McCrary closing in on 600th career win

Legendary DeKalb County basketball coach Dr. Phil McCray is nearing another milestone in his 27-year career.

Before the Columbia Eagles returned to the basketball court Jan. 8 after the winter break, McCray was six wins short of his 600th career win.

McCrary has the most wins in DeKalb history. He spoke to The Champion Jan. 3 about approaching the historic mark and what 600 wins mean to him.

“[It means] no more than [coaching] a long time,” he said. “To be honest with you, [I’m] just humbled and grateful for the experience and opportunity that was given to me many years ago to be able to coach and touch lives and to be able to try to make a difference and give back.”

McCrary said he never intended to focus on wins and losses when he began his coaching career, but wanted to be the best coach that he could be.

“If that means I’m coaching against you then I want to be able to out-coach you,” he said. “In order to do that means I have to constantly go to school, I have to constantly study, I have to be able to scout, get advice and give advice to others as well. That’s my satisfaction. That’s my grind—to be the best coach I can possibly become.”

McCrary, a 2012 Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame inductee, has spent his entire coaching career at Columbia High School, where he led the boys’ basketball program to five state championships (2006, 2008, 2010-2012).

He retired at the end of the 2012 season and accepted an administrative position in the DeKalb County School District’s athletic department.

After four years with the county schools’ athletic department, McCrary returned to Columbia to coach the boys’ basketball team.

“Administration was great. I enjoyed the experiences of being an administrator, but sometimes you have to go back to your first love,” McCrary told The Champion in 2016. “And going back, whether it was Columbia or anywhere else, it’s just good to be back in the game.”

Columbia boys basketball coach Dr. Phil McCrary led the program to five state championships.

When McCrary returned to Columbia, he replaced former head coach Kerry Sandifer, who took over the program when McCrary initially retired at the end of the 2012 season. Not many coaches have coached as long as McCrary has at the same program. McCrary said he was able to coach this long at the same because it was the right fit.

“It’s just like a marriage,” he said. “You have to find the right partner, and it’s going to be give-and-take. It’s just so fortunate that I just so happened to land into a community where I was accepted, and I lived in the community many years ago. I was given that opportunity coming out of college and to be able to come back and coach at the same school, that says something.”

Although McCrary has had success during his coaching tenure, it didn’t come without challenges. He said the hardest part of this profession is getting players to buy into the system each year and coming together as a team. Even with nearly 30 years under his belt, McCrary said he continues to learn new things about the game and about himself as a coach.

“You never want to say you know it all because there is always something out there that you can learn from,” he said. “Even to this day, going through three generations, I’ve always learned something when it comes to how to deal with student athletes.

“When I first started, it was more of an aggressive style of coaching because that’s what the kids responded to,” he said. “But then you get to this generation, [I have to be] more of a father-figure type coach. I call it an Oreo—you have to say something good about what they’re doing, then you chew them out and then you come back and reinforce something good to them again if you want to try to get something out of them.”

With the team entering the second half of the season, McCrary said his goal for the remainder of the season is for his players to be the best they can be and become closer as a team.

“We have a young group, we have about two to three seniors and the rest of the kids are coming back [next season],” he said. [We have to] get them to understand that it’s more of a team concept than just,
‘Me, me, me, I need to get mine and I’m not worried about you.’ That’s the main focus–is just making sure they learn how to play together as a team and learn how to love one another.’

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