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Darius McNeill: The wait is almost over

PostPosted: Tue Jul 21, 2020 9:15 pm
by PonyPride
Darius McNeill: The wait is almost over
Guard eager to take the floor at SMU after transferring from Cal, sitting out 2019-20

Posted on 07/18/2020 by

Darius McNeill’s personality might make it seem like he’s not very patient.

“It was tough,” he said. “For someone that just loves the game, wakes up just thinks about basketball all the time, it was tough. I couldn’t imagine sitting out.”

Unfortunately for McNeill and the SMU men’s basketball team, he was given no choice. The former star at Houston’s Westfield High School spent two seasons playing for Cal, and playing well. In 63 games with the Bears, he averaged 11.2 points per game, handed out 98 assists and collected 85 steals.

After two years at Cal, McNeill declared his intention to transfer.

“I wanted to be closer to my family. My mom had some things going on and I wanted to be closer to her,” McNeill said. "At Cal, we didn't have any games close to my family. My mom had watched me play on TV, but she hadn't seen me play in person. I wanted to be back in Texas, close enough so she could be in the stands to watch me play.

“I didn’t leave (Cal) just to leave,” he said “My reason was to be with my family. I felt like the answer shouldn’t have been ‘no,’ but life goes on.”

McNeill had multiple options, but quickly narrowed his decision to SMU and TCU.

“A lot of Big 12 schools were coming at me,” he said. “But I felt like I’d already proven myself in a good conference. I narrowed it down to TCU and SMU, which are only a few hours from home.”

Meeting with head coach Tim Jankovich and associate head coach K.T. Turner, McNeill said, made his decision clear.

“When I came to SMU on my visit, I really loved it,” McNeill said. “They had a good team, and they showed me what they did with players like Shake Milton, how they used their guards and how they prepared them to play at the next level. We talked about how they wanted to use me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of what they were trying to do.”

Joining the rotation would have to wait. SMU applied for a waiver of the NCAA’s rule that players who transfer must sit out a year before playing for their new teams, but the appeal was denied. McNeill was understandably disappointed with the NCAA’s ruling.

But while some might have gotten down about the decision, McNeill spent the year in the unfamiliar role as a scout-team player, which he said will only benefit him and his new team.

“They didn’t even give an answer until four or five games into the conference season,” McNeill said. “If they were going to say no, they should have done it right away. But it made me practice harder, it made me learn faster. I figured I’ve got to know all this in case the NCAA came out of nowhere said ‘you can play.’ At any time, I kept thinking I could get cleared, so I didn’t want to not know what to do. I put pressure on myself to learn the system, and I did.”

Adding McNeill to the lineup gives Jankovich and the SMU coaching staff even more of his favorite asset. The Mustangs run lineups with two, three or occasionally even four guards, and the athletic, 6-foot-3 McNeill can play in any guard role. At Cal, he spent his freshman season as the Bears’ point guard, and played off the ball as a sophomore.

“It was disappointing the way it worked out last year with our appeal (for the NCAA waiver), but we’ll be a better team with Darius in the lineup,” Jankovich said. “He has already produced for two years in a row in the Pac-12, which is a very good basketball conference, and you don’t do that by accident.

“Darius is really fast and really athletic, and he has a really good motor. He can drive, he can shoot it, he can pull up — he’s a real weapon.”

McNeill said he is stronger than ever, thanks in part to a continuation of some rather unorthodox workouts for basketball players, including boxing, swimming and resistance training while in the water, such as use of weights in the pool, which can increase stamina and explosiveness.

Pressed to define how he expects to be different when he takes the floor with the Mustangs, he circles back to Jankovich’s reference to McNeill’s speed.

“One of the biggest things I have worked on over the last year was change of pace,” McNeill said. “I have always been able to get by people, but by changing pace, I should be harder to defend … and it will help me on the defensive end, too, because I’ll be less predictable. I also have worked on making better reads, in the paint, talking more, being more vocal. I didn’t like sitting out, but I kept working.”

McNeill was among Cal’s best players during his two seasons in Berkeley. Defensively, he finished second on the team in steals in both seasons, and emerged as a solid offensive threat, whether firing up three-pointers or driving the lane and getting out on fast breaks. After a year of practice and film study with the Mustangs, McNeill said he hopes to be better in 2020-21.

“Defensively, I play the passing lanes really well, so you have to watch what you’re doing all the time,” he said, “and I can get out and run, so if you stop me in transition, I’ll go to the line. By giving me another year, in a way I think it’s a bad mistake, because it allowed me to lock in on some stuff. I’ve been shooting a lot since I got here, so don’t give me space to shoot, because I’m more confident in my shot now than I was at Cal.”

McNeill finally will get to play for an SMU team that finished 19-11 last season, and 9-9 in American Athletic Games. The Ponies lose just one player from the 2019-20 roster, but it’s a significant loss: forward Isiaha Mike announced July 7 on his Twitter account that continuing his quest for a professional career with representation, meaning the Mustangs’ third-leading scorer (he averaged 14.0 points per game) and team leader with 63 three-pointers from a year ago is done at SMU.

He joins a crowded backcourt at SMU. Kendric Davis and Tyson Jolly each averaged 34.9 minutes per game, and Emmanuel Bandoumel averaged 22.7. C.J. White and Charles Smith played reserve roles, while Will Douglas was limited to just three games because of illness. White has announced his intention to transfer, while Smith and Douglas are back, as is Darius McBride, who sat out his true freshman season in 2019-20 as a redshirt.

“I don’t know,” McNeill said, laughing, when asked if there were enough minutes to go around among the Mustangs’ guards. “I’m glad I’m not the coaches, who have to make that decision.

“But it helps to have more guys who can play. We all want to play, and we will. But when you have more guys, we push each other harder in practice, and that makes us better in games. When you can rotate more guys, we can go faster, we can defend harder.”

Jankovich said McNeill’s eagerness to do whatever it takes to win provides as much or more reason for optimism than McNeill’s physical gifts.

“Basketball really matters to him,” Jankovich said. “He’s an incredible competitor. We fought for that waiver last year, and we didn’t get it. He was disappointed it, and we were disappointed — for him and for our team.

“But maybe it turns out that decision was in everyone’s best interest. If he turns out to be the player we think he is and does the things we think he can do, it might just work out great for all of us.”

Re: Darius McNeill: The wait is almost over

PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:50 am
by Buddha
Left-handed, fast, can shoot and seems interested in defense. Sounds like a really nice addition.