Kellen McCoy was the littlest big man on campus in Weber State basketball history, but the 5-foot-6 former Big Sky MVP says the diminutive height that led people to question him as a player is a professional asset as a coach.
"You look at somebody my size and you look at the things I've done, being the MVP, (honorable mention) All-American, playing professionally," McCoy said. "It helps me because people look at me and say, man, this guy has to have a crazy work ethic and a huge amount of toughness about him to be able to do what he's done at that size."
The first-year Wildcats assistant coach was honored last year on Weber State's 50th anniversary team as one of the 50 greatest players in school history. The junior college transfer from Northern Oklahoma College averaged 14.1 points per game as a senior in 2009 and was named Big Sky MVP after helping his team to a 15-1 record and a regular-season championship.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe recruited McCoy to the school in 2007, then brought him back as an assistant this season for the Wildcats (10-6, 7-1 Big Sky), who are tied for first place.
McCoy hasn't taken much grief for his height from opposing fans as an assistant, but he constantly heard wisecracks about it as a player.
"In high school, my rivalry school used to call me Gary Coleman," he said. "They used to chant 'Ga-ry! Ga-ry! Ga-ry!' I got 'Webster' (Coleman's TV character) all the time -- midget, shrimp, you name it."
Taunting might not have been the best tactical strategy against McCoy; it just motivated him to make a bigger impact on the game.
"I tried to crush them. I tried to score 40 every time I heard it," McCoy remembers.
After his college career, McCoy played professionally for two years in Germany and Sweden, but ironically, knee injuries he suffered while playing at Weber State contributed to his eventual return to his alma mater as an assistant.
"My first year I played (overseas), I got injured, I got cut and came back," he said. "That was one of the toughest times of my life, because I'd never been cut before. I went back home, worked my butt off, got back healthy again and played again, I was an all-star, maybe top five in the league in scoring and got to the playoffs. But the coaching opportunity came up, I hurt my knee again and so I didn't know if I wanted to go through the surgery again, go through the rehab."
McCoy enjoyed his pro career overseas. "It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I would have kicked myself if I didn't do it. It was like being in the NBA of another country," he said. But he made the career move to the sidelines, taking an assistant coaching position at Emporia State, a Division II school in Kansas.
The Norman, Okla., native went home after the season and was offered a chance to pick up some extra money by helping the University of Oklahoma staff during summer basketball camps. That led to an opportunity to become a grad assistant for the Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger during the 2012-13 season.
"It was fun to be part of a program that I dreamed about (as a child) being part of as a player," he said.
Then the Weber State assistant position became available.
"He fit what we wanted," Rahe said. "He knows our culture, he knows what we want as a program. He knows the kind of kids we want to have in our program from a recruiting standpoint. When the job came open, he came after it hard. ... He showed me how much he wanted to be here (to) be a part of our staff. I really like that about him. He attacked the job and he convinced me he was ready to come do it."
Rahe said McCoy's experiences as a player at WSU help him establish relationships with the current Wildcats.
"He's able to relate to the guys ... and give them some of his knowledge of when he went through it," Rahe said. "That's been a real plus for our guys. Our guys respect him and they obviously like him."
McCoy appreciates Rahe's impact on his playing career, though he might wonder if Rahe had an ulterior motive for recruiting him.
"He always had my back," McCoy said. "He always joked that he recruited me so that he would have somebody smaller than he is on campus. He always had faith in me. It was very, very important to me and it made me the player I was."
Rahe doesn't tower over any players now either.
"He's the only guy in my career I've ever recruited that's been shorter than me and he's the only guy I've ever hired that's been shorter than me," Rahe laughs, "so it makes me feel a little bit better. And he hasn't grown, he's the same size."
McCoy isn't getting any taller, but he has grown as an individual since leaving WSU as a player, through his time overseas and in the coaching profession.
"He left here, he was growing into a man and now he is a man," Rahe said. "All those experiences really helped him."
McCoy is still standing up for the little guys.
"It was a great thing for me to make it as far as I did in the game of basketball at a professional level," he said, "and hopefully pave the way for some other small guys to play the game as well."
Contact reporter Roy Burton at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RoyBurtonSE.