’t even speak in the locker room,” J McKeown said. “I was literally crying. I couldn’t get the words out.
"They are such selfless players and don’t care about themselves, they care about the team. They just led by example. You look up on the wall in the gym and see 1,000-point scorers, but this was never a group that cared about thing like that.
"They never know how many points they score in a game, because they don’t care about that.”
It would be hard for J McKeown not to imagine how well this team could be if he had his seniors back for one more season. The Eagles played as well as any team in South Jersey over the final month of the season, winning 11-of-12 games before falling to Middle Township.
“Down the stretch, they seemed to get better and better as we went,” J McKeown said. “The stuff we learned, I didn’t think I would ever be able to put into our system. I didn’t think we would ever get to that point because of how difficult it was, mentally understanding it and physically doing it. But they learned it and they were doing it in a different way.”
Had the playoffs been seeded at the end of the season, rather than three weeks prior, the Eagles—who finished with a school-record 20 wins, to eight losses—would have been a couple seeds higher, which could have drastically changed their stay in the tournament.
But that is all hypothetical.
What is very much real is that next year’s group will have a vastly different look.
Paige Paratore and Megan Knoblock each spent this past season as starters and would likely start next year upon return, but each girl only topped double figures in scoring once over the course of the season.
Gabby Minnite and Michelle Bower showed flashes in limited minutes at forward, and would see vastly expanded roles next season.
The team should also be bolstered by a JV team that had a winning record, both in conference and overall.
McKeown said he has several girls on the fence about returning next year, citing desires to focus in on other sports that take place in the fall and spring. He used his daughter, Kirschling and Bundy—all successful three-sport athletes—as examples of why playing basketball in the winter doesn’t have to take away from having success during other seasons.
As far as J McKeown’s future with the team? Check back in a few months.
“I don’t know,” he said of his coaching future. “I really don’t know where it’s going now. We will all sit down and figure out what we want to do. I would love to see (winning basketball) continue, whether I am there or not.”