Once practice ended Friday afternoon, one of the first tasks for Sinclair basketball coach Jeff Price was to go to his office, grab a black marker and add Indiana’s name to the tally board he keeps on the wall.
Bill Comar, the Hoosiers’ assistant athletic director for basketball administration, had called just before practice on behalf of head coach Archie Miller, who wanted contact numbers for Sinclair’s 6-foot-4 freshman guard Sean McNeil.
Although he was on the UD staffs of both Oliver Purnell and Miller when they were at UD, Comar – like most other UD coaches – never made it over to the Sinclair gym. But this season Tartan Pride basketball has become like a magnet for college coaches everywhere.
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Indiana became the 80th school on Price’s board to either have called or visited Sinclair in person because of McNeil, who has been the nation’s leading junior college scorer in all divisions – I, II and III – for the entire season, except for one blip a couple of days ago.
That’s when Joel Stutz of Division III Butler County Community College in Pennsylvania squeaked past him by .7 of a point, 31.1 to 30.4 points per game.
McNeil still leads the more prestigious DI and DII (Sinclair’s designation) divisions.
Throughout the season he’s had some huge games, including a school-record 55 points in a 113-107 overtime loss to Bryant and Stratton College out of Cleveland in mid-November. In that game he made 9 of 14 three-point attempts seven other field goals and was 14 of 16 from the free throw line.
He opened the season with 40 against Miami-Middletown, had 47 against the Wilberforce JV, 44 against St. Clair from Port Huron, Michigan and 40 in a rematch with Bryant and Stratton.
He’s been named the Ohio Community College Player of the Week six of the 15 times the 10-team league has handed out the honor this season.
Even the couple of games when he’s had an off night shooting, he’s impressed people.
Last Wednesday night against Hocking College, thanks in part to 2-for-8 shooting from three-point range, he finished with 17 points, his second lowest point total this season.
Missouri head coach Counzo Martin and assistant Cornell Mann, the former UD assistant, were at the game as was an assistant from Colorado State.
Price said Mann, who had been at another Sinclair game this season, has praised the other things McNeil does on the court and especially his toughness while continually getting double teamed and sometimes roughed up.
Colorado State went one better.
It offered McNeill a scholarship the very next day and a Rams coach was scheduled to be back for Saturday’s game against Cuyahoga.
Among the schools who are scheduled to visit this coming week are No. 4 Virginia, which will be back for a second visit, No. 10 Marquette, No. 18 Kansas State and possibly No. 14 Texas Tech, which has been here three times already.
Price said Toledo has made the most visits, while West Virginia’s has made four – including two by head coach Bob Huggins – and Dayton “has been here three or four times … and Anthony Grant’s come a couple of times himself.”
McNeill has made a few unofficial visits to UD to watch games and tour the campus and he’s done the same with Xavier, Western Kentucky and West Virginia.
According to Price’s tabulations, 22 Division I schools have come to either Sinclair games or practices this season, and another 27 — including Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Boston College and Atlantic 10 schools St. Bonaventure , George Mason and Duquesne – have called.
There have also been 31 Division II schools that have called or visited.
Price said in the past he’s had players who have drawn considerable interest from four-year schools — Cedric Davis went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and Mark Anderson signed with the Miami RedHawks – but there’s been nothing like this.
“In the 19 years I’ve been in this conference, I can’t remember a player at any other school – except maybe James Kelly who went from Owens to the Miami Hurricanes (and then Marshall and now is playing pro in Israel) – who brought in as many Power 5 schools as this,” Price said.
“To get Power 5 programs, Power 5 head coaches in our gym is something special. It adds a little more electricity, a little more energy to all of us.”
That McNeil ended up at Sinclair is pretty remarkable in itself.
Although he averaged 16.9 points per game his senior year at Cooper High in Union, Ky. two years ago and led the Jaguars to the state title game, he said he only had two scholarship offers: Kentucky Wesleyan and Bellarmine, the Louisville school that’s one of the top NCAA Division II programs in the nation.
Although he signed with Bellarmine, he said he left school after only going to orientation and two classes in the fall of 2017.
“I was at a great spot, but it just didn’t work out for me,” he reiterated a few days ago.
Earlier this season he went into more detail with me:
“It was a very fast decision,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like I wasn’t allowing myself to be ready for the college level. It was very premature and now I’m able to say I made a mistake.”
He said Bellarmine’s coach was upset by his bail out and when he got home, McNeil said his parents questioned him, too:
“They definitely were concerned about what I was doing. I was giving up a full scholarship.”
He ending up going to a local junior college that didn’t have a basketball program and as he worked on his studies that school year, he also honed his game, often alone, after classes.
Price said an assistant coach at Morehead State who had been at Bellarmine reached out to him:
“He knew our program. We had been in contact before. He said this was a good kid and we were the right school for him to help him get recruited.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Four-year schools like dealing with Sinclair, Price said: “ We’re a great academic school. When schools get our transcripts there’s no problem.”
The basketball program has a good reputation, as well, and once McNeill joined the team in open gym sessions, he proved to be a good fit.
Before he’d ever played a game with the Pride, he was named a team captain for this season.
His leadership soon showed itself, especially on the court.
“His offense is the first thing that gets everyone’s attention,” Price said. “He’s got a nice stroke. It’s fundamentally sound, almost like a very good golf swing. When they say a golfer’s swing is quiet, it means there’s not a lot of movement. It’s concise.
“His shot is quiet. It’s compact. There’s not a lot of movement to it. “
He said, as the season has progressed, McNeil has faced double teams and triple teams and some defenders have tried to taunt him and derail him mentally.
“He’s amazing,” Price said. “He’ll miss three shots and a guy will be clapping in his face and then he’ll come down and bury two straight threes from almost 28 (feet) and you’ll see him look at the guy like, ‘What else you got.’”
Other teams have tried to rough him up.
“Yeah, there’s been some days where I go see the trainer immediately after the game because I’m so sore and beat up,” McNeil said with a shrug and a bit of a smile.
“Cornell Mann was at one of our games where Sean drove the baseline, got pounded and hit floor hard, “Price said. “But then he got right back up and even though they kept beating on him, he scored a boatload of points.
“Afterward, Cornell looked at me and said, ‘Man, that guy has a toughness.’
“We kind of take it for granted because we see it every day, but other people take notice. They see the other things he has besides just being able to shoot the ball. He’s got a high basketball IQ, he gets his teammates involved and he’s stayed level headed though all of this.
“He’s got a lot of good qualities.”
No one realizes that more than McNeil’s parents – Jeff and Debbie – who drive up from Kentucky for each of his home games.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity, but regardless of who recruits me now, I think they’re more proud of my perseverance,” McNeil said. “They like it that I became more of a man.”
Decision can wait
Dayton offered him a scholarship in December and though the Flyers have since signed another guard and, as of now, have filled their scholarship quota for next season, they have kept recruiting him.
Along with Grant’s visits, assistant coach Donnie Jones has been over to see McNeil, as well.
In turn, McNeil has made a few unofficial visits to UD and sat behind the Flyers’ bench at games.
“The atmosphere there is unbelievable,” he said. “Whether they’re playing a team that’s not high in the rankings or it’s somebody like Mississippi State, there’s always 13,000 people there. It’s a great atmosphere.”
While some D-I schools have pressed him to make one of his five official visits with them, he said those won’t come until the end of Sinclair’s season:
“Right now all I’m concentrating on is winning games and getting into the tournament.”
And so the schools keep coming to him.
It’s worked out well except for a couple of glitches.
Price said Marquette’s initial trip was postponed when weather cancelled its flight out of Milwaukee.
And just before one Pride game, Price said he got a phone call from Huggins, who was lost trying to find the gym in Building 8, which is on the far west side of the campus and is difficult to find anyway:
“Coach Huggins got turned around a little bit. He was driving around on Perry (Street) and we had to get him to Fourth, so he could turn onto Robert Drive. We finally got him here.”
Huggins may have had a hard-time finding the Tartan Pride court, but he had no problem when he saw McNeil play.
He knew he’d found a guard who could play for him.
And eight days ago he, too, offered him a scholarship.
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