Like so many others around South Jersey basketball, Tim McDonald was influenced by Butch McLean and embraced the former Haddon Heights coach.
McDonald continues to extend McLean’s goodness and legacy now as the head coach of the Cabrini College men’s basketball team.
And, McDonald honors his former high school coach with every dribble in practice, each pre-game talk and with every sideline adjustment.
“I’m all about what he told us, to play with energy, effort and enthusiasm,” McDonald said. “He was a ball of energy on the sideline. I hope I’m carrying what he instilled in me and his teams.”
Sadly, McLean passed away in April of 2012 after battling cancer with the same energy, effort and enthusiasm that he coached basketball.
“He meant the world to me, he was not only my basketball coach, but my baseball coach and we were also family friends before high school,” McDonald said.
Last week, after employing the mantra of “energy, effort and enthusiasm” in his fourth season as the head coach of the Cavaliers, McDonald was named the Colonial States Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
And, like McLean the teacher, the pupil is modest.
“It’s a great honor to have, but I have great players,” McDonald said. “We’ve done a good job recruiting and we have guys who fit our style. If I don’t have those players doing their jobs, I won’t have the success without them.”
Truthfully, the meshing of outstanding coaching and terrific players have positioned Cabrini to compete for the Division III national championship.
The Cavaliers (24-3) open the NCAA tourney at home Friday night against the College of Staten Island. Albright and Springfield will also play in the opening round at Nerney Field House on the Cabrini campus as the Radnor, Pa. school was chosen as one of 16 host sites for the opening weekend of the tournament.
Cabrini is making its 14th NCAA Tournament appearance and 13th as champions of the CSAC after an 89-76 win over Neumann behind a career high 32 points from championship game MVP Anthony Wright-Downing.
The College of Staten Island and Cabrini actually played in early February as the two conferences staged crossover games. The Cavaliers prevailed 76-74 over the Dolphins in the inaugural CUNYAC/CSAC Challenge.
The Dolphins (16-11) earned their second consecutive CUNYAC crown with a 77-75 victory over Lehman.
“We’re very familiar with them,” McDonald said. “They’re similar to us, they’re fast and athletic, too. It was a good game.
"Our guys have an it their head that they can win this game if they play well.”
The 22 regular season wins by Cabrini are a team-best under McDonald, who became the third Cavaliers coach to be voted by the league’s other coaches for the award, joining John Dzik and Marcus Kahn, who he succeeded.
McDonald, a 1999 graduate of Haddon Heights, was the head coach of Gateway for three years, before taking an assistant job with Kahn at Cabrini. The Gators improved to 13-14 his final season, bettering by eight wins over his first season.
The Barrington native directed the Gators to their second best record in program history and hosted the program’s first state tournament game in 2010.
Now, he has Cabrini still winning.
The Cavaliers, ranked No. 22 in the D3hoops.com Men's Basketball Poll, have six players from South Jersey – Troy and D.J. Smith from Wildwood Catholic, Ivan Robinson and Devahnte Mosley from Paul VI, Robbie Brosh from Camden Catholic and Brice Parks from Delsea.
“I know a lot of coaches in South Jersey and have a good relationship with them,” said McDonald, who graduated from Ursinus College in 2003 where he played soccer, and has a master’s degree in Sports Management from Drexel University in 2013.
The Smith brothers start in the backcourt for McDonald, replacing Robinson and Mosley, who both tore their ACL’s and are out for the season.
“It was a tough blow, but both will be back next year as fifth year seniors,” said McDonald, who also lost Camden Catholic’s Jimmy Robinson to an injury before this year.
McDonald’s father, Al, is helping out as an assistant coach.
“He’s involved with the recruiting process,” McDonald said about his dad, who is retired. “He is out at a game almost every night. He’s a basketball junkie.”
In his first year as head coach, McDonald led the Cavaliers to their seventh consecutive appearance in the CSAC championship game, finishing with a 17-10 record. The Cavaliers were paced by Camden High’s Aaron Walton-Moss, who was named National Player of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) for the second consecutive season.
During his four years as an assistant coach, the Cavaliers made three trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 and made the school’s first appearance in an NCAA Championship game. During the remarkable span, the Cavaliers were 106-16, including 67-5 in the CSAC.
“It was definitely important that we continue the success,” McDonald said. “We went to the championship game and was important to be able to refocus and get back.
“I tell the team to have fun and play our game and we'll be all right.”
You know the Cavaliers will play with energy, effort and enthusiasm, just like Coach McLean.