BJ Mckie was sitting at his home in Johnson City last month when the then East Tennessee assistant coach turned to his wife and commented on how quickly he thought the Buccaneers’ recent recruiting period had gone.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with my time,” he told her.
McKie soon found out.
Around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, McKie received a call from ETSU’s head coach, Steve Forbes, telling him to pack several suits and be in the latter’s driveway at 6:30 a.m. the next morning. They had to make a drive to Winston-Salem, N.C.
The message from Forbes: “We might be there for a while.”
That next day Forbes was hired as head coach at Wake Forest and McKie, the former South Carolina (1996-99) men’s basketball star, was named an assistant.
“You go from one end of the spectrum, from being done with recruiting and having your roster set for next year and being excited about next year — we thought we reloaded good enough to be at the top of the league — then boom,” McKie told Spurs & Feathers.
“You’re in another state. You’re in a Power 5 conference. You have to go recruit non-stop. You go from chillin’ to full throttle.”
In McKie’s three seasons at ETSU, the Buccaneers went 79-23, including a 30-win campaign this past fall.
Now McKie, South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer, has his mind set on his new venture at Wake Forest.
“To love on our guys as much as we can, talk to them, build a relationship with them and their parents. And to try to instill a trust in them. Just educate them on what we’re all about,” he said.
“Just try to build a culture as much as possible and talk to the guys about what we expect out of them throughout this whole ordeal. You just have to make the best of the situation.
“ ... I just can’t wait to get the kids back on campus and for things to kind of get back to normal.”
McKie wants to instill a culture of “making every day count” and “putting everything on the line” — on the court and off the court — so the program can have the most success it can.
“Winning is an attitude,” he said. “You win in the classroom. You win as far as being a man and presenting yourself [maturely] out in public. You win by being a good teammate. You win by having good character.
“We want to bring a winning tradition back to Wake Forest.”
McKie called it a bittersweet feeling leaving ETSU, especially under current circumstances that didn’t allow him to give in-person goodbye hugs and thanks.
A native of Norfolk, Va. and a graduate of Columbia’s Irmo High School, McKie was the 1996 SEC Freshman of the Year. He is one of just 12 players in league history to earn AP first-team SEC honors for three seasons.
In 1997, McKie — one of five Gamecock players to have his jersey retired — averaged 17.4 points per game to lead the Gamecocks to their first ever SEC basketball title.
“As far as basketball and the university, I always tell people, ‘The university has done more for me than what I could have done for the university,’” McKie said. “It gave me, first of all, a quality education, and secondly, of course, we won championships. You have to credit the fans for being there for us. We had a packed Frank Maguire Arena night in and night out.”
McKie still holds the program’s all-time points record, with 2,119.
“It took almost 30 years to break Alex English’s record. Sindarius Thornwell was close. But it’s going to take a special situation in order to beat the record,” McKie said. “I mean, the record will be broken one day. Records can always be beaten. It’s just got to be a special situation where somebody is willing to stay four years to do it.
“I’d like my record to be there. I’m proud of my record. I hope it stays there for 100 years, but records are always meant to be broken.”
For his accomplishments in garnet and black, South Carolina retired McKie’s jersey number 3 in a ceremony in December 2015.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,” McKie said. “To reflect on what I accomplished and what our team accomplished, to see my family and friends in the stands and my former coaches and teammates out there on the floor, it helped me put everything in perspective. That’s what it’s all about.”
The night brought a rush of memories back to McKie’s mind, including his team’s two upset wins over No. 3 Kentucky during his sophomore season.
“Kentucky was always Kentucky. We played them my sophomore year, at home, and it was a chance to let everybody know that we had arrived and we wanted to put South Carolina on the map,” McKie said. “What a better way to do that than beat them at home with Hootie and the Blowfish, George Rogers, Sterling Sharpe and ESPN in the building? It was a packed house. Going against Rick Pitino.
“Getting the win in overtime, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Less than a month later the Gamecocks then one-upped themselves by knocking off the Wildcats at Rupp Arena in the teams’ regular-season finale.
“SEC Championship is on the line on their Senior Day. They hadn’t been beaten on their Senior Day in like 45 years,” McKie said. “And to beat them there, on CBS, and to come back to an airport where 15,000 people are waiting, that’s what you stay home and go to school for.”
McKie, now as a coach, is all about having a winning mindset — about discipline, having the will to compete, teamwork and leadership.
Off the court, he’s laid back, funny and relaxed. On the court, to use his words, he’s “high octane.”
“I’m aggressive. I know I’m a good teammate, but I’m a demanding teammate,” he said.
Because of coronavirus restrictions that have made traditional recruiting all but impossible, McKie has spent time — at least before his new job came about — at home. He and his wife passed time by watching Netflix — Dead to Me, Ozark, Money Heist and Tiger King — and played tons of Uno! and Mario Kart.
But soon McKie will be back to his job, where he’s meant to be, on the bench at Wake Forest.
“It’s always been my dream to be a high-major coach, no matter where it is,” McKie said. “That’s a blessing in itself. Just to be a head coach would be a blessing in itself. Of course that would be all good, but I’m just taking it day by day. You can’t worry about the future until you worry about the present. We’re going to do everything we can to have a winning program at Wake Forest.
“Everything else will take care of itself.”