Daquein McNeil is a grinder. By the time the sun comes up in leafy Vermont, he’s already hard at work, bucking the odds.
Whether he’s perfecting his skill-set on the hardwood, getting stronger in the weight room, or cracking a book, everything McNeil does on a daily basis is done with one goal in mind — to prove the perception that exists about kids like him wrong.
“People don’t think kids like me will amount to anything,” says McNeil, “kids from East Baltimore aren’t expected to make it.”
McNeil makes it a little each day. He makes it just by waking up and realizing he’s safe. He makes it by understanding he’s in a place, at Vermont Academy, that gives him a chance.
And for a kid like Daquein McNeil, who can still feel the pulse of the Latrobe Projects coursing through his veins, a real chance isn’t always something you can count on. It’s evident when you speak to McNeil that the young man is wise beyond his years. He understands he deserves what he’s been given because he’s put in the work, but he also knows that nothing is ever guaranteed in life (except for the sounds of sirens ringing out 24/7 in East Baltimore).
“Most of my friends from Baltimore are either dead or locked up,” says McNeil, “none of them were really trying to play ball or anything like that.”
But McNeil wasn’t only trying to play ball, he was playing it well enough to run with Baltimore Elite on the AAU circuit.
And it was at a tournament a few years ago, in the under 15 division of the Playaz event in New Jersey, that McNeil first met a man that would become influential in his college decision. “We played New Heights in the final four that year,” says McNeil, “and I played pretty well against Coach Kimani Young’s team.” The two spoke afterwards and Young would often check in with McNeal’s coach and ask about the kid who scored bucket after bucket against his team.
“He was always asking how I was doing and my coach would let me know that,” says McNeil. “When he got hired as an assistant at FIU, it was definitely a place I was going to check out.”
McNeil’s relationship with Young was vital to get his attention focused on FIU, but he says once he visited the campus in Miami and experienced Richard Pitino’s program firsthand, he really understood it was the best place for him. “Coach Young was huge,” says McNeil, “but it was a collective effort by the whole staff and players once I went down there.” And the funny thing is that the kid from Baltimore wasn’t dazzled by the sunshine or South Beach.
In fact — “It rained when I was there,” says McNeil, laughing.
So what attracted him to the point where he gave a verbal commitment to FIU yesterday?
“The way they worked reminded me of how we do things here at Vermont Academy,” says McNeil. “They worked out at 6 am and then they came back later and lifted. It was all business, but upbeat too, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Hard work was the attraction.
One other thing — McNeil says we shouldn’t buy into the perception that FIU will struggle this season.
“They’re going to surprise people,” says McNeil, “they work too hard not to have success.”
Daquein McNeal knows about hard work, about how the perception doesn’t have to be the reality.
Daquein McNeil’s the epitome of the word.
Wes Clark became a top 100 guard the old fashioned way — through extremely hard work and an attention to detail when it came to honing his craft.
Defensively, Clark will sit down and get into his man like few other guards with his accolades.
The perimeter star comes from two highly successful programs out of the Detroit area — The Family is his Grassroots/AAU squad while Romulus High is the jersey he represented during his high school season (Terry Mills, Grant Long and John Long are three of many Romulus studs to light up scoreboards throughout the years).
Missouri had a pipeline back in the day with Michigan prep players, but a recent hire by head man Frank Haith may have reignited and brightened a path that’s been somewhat dim for a number of years. Wes Clark was on Missouri’s radar for sure, but when Haith hired Rick Carter as an assistant from Western Michigan on August 14th, the pursuit of Clark was taken to another level. Carter is a bulldog, a grinder in the classic basketball/gym rat/junkie sense.
Like so many assistants at the mid major level, all he ever needed or was looking for, was a chance at the highest level (no Rob Murphy, not the NBA, the SEC or any other high major league). But first he had to pay his dues and, as things always seem to go in the basketball world, also have a little luck with who he ran into along the way. The assistant got his start on the Michigan AAU scene with the Mustangs before moving on to Michigan State in a managerial role for Tom Izzo (I remember seeing him constantly around Izzo when I was writing a book back in the day). He parlayed that into an Operations job at Fairfield for a year before becoming an assistant in his second season in the MAAC under Ed Cooley. Carter left Fairfield after two years to study under veteran coach Steve Hawkins at Western Michigan. Hawkins is a guy who in recent years has had assistants hired away by the programs at Michigan, Iowa State, Alabama, NC State and now Missouri. And relationships definitely played a role in Carter’s break.
One of the friendships Carter developed while at Fairfield was with Tim Fuller. When Ryan Miller left Mizzou suddenly to take a huge promotion at Auburn about a month ago, I imagine Fuller was in Haith’s ear about Carter, and the prospects the 33-year-old assistant might be able to get the Tigers “in” with rather quickly. Carter is a hard worker in the scouting and coaching department as well, but he’s also known Romulus coach Nate Oats for 12 years, and that had to be a plus (not to mention the talent coming up in Michigan over the next few years).
I tweeted about Carter’s addition at Missouri on August 8th.
He was officially hired on August 14th.
Wes Clark committed to Missouri on August 29th.
Carter finally got his chance — in the SEC — and in his first turn at bat hit a monster rope off the center field wall.
Haith and company now have their heir apparent to Phil Pressey at point guard… thanks to a nice assist from their new addition.
Steven Adams is almost 7 feet (6’11″ after checking with his coach).
Steven Adams runs like a deer and rebounds out of his area (he tracked one 17 feet before grabbing it). He has incredible raw instincts defensively, knowing when to keep his feet with his arms straight up, when to jump and when to body his man.
Steven Adams makes hard catches look routine.
Steven Adams threw a 75 foot outlet pass to Myles Davis that led the Xavier bound guard perfectly for a breakaway dunk.
Steven Adams attempts to dunk everything he catches within a foot of the rim.
Steven Adams has a nice stroke on his outside shot.
The things that Steven Adams has to grasp about basketball will be easily taught and learned by a kid with so much enthusiasm for the game.
Steven Adams will be fine.
Plus, he’s quite refreshing to talk to.
Rest easy Pitt fans, the kid can play.
By Brian Bosworth, National Recruiting Analyst
The National Prep Showcase kicked off Friday morning at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. One the premier prep events in America on a yearly basis, the showcase features the top prep teams from the Northeast along with a sampling of the strongest teams from around the country. This year had a little bit of added anticipation as it was announced approximately a week prior to the event that NBA scouts would be allowed to attend. If any were on hand Friday they witnessed a performance worthy of a future lottery pick selection.
Top Performer of the Day:
Ricardo Ledo (South Kent Prep 2012) – committed to Providence – There is no debate over the top performer of the day as Ledo put on an offensive clinic in a 20 point South Kent victory. He scored 37 points including 7 three pointers and did so with his usual freewheeling style. Ledo keeps the ball on a string and almost toys with defenders as he routinely broke ankles and got into the lane or used his patented step back move to create space and bury long range shots. At one point on the break Ledo even through it to himself off the backboard and hammered down a dunk contest worthy jam without breaking a sweat. His offensive talents are immense and they were on full display Friday night but perhaps even more impressive was the way Rick carried himself on the court. Often labeled a head case or a moody player, Ledo showed real maturity coaching teammates on the floor and still getting others involved despite that fact that he had it working so well. South Kent head coach Kelvin Jefferson told me after the game that Rick has really progressed as a leader both in the locker room and on the court and that was evident in his play on this night.
Major Canady was raised in ACC Country.
The 6-foot-3, 195 pound point guard prospect has long dreamed of suiting up and playing in the league he grew up watching in North Carolina. “I would really like to play in the ACC,” says Canady, “growing up in Carolina that’s all I saw.” Canady, if the interest he’s receiving — along with his athleticism and body — is any indication, will probably get that chance when the time comes for him to make a college decision.
This summer’s Grassroots circuit will go a long way towards Canady reaching that goal, with coaches from the ACC — not to mention the Big East, Big Ten and A-10 — all ready to be courtside to see if Canady can handle his business on the court at a projected high major level.
Wake Forest‘s staff is said to love him and most of the assistants on the Demon Deacon bench have already seen him play. Canady says that come July, head coach Jeff Bzdelik also plans to watch him play for the BSA U-16 squad (Canady will play with the 17′s at Bob Gibbons). In fact, Canady recently spent some quality time on the scenic campus of Wake Forest with his father and sister. And all of the Canady clan came away from the trip extremely impressed.