Jesse McMillan was promoted to head boys basketball coach at Norcross this summer, succeeding Eddie Martin at a program that has won the last three straight Class AAAAA state titles. McMillan has been a Blue Devils assistant coach and JV coach for the last seven years following his graduation from Mercer University.
McMillan took some time this week to talk with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, ranging from growing up in South Carolina to the depth of basketball talent in Gwinnett to comedy in this installment of "Getting to Know ..."
CT: Where did you play high school ball?
JM: I played at Chapman High School in Inman, South Carolina, very close to Spartanburg, S.C.
CT: What was your best game?
JM: My best game was in the state playoffs my senior year. I had 24 points, 17 rebounds, eight blocked shots. That's a pretty solid game. (Laughing) The best I've ever played, by far.
CT: Was Norcross your first job out of college?
JM: Yes it was.
CT: So obviously you like the working environment.
JM: Yeah. I was really lucky with that. My coach at Mercer, Mark Slonaker, was very good friends with Mike Emery when Mike was here as the athletic director. I, honestly, wasn't really familiar with Georgia high schools. I looked on a map and saw high schools that were in close proximity to Buckhead and that area and just started sending out letters. Then when Mike Emery got a letter, he called Coach Slonaker and Coach Slonaker put in a great reference for me. And it just worked out where I got a position here. That was the year before this school was built. I didn't work at the old school, but when I interviewed the year prior to working, they gave me the tour of the new facility. I thought, this is great. The basketball program is starting to get better, brand-new facility, AAAAA school. So it was a great opportunity for me and obviously I'm very lucky.
CT: Do you find Georgia is different from South Carolina?
JM: Well, from my South Carolina, yeah. I grew up on a farm. We didn't have any goats or chickens or pigs. But we had some cows and there were a couple tractors driving around. But there's a big difference between my Georgia here and the South Carolina at home.
CT: But that's more to do with urban vs. rural than it is state vs. state?
JM: Yeah. No, I don't find it a big difference. Everybody is still friendly and loves sports and loves to eat and all that (chuckles).
CT: Do you get home very often?
JM: On holidays. Really since basketball runs through most of the major holidays but I've been able to get home more recently the last couple years now that I am living in the Atlanta area than when I was at Mercer. But my parents are able to come down quite often.
CT: So were you a Clemson fan growing up?
JM: Well, I was a Clemson and South Carolina fan.
CT: My goodness. You don't find that that often.
JM: I know, I know. Well, when I was in elementary school, my best friend, his parents had Clemson season tickets. They would always have an extra ticket and I would get to go. So I grew up being a Clemson fan. Then when I got to middle school, the local football star, all-state quarterback at Chapman, he signed a football scholarship to South Carolina. So it was one of those deals where as a young kid, you idolized this guy and then all of a sudden you're pulling for South Carolina. But I still honestly loved Clemson. When they play each other, it's tough. I still kind of gravitate toward Clemson a little bit. But I don't really mind either way.
CT: Is there an individual player that you've seen in Gwinnett that most impressed you in terms of their talent or ability? It's a big pool to choose from.
JM: (pausing) I guess I'm a little biased with Gani (Lawal), but you cannot not like watching that kid and how hard he plays. I think that Wesley Witherspoon is going to be a good (college) player. I think he made a good choice at Memphis. And I love watching Chris Allen play. I think he made a great choice and he keeps getting better. I look forward to watching him play this year. But, man, we didn't necessarily like playing against (Matt) Causey when he was at Berkmar. But I loved watching him play last year at Georgia Tech because he embodied just hard work and playing above his potential.
CT: If you could play a pick-up game with anybody, who would be on your team? Let's say 3-on-3.
JM: With anybody? Now, are we trying to win or are we trying to have fun?
CT: You decide.
JM: You're not making this easy.
CT: Let's say you just want to have a good time.
JM: (after long pause to think) Man, that's tough. How about I do former Gwinnett players?
JM: I would take Gani and Chris Allen - because I wouldn't have to do much (laughing).
CT: What about pro players? Well, I guess the better question is do you have favorite pro players?
JM: Oh, man. (laughing) I have a man-crush on KG (Kevin Garnett). I love KG. That's actually because I was lucky enough, when I was in high school, to play in one or two tournaments with KG. He was going into his senior year, before he moved to Chicago, when I was a sophomore. And I got to travel with him to a couple tournaments and play with him there. I don't think if he walked into this room right here, we wouldn't be all buddies. But if I mentioned it to him, he would probably remember. But I love Kevin Garnett and I love Ray Allen. The fact that they're both playing on the Celtics just makes my day. Ray Allen went to Hillcrest High School right down the road from me and I remember watching him. My dad and I would take trips when I was in middle school to go watch him play.
CT: Do you have a kind of music that you listen to for the most part?
JM: Yeah, I do. I'm still stuck in the old school rap, the stuff I grew up on, listened to in college, stuff like that. But I don't really have a choice. These kids are blasting stuff in the locker room all day so I'll walk around singing melodies that I'm trying to figure out where it came from.
CT: You don't ever put your foot down and say, "We're listening to this'?
JM: No. Then there'd be a mutiny. You've got to pick your battles. It's hard enough to make sure the pep band still plays at the games. They want to come out to their instrumentals.
CT: What's the maddest you've ever seen Eddie Martin?
JM: The maddest? Whew. He had some moments. There were some moments. Eddie always would pick and choose his battles. That was another thing that I'm going to have to remember. If you're always like that, it loses it's effectiveness. Eddie would pick and choose. Boy, when he got after them, it worked. There were quite a few times where we came into the locker room down or not playing well and he lit into them pretty good. And it didn't take much and it didn't take long. But because it was not something that happened much, it was very, very effective. I think probably one of the best ones was a couple years ago in the state tournament when we were playing Campbell over at South Gwinnett High School in the first round. For like two or three years there, we played Campbell and every year they went up on us. We were down probably 15 or 16 at halftime over at South Gwinnett. Coming in as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and they were giving it to us. That was the year that Dan Emerson was a junior. I believe Jody Meeks was a junior. We're in that little tiny visitors locker room at South Gwinnett and he was workin' "em. I think even the coaches, we were cowering in the corner. But it didn't take much and it didn't take him long. It was very effective.
CT: Did you guys win that game?
JM: (chuckles) Oh, yeah.
CT: I understand that Eddie was a really fantastic player in his day. Could you beat him one-on-one?
JM: No. Are you kidding? I don't know, I might be able to take him down to the post, but, no. If we're playing HORSE, there's no way in the world.