Although he wasn’t ready to make the list public yet, when pressed he said the Dayton Flyers — even with the departure of assistant coach Donnie Jones with whom he’d built “a great relationship,” — are still in the mix.
My guess on the other two would be West Virginia and Ole Miss.
Those two schools made special visits with him again in the past week and each made an extensive pitch, everything from video presentations to Mississippi head coach Kermit Davis coming to McNeil’s Northern Kentucky home to talk to him and his parents.
McNeil said he also made a couple of recent visits to UD, which had a scholarship open when two-year starter Jordan Davis announced nine days ago he was transferring.
McNeil said he will make his short list public in a day or so once he first contacts the schools he’s bypassing:
“In the next day or two I’m planning on telling those schools, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
A sharpshooting 6-foot-4 guard, McNeil is the Sinclair Community College hoops standout who led the nation (Division II junior colleges) in scoring with a 29.7 points per game average. For much of the season he led all of junior college basketball (Divisions I and II, as well ) in scoring and ended up just 1.2 points off that overall crown.
He led the nation in three-point field goals (he made an average of 4.3 per game) and was second in free throw percentage (197 of 225 for 87.6 percent).
All that helped make him one of the most highly recruited athletes to come out of the Miami Valley in decades.
Some 90 colleges recruited him this season. Many came to Sinclair games or practices and some head coaches sat with Tartan Pride head coach Jeff Price in his office.
That includes two of the head coaches in this year’s Final Four: Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard.
Overall, McNeil said 21 Division I programs in the country offered scholarships, including Dayton, which was one of the first.
On March 20, McNeil announced via Twitter that he’d whittled the list of schools he was considering to six: Texas Tech, Oregon, West Virginia, Ole Miss, Western Kentucky and Dayton.
UD had remained a strong contender all year thanks in a big way to the efforts of Jones, who five days ago was named the new head coach at Stetson University.
Because of bond they’d built, you wondered if Jones’s sudden absence would hurt Dayton’s chances.
That’s when McNeil, with a bit of initial hesitation, said: “Aaaah ….. not necessarily.”
But he admitted Jones leaving for the Atlantic Sun Conference school in Deland, Florida did throw him for a loop:
“Me and Coach Jones had a really great relationship and so for him to go, from my standpoint, that was pretty tough. It’s just cause of how close me and him had gotten.
“But at the same time, I’m extremely happy for him. He’s gonna do great things down there at Stetson. And I can’t thank him enough for all he’s done for me through this process. Through it all he’s just wanted what’s best for me. He talked to me, not only as a recruit, but as a friend.”
Besides Jones, he said UD assistant coach Ricardo Greer has often talked to him and he said he’s “heard a lot” from head coach Anthony Grant, who visited Sinclair a few times.
The Flyers were one of the first schools this past season to focus on McNeil, who shot his way into the national spotlight with a 55-point game against Bryant and Stratton College out of Cleveland early this season and had three other games of 47, 44 and 40 points in the first month of play.
McNeil came to Sinclair last September after a bumpy start to his college career following a superb prep campaign at Cooper High in Union, Ky. where he led the Jaguars to the state title game as a senior.
He accepted a scholarship to Bellarmine University, a top NCAA Division II school in Louisville, but stayed there less than a week and came home. Instead, he enrolled in a local community college with no basketball program.
A Morehead State assistant pointed him to Sinclair — and its successful hoops program run by head coach and athletics director Jeff Price — as a place he could reposition himself.
And that’s what happened.
“From the school to the court, Sinclair has helped me in a lot of ways,” McNeil said. “Basketball-wise it’s pretty obvious, but it’s in the classroom, too. I’ll end up graduating and getting my degree this spring.”
He’s finishing his classes online and living back at home in Northern Kentucky, though he said he does make trips back to Sinclair for a variety of things.
Over the season McNeil had some memorable performances for the 19-13 Pride.
He hit nine three pointers in that 55-point game. Three games he made seven from behind the arc. There were other nights when he was perfect from the free throw line, making 14, 12, 11 and 10 straight in games.
Opponents focused on him every night and in the stands some games there were three or four colleges coaches watching his every move.
“To be completely honest, I really enjoyed all the attention and all the glamour the first couple of months,” he said. “But as it kept going on and on, it kind of got more and more stressful. Through it all I tried to enjoy each day, but it was tough sometimes with everything going on between school and the season and being recruited.
“That’s why I had to cut some schools off the list – just so I could deal with things a little better.”
McNeil said he will make his final choice “in a week or maybe two. I don’t want it to go any more than three weeks. To me that’d be taking it too far.
“I’ll just keep talking to the schools that are left and when it finally feels right, I’ll make the decision.”
In the meantime, he’s intently following the NCAA Tournament, especially since 10 of the schools in the field had shown recruiting interest in him.
“There’s nothing better than March Madness,” he said. “And hopefully, whatever school I choose, they’re in the tournament next year and the two years after that.
“Hopefully, I’ll be lucky enough to be part of a team that makes a deep run in the tournament and we’re in the Elite Eight or even the Final Four. And ultimately I hope to be playing for the national championship.
“I mean, that’s every team’s dream and I hope to help one of them get it.”