To his right, three scruffy men — their faces as worn as their shoes — shared a table as they worked their way through plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Behind him, an old lady wearing her nicest sweater, a knit cap and earrings sat in her wheelchair at an otherwise empty table, but managed a smile as she watched two small children enjoy ice cream and laughter with their mom a table away.
At first glance, Sean McNeil would seem to have little in common with the folks gathered around him at the Feast of Giving, Thursday afternoon, at the Dayton Convention Center.
The men needed a good meal.
The old lady sought companionship.
McNeil seemed to have it all:
•A 6-foot-4 freshman guard for Sinclair Community College, he leads the nation in scoring. His 34.4 points per game average is tops for all of junior college basketball, Divisions I, II and III.
•Last Saturday against Bryant and Stratton College out of Cleveland, he made 9 of 14 three-point attempts, seven other field goals and 14 of 16 free throws for 55 points – a school record – in the Tartan Pride’s 113-107 overtime loss.
•In two of the first three weeks of the season, he’s been named the Ohio Community College Athletic Association Player of the Week.
•He’s already been offered a scholarship to both the University of North Carolina-Asheville and Lipscomb University for next season and since Saturday’s box score bonanza, a few other Division I programs – including West Virginia and the Dayton Flyers — have shown some interest in him, said Sinclair coach Jeff Price.
And yet Thursday, McNeil was as thankful as anyone among the thousands of people who showed up at the annual Thanksgiving Dinner downtown.
A year ago he spent the holiday back home in Northern Kentucky, where there was plenty of food and family, but no basketball.
After a noteworthy career at Cooper High School in Union, Kentucky – he led the Jaguars to the state championship game in March, 2017 – he had headed to Bellarmine University, an NCAA Division II school in Louisville, on a basketball scholarship.
But in less than a week – ‘I went to orientation and two classes,” he shrugged — he decided the college experience wasn’t for him and came home.
He admits Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport was “really upset with me,” and he said his parents were concerned after he’d given up a full scholarship and walked away from “the game I’ve always been known for.”
He said: “I felt like I hadn’t known what I was getting myself into. I was worried about the academic side of it and my time management.
“But now I realize that was a very fast, premature decision.
“Now I’m able to say I made a mistake.”
Once back home, he enrolled at a local community college that didn’t offer athletics.
“It was a long year,” he said. “I’d been playing basketball since I could walk and now it felt weird. It didn’t take long for me to know I wanted to get back to that.”
Price said an assistant coach at Morehead State – who previously had been at Bellarmine and recruited McNeil there — contacted him:
“He knew about our program and said, ‘This kid needs to get re-recruited.’ He thought we’d be a good fit for him.”
While Price has won 276 games with the Pride in just over 15 seasons, he said the program is about far more than that:
“It’s not just about playing basketball here. The three Cs are important to us – classroom, community service and competition.”
With the program, he’s said he hopes “to build a foundation of civic responsibility in our guys.”
Each season his team visits the Dayton VA Hospital and takes part in various community projects. This Tuesday the players will help coach and give instruction to the players of the Oakwood Youth Basketball program.
Price also takes his team on a big, annual road trip that, besides a couple of games, includes special instructional tours. Before this season the Pride went to Washington, D.C. and visited the White House, Arlington Cemetery, the Martin Luther King and Lincoln memorials, the Vietnam Wall, World War II Memorial and, thanks to Sen. Sherrod Brown, got to go behind the scenes at the Capitol Building.
The Feast of Giving – which offers anyone a free meal and a sense of community — is another Sinclair staple.
This year the players cleaned tables, carried out trash and whenever possible shared some kindness and laughs with their fellow man.
‘Trust the process’
“There’s a great quote my high school coach always preached to us,” McNeil said. “He’d say, ‘Trust the process.’
“Well, that’s what I’m doing now.”
After he found out about Sinclair, came to open gyms, met Price and said he felt comfortable.
The feeling was mutual and McNeil was named a team captain this season.
With the community college classes he took last year, he’ll graduate from Sinclair this spring. And after opening the season with 40 points against Miami-Middletown and then scoring 55 last Saturday, he’s drawing interest from four-year schools for next season
“Since I was a little kid I always wanted to play Division I basketball,” he said. “That’s why I’m here now, so I can make my place at the next level. To do that I’ve just got to make the most of the good opportunity in front of me now.”
“So yeah, I’m real thankful today.”
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