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HISTORY: McNeil first Richmond basketball player to be named Gatorade N.C. Player of the Year

Sophomore Paul McNeil (2) was named the Gatorade N.C. Player of the Year on Wednesday.
kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — The postseason accolades keep rolling in for super sophomore Paul McNeil, Richmond Senior High School’s standout basketball player.

Within the past week, the five-star recruit received two more top awards from around the state.

Over the weekend, the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association named McNeil the District 4 first-team Player of the Year.

On Wednesday, McNeil was recognized as the North Carolina “Gatorade Player of the Year” for boys’ basketball. McNeil’s recognition of the award, which has been given out for 37 years, was the first time a Richmond student-athlete was named.

While sitting in class on Wednesday, McNeil received several messages congratulating him. And then during morning announcements, the school recognized his milestone achievement.

“I kept getting all of these messages saying that I was the Gatorade Player of the Year,” McNeil, a 6-5, 180-pound shooting guard, smiled. “And then on the announcements they said my name and it was so exciting.

“This really means a lot to me, and I want to put God first,” he continued. “He’s given me the opportunity to play and produce my skills. I’m trying to stay humble and show that hard work pays off. This award is earned, not given.”

McNeil added that he was shocked to find out that he had won the award following his sophomore season.

This past winter, McNeil guided the Raiders to a 26-2 overall record and the team’s first conference championship in five years. Richmond made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs, its farthest run since 1997.

In his second varsity season, McNeil averaged 24.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. He was also named the Sandhills Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year.

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According to a press release issued by Gatorade, the award “recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, distinguishes McNeil as North Carolina’s best high school boys basketball player.”

This school year, McNeil has maintained a B average. He also volunteers his time with the African-American Studies organization at Richmond.

“I’ve really tried to stay focused in class this year,” McNeil said. “I always try to have a positive mindset and motivation to keep me going in the classroom. When I did that, good things happened.”

To determine a winner from each state in numerous high school sports the “selection process is administered by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which leverages experts including coaches, scouts, media and others as sources to help evaluate and determine the state winners in each sport.”

Last year’s winner for boys’ basketball was Terquavion Smith of Farmville Central High School.

Richmond head coach Donald Pettigrew said McNeil is a “special player” who has worked hard to earn all of the postseason praise.

“This is exciting for Paul because he’s worked so hard and he plays the game the right way,” Pettigrew said. “We knew he had a chance to win, and to get it as only a sophomore is a testament to the work he’s put in.

“Paul’s work ethic is through the roof and he’s an even better kid to coach,” he added. “He deserves this, and he continues to get better each day with his studies. It’s easy for a 15-year-old to get sidetracked, but he has a great opportunity and I’m excited to see him continue to grind.”

Currently, McNeil has seven college offers, including six from Division I programs. He also has several other programs from across the country showing interest.

McNeil is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year, which is selected from the 50 state winners and one from Washington, D.C. That winner will be announced later this spring.

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Kyle Pillar is a nine-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.