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Gorman: Nee embraces 'new role' at Gateway

| Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, 8:57 p.m.

The new guy on the Gateway bench played at Power Memorial with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was recruited to Marquette by Al Maguire, coached at Notre Dame with Digger Phelps and ran two of Pittsburgh's Division-I basketball programs in the 2000s.

Yes, that's former Robert Morris and Duquesne coach Danny Nee serving as an assistant to Gators coach Daryn Freedman.

“It's a new role for me, to be honest,” Nee said. “I want to be complementary. I know I'm not the head coach anymore. I don't want to wear ties and jackets. I wear a sweat suit.

“But I do get really into working with the kids. I try to give them a lot of attention, show them how to get better.”

WPIAL coaches are doing double-takes once they recognize the face and realize it's Nee. That includes Franklin Regional coach Brad Midgley, a Section 2-AAAA rival who played for Nee at Duquesne.

“That was a surprise to me,” Midgley said of seeing Nee on the other side of the scorer's table at Gateway. “He brought that old-school mentality: Shut your mouth, do your job and don't look for excuses.

“I didn't know he was coaching, then I saw him across the court. It's good to see he's still involved and spreading his knowledge and love of basketball.”

That was how Nee got involved with Gateway. He was semi-retired but a basketball lifer looking for a way to stay involved in the game when he answered Freedman's ad to become assistant director of the Basketball Stars of America AAU club.

Freedman eventually talked Nee into joining his staff at Gateway, where he also had an opening. Nee is in charge of defense for the Gators, whose 45 points allowed per game is lowest in Class AAAA and ranks fifth in the WPIAL.

“I love it because he takes it very seriously, treats our guys the way he did his college kids,” said Freedman, who has coached with John Calipari at UMass and Memphis and Ron Everhart at Duquesne. “It's been great. He has so much knowledge and a great personality. The guy took Nebraska to five NCAAs.

“Everyone had great things to say about him. It's perfect because he's semi-retired but doesn't want to sit around. He loves the game. I hope it's not just a one-year thing.”

Nee, 70, is making no promises. After being fired at Duquesne in 2006 following a 41-103 record in five seasons, he worked at Rutgers and Towson and as a part-time scout for the NBA's Utah Jazz before coaching at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy for four years.

After 40 years of coaching college basketball, Nee is back where he started. Aside from realizing “real quick” that the high school game is played below the rim, Nee said, the biggest difference in the different levels of basketball is the money.

After serving as a Marine in the Vietnam War, the Brooklyn native was a high school coach in New Jersey. He was making $8,000 — “and I thought I was really rich,” he said — before taking a $5,000 pay cut to become a part-time assistant at Notre Dame in 1976.

From there, he went to an NCAA Final Four and became head coach at Ohio, Nebraska, Robert Morris and Duquesne, compiling a 410-381 record.

Now, he's thankful to work on a Gateway staff with Freedman and former Wake Forest star Alvis Rogers, who coaches the Gators' post players.

“I still don't have bad days in the gym,” Nee said. “It's something that I'm very lucky. I'm passionate about coaching and working with kids. The level absolutely has no effect. I'm really, really low key. The game ends, I'm out the side door.

“I just like the kids and doing it. If I get tired of it, I won't do it. I really enjoy it, the interaction with the kids — and I haven't lost any games.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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