By Michael Lewis
KINGS POINT, N.Y. – If he hasn't seen it all, then U.S. Merchant Marine Academy men's basketball coach Danny Nee has seen a lot of it.
Translated: Nee has a lot of say about life, in and out of basketball.
Here is a sampling on what he has to say:
On coaching basketball:
"I don't know anything else. I really, really love the game of basketball. I like the recruiting, I like being in the gym. This stuff in front of me, even talking to you, I don't feel like I'm working. I'm here long hours. It's not work to me. It's like a hobby. I generally get excited get butterflies as you prepare for games, go recruiting. I get juiced on that. I'm a lot older now. I still get excited about recruiting and doing the games. So it's a natural thing as if someone loved horses. I know someone who is a doctor. You love to write. It's a great job for me. It's the only job I know. It's the only job I want. I never thought about being anything else. College basketball is the crème de la crème. I think the NBA is OK. High School is OK. I like college. Everything about the college game excites me."
On how difficult it is to win over the long run:
"At this stage of the game, I know how hard it is to win. I know how hard it is to stay in this business a long time. You have an appreciation for it, a respect for it. I understand that. I understand that I am really like a big, white buffalo. There's not many of us around. I'm healthy. I think young. I don't feel my age. I get off on this. I'm really excited about my team, coaching at the Academy, building a program and moving forward. I focus at that. I follow college basketball. I follow the Knicks. I follow the Yankees. But I'm a fan of that. I live my job. I live it 24/7. I don't apologize for it. I told my wife when we lost in overtime to Scranton last year. I almost cried when I said this said to her. 'It was as good as a Nebraska-Oklahoma game, how hard the kids played.' When our kids played Scranton, the arena was vibrant. I said I never felt more alive then. I was in the right place. That really tugs at my heart."
On getting comfortable at USMMA:
"You have that feeling that when you did your best, the kids did their best, it was real hard. They lost, but I knew I was at the right place. I know I'm doing the right thing. If I can get that live feeling inside me, man, we're going to have some great teams here. I'm going to work my ass off to get that done and enjoy it.
"I blame myself for not finishing it off. We had a couple of games like that last year where we just couldn't press the right button to get it finished off. I know that I'm not afraid to go after the buttons. I know I made mistake and I didn't hit the right button. But now, a year later, my grasp, or my knowledge of my players is like 5,000 times better of the situation of the feel of the team and the feel of the opponents. If you said Scranton to me, you could have said Transylvania, I don't know. You come in and have a better feel. I think I'm going to come in and be a better coach. We're going to be OK."
The high points of his career:
"Any time you win championships, it's a high point. I think my body of work is what I'm proud of, the longevity of it. Every place I went to I basically won. Every place we went to it was a better situation than I left it, most of the time. I went into places where no one had won before and brought [future] NBA players in. Just staying in it. I'm an old school coach. It's very, very difficult. I've been teaching 27-28 years now, I've been a head coach. Then you throw a couple of years as an assistant at the highest level where you could be at Notre Dame. Throw my high school stuff and NBA stuff. This has been my trade over 40 years. Staying in anything 40 years is difficult and thriving at it. I don't think I've missed a step. I think there's more of the latter. I would love to bring these guys to the Final Four, things like that. That's where I'm aiming. I'm not aiming at the Landmark. I want to go above that. I really don't know. But I'm going to certainly try like hell."
On coaching at different levels:
"You're around young people and you're energy and their naïve-ness. They keep you going. I like that. I really respect the kids here, and that makes it fun."
His coaching influences:
"If Digger Phelps doesn't pull me out of the trenches of high school, then I don't have a chance being anywhere else. What formulates you is that along the way through your experiences -- basketball, personal, job -- you're always borrowing. And I think that's what I did best at. I use this comparison. You find out who's the smartest guy in the room is and you ask the right questions. I still do that to this day. I don't have all the answers. One of the players comes up with something good is good. You don't win the Kentucky Derby with jackasses and I know the difference between thoroughbred and a jackass. When I see a good idea, I know what a good idea is. I take them in every facet of my life. I listen to people and you find out what's working for them. That's what I do and I do it well.
"I'm not afraid of making mistakes because I know when I make mistakes I'm taking action. If you're not taking action, you can't move. There is a paralysis of non-decision."
Photo: Danny Nee talking at his induction at the University of Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame.