For Bill McDonough, half a century in a changing hoops game | Mike Jensen

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Bill McDonough (left) with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma and UConn assistant Chris Dailey.

The floor keeps shifting, what do you do? If you’re Bill McDonough, 50 years in the basketball event business, you get on the phone, find your own flooring.

You need 30 courts for your big hoops showcase because the NCAA decides your kind of event can’t use a college facility anymore, so you move into a convention center. The city of York gives you one for free. Except there are no hoop courts in convention centers. You write a huge check to bring in portable courts. You call college athletic directors and coaches you know to see if they’ll give you a break on a few baskets, since you need 60.

You don’t stay in the basketball business around here for half a century without adapting to your environment. The men’s side gets saturated? Business is booming in women’s hoops too.

Half a century.

“Fifty years of business, the camps,” said McDonough, sitting in  his office just off West Chester Pike in Havertown. He grabbed a couple of photographs from his desk.

“Name the celebrities — don’t count me,” McDonough quipped.

There was Billy Cunningham — “correct.”

Harold Katz …

“You got it,” McDonough said, taking back this photo from an era when Cunningham coached the 76ers and Katz owned the team.

“Here’s another — a big one,’’ McDonough said.

Wilt at the Palestra.

“He was being honored, I forget the reason,” McDonough said of Chamberlain. “There’s his buddy, Vince Miller, right there below him.”

Stay in the business for 50 years, the photos and memories pile on top of one another.

“Here’s another one, on the far, far left is Paul Westhead. … Lynam and Boyle are there somewhere.” Right in front. Judging by the trees and tall socks this photo went back more than three decades to the Poconos. McDonough, now 73, starts his own story at Malvern Prep, where he played for Jack Kraft, before Kraft left to coach Villanova. McDonough didn’t play at Villanova, but when he graduated, “Kraft recommended me for the Carroll job.”

Talking with his buddy Billy Melchionni, they had come up with the idea of running a day camp.

“There may have been overnight camps, but not day camps, maybe one,” McDonough said, remembering the origins of the Bill McDonough Blue Chip empire.

His own coaching time didn’t last forever, although McDonough worked five years for NBA head scout Marty Blake, and said he turned down a chance to work as an assistant at Washington State when his buddy George Raveling got his first head-coaching job. (McDonough’s wife, pregnant with their third child at the time, correctly imagined what a future in Pullman, Wash., would be like while Bill was on  the road recruiting all the time.)

The camps began as a side gig. McDonough sold Liberty Bell products to schools, became associate director of the Big Five for marketing, and returned to his alma mater to work in marketing for Villanova athletics.

“What happened,” McDonough said about his camp business, “the coach at Ryan or Bonner would have a camp. I became less of a factor.”

Jack McKinney, off to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, wanted McDonough to take over his Poconos camp.

“It’s your camp,” McDonough remembers McKinney telling him. “My only condition, I want you to have Paul Westhead to help you. Paul and I ran the camp for five or six years.”

When Rollie Massimino showed up at Villanova in 1973, “I had an existing contract to hold one of my camps at Villanova. We all know Rollie. I had a camp there and a following. He wanted it not to happen, but Villanova honored my contract.”

He then became friendly with Massimino, he said, after he returned to work there.

“I became a genius when he won the title,” McDonough joked. “I was marketing director.”

A couple of years after that, he remembers running into Massimino, who told him he was rushing off to South Orange, N.J., to watch a player. Where?

“His driveway,” Massimino told him.

“They were allowed to see kids play but they’re not playing anywhere,” McDonough said, and that was the inspiration, he said, for his Blue Chip Basketball Shootout.

Business has been good enough to afford a house right on Merion’s seventh hole, although McDonough is a Llanerch member himself. He also had started a Phillies day camp.

“Five days at the Vet — two of the days, Phillies players would come to the field,” McDonough said. “It was successful for about 12 years. The contract ran out. Dave Montgomery is a dear friend. One of the owners had somebody in the camp business. That’s how I lost it.”

Staying nimble always was the name of the game.

“I stopped the boys’ shootout after maybe four or five years,” McDonough said. “That was a challenge I didn’t want. I’ll leave it at that.”

Bill McDonough in his office in Havertown.

‘I’m here because of Bill’

Bobbi Morgan, women’s coach at Haverford College, on the move between a couple of courts at the Spooky Nook sports complex in Manheim, Pa., sat for a few minutes watching a game.

“I’m here because of Bill,’’ Morgan said.

In her profession, she meant.

“I got started working his camps,” Morgan said. “There are a hundred like me.”

This was the start of three days of hoops last weekend. No more renting baskets for convention centers. McDonough, who also has run the Lady Runnin’ Rebels travel team since 1990, got a deal with Spooky Nook, which bills itself as “the largest indoor sports complex in North America for teams, tournaments, specialized sports training, sports clinics, fitness, and more!”

For McDonough, Spooky Nook replaced the York Convention Center.

“The floors, you had to rent from a sport-court company,” McDonough said, back in his office. “The weight of everything being brought in by trucks — it was probably five times the cost [as renting courts]. I did it for three years. I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I got lucky because [Spooky Nook] was built here. You know the story of what Spooky Nook was before? Armstrong’s warehouse. Flooring. It sat idle. The guy who owned Auntie Anne’s pretzels, he sold his business, got a lot of zeroes, bought this place and built it up.”

There are courts, and an arcade, food options, even a hotel attached. The United States field hockey team uses it as headquarters. The volleyball courts are over there. If someone told you there’s a moon rocket launch in the back, you might believe it.

“It truly is incredible,” McDonough said. “The hardest thing in that business — you just can’t have basketball tournaments. They bring in … bar mitzvahs and scavenger hunts and weddings and conventions. They’ve learned to get it used.”

Obviously the rent isn’t free like in York. McDonough said it’s still a better deal.

“York wanted it so bad, because it would bring lots of money to the town,” McDonough said. “But I spent probably over $100,000 on floors and baskets. You never had to spend that much before. And you can’t charge more to the teams and you can’t charge more to the parents coming in.”

Coming off back surgery, McDonough had to skip going to Spooky Nook last weekend, but his organizational team was in place. The show must go on.

“We have become a company that can run an event,” he said. “And when you run an event, there are tremendous challenges. You have 30 courts. You need 30 scorekeepers, 60 officials. You need trainers. We have done this for so long it looks like 1, 2, 3 … ”

No, not that simple. From McDonough’s first camp, the floor kept moving. This man just had the footwork to stay in the game.