This prestigious space was occupied with a tribute to Bill McKee at the end of August. McKee, a longtime basketball coach in the Twin Cities, had died of kidney cancer at 62.
The dialogue in that column was based on McKee’s greatness as a “Noon Ball” player, a tradition of pickup basketball in St. Paul that goes back four decades.
Among those introduced by McKee to Noon Ball were four standouts from his outstanding Cretin-Derham Hall basketball team of 2000-01: Sean Sweeney, Mike Keating, Steve Sir and Joe Mauer.
“Sweeney was maybe 15 when he first started playing Noon Ball, but even then he had an ‘old soul’ when it came to basketball,” said Dennis Fitzpatrick, a co-founder of Noon Ball.
Sweeney played for Steve Fritz for three seasons at St. Thomas. “Sean was a coach on the floor as our point guard,” Fritz said.
Among the folks Sweeney connected with through Noon Ball was Rick Majerus, a buddy of Fitzpatrick and the St. Paul basketball crazies. Majerus once left a 30-minute recommendation for Sweeney on the voicemail of Evansville coach Marty Simmons.
Simmons hired Sweeney as director of basketball operations. He was allowed to sit through a Majerus practice at St. Louis, and Sweeney learned this about coaching:
“Rick was very succinct in what he wanted. Practice didn’t end until the players knew clearly what he was trying to get across.”
Sweeney was a video coordinator at Northern Iowa when he published a paperback instructional titled, “The 101 Plays of the Playoffs.”
He landed as the video coordinator for the Nets (now in Brooklyn) in December 2011. He was elevated to assistant coach by Jason Kidd in January 2014.
Sweeney, now 31, moved to Milwaukee with Kidd and has much of the responsibility for the Bucks defense.
“I have to say, if it I hadn’t been for Bill McKee, and Fitz and the rest of the Noon Ballers, I don’t think my love for basketball would be what it turned into,” Sweeney said.
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Best players in Minnesota’s two-season ABA history (Muskies, 1967-68; Pipers, 1968-69):
• Mel Daniels, who died Friday, averaged 22.2 points and 15.6 rebounds and played all 88 games (playoffs included) for the Muskies.
• Connie Hawkins, a magical 6-8 talent, was limited by injury to 47 regular-season games for the Pipers. He averaged 30.2 points.
• Les Hunter, a 6-7 forward, helped Loyola to the 1963 NCAA title, averaged 17.6 points for Muskies.