When he first moved to Lee’s Summit roughly 30 years ago, Mark Scanlon heard about plans for a new Catholic high school in eastern Jackson County. In retrospect, he’s glad it took them a while to build it.
“I always wanted to coach at a Catholic school,” Scanlon said. “Then, I was so invested with the public school system I really couldn’t leave, so it really worked out best.”
Scanlon spent 22 years building a legendary basketball coaching career at Raytown before he got a chance to coach a Catholic program at O’Hara. Now, he’s at St. Michael the Archange for what he said is the job he envisioned having all those years ago.
“There is no question, this is the job I wanted,” Scanlon said. “It’s a great school.”
Scanlon, a Catholic, has always been drawn to coaching at a school that shares his faith, but most of his 39-year career was spent in small Missouri towns like Bunceton, Bucklin, and Mexico before he built a powerhouse at Raytown.
Scanlon took two Blue Jays teams to the state quarterfinals and coached the likes of future NBA champion coach Tyronn Lue, who now coaches the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After one season at Northeast, he spent seven years at O’Hara before it closed last year.
Of course, none of those jobs required Scanlon to start a program from scratch, which is part of the allure of the St. Michael job — and also something he envisioned long ago.
“It’s exciting and it makes it a challenge,” Scanlon said. “I’ve never started a program off before. Not many people get that opportunity. We’re just really excited about getting the season started, ... buying uniforms for the first time, the first game in the history of the school; you’re trying to start some traditions, that sort of stuff.”
It’s a challenge that all the other coaches at St. Michael have faced this year, but, like most of those coaches, Scanlon isn’t facing a total rebuild. Many of the players he coached at O’Hara are now at St. Michael, but, since his final Celtics team was senior-heavy, most of the transfers are young and inexperienced.
“We’re really young,” Scanlon said. “We only have two seniors, so we don’t have a whole lot of experience on the varsity level. We have some talent but it’s pretty much young talent.”
Pedro Leverette, a 6-foot forward, started last season and was the only one of St. Michael’s two seniors to see varsity action last year. The other senior, Malik Cherry, a transfer from Lee’s Summit North, spent the season playing junior varsity ball and battling a bad back.
“He wasn’t really 100 percent on JV,” Scanlon said, “and now he’s healthy and he’s had a really good fall. And Malik will give us some leadership this year.”
Scanlon also has Landon Vahle, a 5-10 guard who lettered last year as a sophomore at O’Hara, and Steve McFeders, a 5-11 junior guard who transferred from Bishop Miege in Roeland Park to O’Hara last year.
Ben Palacios, a 6-4 sophomore forward, started as freshman last year for Scanlon’s last Celtics team.
Coupled with Palacios, when SaVaughn Carter, a 6-6 junior, moved from Wichita at enrolled and 6-6 freshman Antoine Massey came out for the team, St. Michael suddenly had a little height.
“Really, at the end of last year, I didn’t think we were going to have any size here,” Scanlon said. “Now, we actually have a little bit of length. When we played summer league this summer, we had no inside people at all.”
With 638 career victories and a long track record of success, Scanlon brings a high profile and an instant shot of credibility to St. Michael’s fledgling basketball program. That alone won’t guarantee the Guardians’ success, but he believes he’s in the right place to build another winner — a place and a job he envisioned long ago.
“I really enjoy this school and what it stands for,” Scanlon said. “I think it could be a good situation as far as building a basketball program.”