PULASKI — Sean McLaughlin felt the angst and eventual exhilaration that took him back to his playing days in his debut as Pulaski head boys varsity basketball coach.
McLaughlin guided the Blue Devils to a 50-43 home victory over Port Byron to open the season on Dec. 3 and successfully tip off his tenure at his alma mater, where he has been preparing as an assistant coach for his long-desired new role.
McLaughlin starred at Pulaski from 1992-95 before moving on to play one year at Elmira and three seasons at Oswego State University, where he shined as an All-American and SUNYAC Most Valuable Player.
“I’m happy for our guys, they haven’t had a chance to get in live competition in front of fans for a while now, so I’m happier for them more than anything,” McLaughlin said afterward. “For myself personally, just a lot of nerves, it kind of reminded me of when I was a player so I kind of enjoyed the feeling but at the same time, it was a high level of anxiety.”
McLaughlin took over for former coach Jordan Fahnestock, who stepped down to spend more time with his family containing three young children, according to athletic director Jim Karcz.
The duo worked together to endure a seamless transition for the Blue Devils. McLaughlin had been working as an assistant under Fahnestock since 2014 and was previously in the same role at Pulaski at the conclusion of his college career for the Lakers until 2004 when he left the area temporarily.
McLaughlin referred to the new position as a dream job and spoke of wanting to honor the legacy of beloved former Blue Devils coach, Bud Jones, who was elected to the CNY Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and died in November 2017.
“I wanted to be the head coach as soon as I got out of college and they made a smart move by not hiring me then because I was probably too young and way too immature,” McLaughlin said. “Bud Jones is one of my all-time favorite people and a landmark here at Pulaski for years. To be able to come in here and do this and know that he’s watching me, he’s with me every game, so I’m super excited and it’s always been a dream of mine.”
Pulaski will look to senior Trevor Cole, a 6-foot-6 forward in his third varsity season, as the focal point on offense and tone-setter on defense, while junior point guard Aaron McConnell provides a formidable perimeter complement.
McLaughlin also pointed to the outside shooting of Teigen Reiter and rebounding ability of Daulton Evans as keys to their chances for success.
The unit all has familiarity with McLaughlin, who has been entrenched in the program since they were in fifth-grade or below.
“Nothing much has changed because he’s backed up our other coach for so long, but he’s a great coach and he’s brought a lot already actually, defense-wise with our shifts and different things,” Cole said.
“We have such a good bond with him, he’s a really good guy that knows his basketball and loves teaching it,” he added.
Contending for the program’s first Section 3 championship since 1989 is among the top goals for McLaughlin as he begins making his imprint on the Blue Devils.
The 1995 Pulaski graduate played in two sectional title games and won three league championships as a player and is hoping to share that experience, believing the pieces are in place for a chance to do so immediately.
Karcz stated that he observed “a great amount of confidence and energy,” at Pulaski practices daily and believes players are responding strongly to McLaughlin in his new role.
“We’re trying to build strong-character kids here and us as coaches can help a great deal with it,” McLaughlin said. “That’s been the most rewarding part for me, being around the kids and helping them out, and making sure they’re on the right path.”