Casey McGraw looked up and the American flag in Glenbrook gym. As the Star Spangled Banner played he conducted his pregame ritual: Think about the ones he loves and the ones who got him to the point he is today.
But something’s not quite right.
This season he’s standing on the other side of the gym in a sport coat next to guys in the blue and red colors of New England College.
After graduating from Castleton last spring with a degree in sports administration and a minor in coaching, McGraw decided to continue his education and accept the graduate assistant coaching job as well.
He gazed up at the stars and stripes thinking about those people when he realized most of the people who got him to where he is today were in that gym on Nov. 30.
There were parents, coaches, teammates, friends, family, professors and even some other campus staff members.
“It was real weird,” McGraw said. “You don’t think about how many people you know at a place until you go back.”
Ironically, McGraw hit the game winning shot against the Pilgrims last season. But he said with such a young squad, 11 freshmen and four sophomores making up their 15-man roster, the little he does hear about the game winner comes from the coaching staff.
While at Castleton, McGraw displayed some coach-like qualities and caught the eye of his own coach.
“He can play multiple positions because he understood what needed to be done,” said Paul Culpo, head basketball coach of the Spartans. “We ran our sets and he knew the plays from different positions.”
Knowing the roles of each position and how to play them effectively is an important part of being a successful head coach, Culpo added.
Culpo and McGraw’s father, Packy, call him “a student of the game,” and said it wasn’t a surprise that he pursued coaching.
This led to Culpo giving his name to New England College head coach Charlie Mason. The two got in touch and the rest was history.
“It was a no brainer,” McGraw said on accepting the position.
To say the least, McGraw comes from a coaching family. On his dad’s side alone, he has five uncles and two aunts – all who went on to coach at the college or high school level.
He was born into basketball. Well … almost.
During the first half of an Albany College of Pharmacy basketball game, where Packy McGraw was coaching at the time, his wife, Terri, thought she was going into labor.
Casey just wanted a glimpse of the action.
“It ended up being a false alarm,” Packy said chuckling.
Now, 23 years later, the kid from Delmar, New York stands six-feet-six inches tall, has dark-brown hair and a slender build. He’s shy, but also laid back and not afraid to crack the occasional one-liner.
But when it’s game time, it’s all business.
“We’re used to that relaxed shy guy type of attitude, but he can definitely turn on a switch to get us fired up,” said Jake Vickery, a sophomore guard for New England College.
He said McGraw has the perfect balance of intensity and discipline. He said that McGraw’s “specialty” is giving pre- and post-game speeches and recalled his first time hearing McGraw yell and scream in the huddle.
“Personally I was like ‘Whoah,’” Vickery said.
He said his intensity worked and the team was fired up, but they were also caught a little off guard.
“I made eye contact with a teammate and was like ‘lets go,’” Vickery said.
Charlie Mason, the head coach at New England College, said that McGraw’s ability to relate to the team is one thing that makes him stand out
“He brings something that’s very unique. His playing experience in the North Atlantic Conference was with a very successful program,” Mason said, adding that McGraw’s team oriented nature and selflessness resonates with the team.
But the road back to Glenbrook that November evening was not always in the cards for McGraw. After graduating last spring, he worked as in intern for the Times Union in Albany, New York as a sports writer. After taking just one journalism class at Castleton – in which he wrote four articles meriting the front page – McGraw switched his focus from basketball to writing, at least for a brief amount of time.
“It was little bit unusual for us to take on an intern that doesn’t have a whole lot of newswriting experience, but Casey’s talent and enthusiasm made up for what he was lacking in terms of actual experience,” said Times Union Sports Editor Pete Iorizzo.
Iorizzo said it wasn’t long before he felt confortable enough to send him out on any story. Iorizzo recalled a moment early in McGraw’s internship where Larry Johnson was making an appearance in the Saratoga area. McGraw being a basketball player, Iorizzo thought to ask him if he wanted to write the story.
“Larry Johnson, like the Knicks Larry Johnson?” McGraw answered in amazement.
McGraw went on that summer to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge and also attend the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza while reporting for the paper.
But even with all the fun he was having writing, McGraw said he missed basketball.
Following his internship, he decided to get back into the game he loved, taking an assistant job at Adirondack Community College for a short period before he decided to pack up and relocate to Henniker, New Hampshire and become a full-time Pilgrim.
New England College is 7-2 this year and has already matched its win total from last season with 16 games left on the schedule.
“No task is too small for Casey,” Mason said. “Greatness makes people better and I think that defines Casey.”