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‘I love it here’: McNeil Jr. returns to Richmond to continue junior season

Paul McNeil Jr. made a splash when he announced he was returning to Richmond this week to continue his junior season. (ROSports File Photo/Kyle Pillar)

ROCKINGHAM — Paul McNeil Jr. walked into Tuesday’s basketball game at Richmond Senior High School with some exciting news for the local basketball community — he was coming home.

Surprising his Raider teammates and coaches, McNeil Jr. confirmed with the Richmond Observer that he was officially returning to play the remainder of his junior season with the green and gold.

A five-star recruit with 18 college offers, most from top-tier Division-I programs, McNeil Jr. has spent the last several months training at Prolific Prep in Napa Valley, Calif. 

After announcing in July that he would transfer to the prep school known for working with some of the nation’s top high school recruits, McNeil Jr. is back in his hometown just as the Raiders enter their first full week of play.

“There are a lot of emotions right now and I haven’t processed everything yet, but I’m very excited to be back at Richmond and be home,” McNeil Jr. said. “I love it here and feel like I belong here.

“I’m most glad to be back to help the team,” he added. “All the guys were really happy when I told them. No one knew I was coming back and I surprised them. We all know what the deal is and now we’re more locked in to play ball.”

Standing at 6-7, McNeil Jr. is a prolific shooting guard who was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year after his sophomore season. It was the first time in Richmond’s history a basketball player earned that recognition.

As a sophomore, McNeil Jr. was also named to his second All-Sandhills Athletic Conference team and was selected the SAC’s Player of the Year. He was tabbed the NCCA’s District 4 Player of the Year and named All-State.

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Helping create a buzz around the basketball program with a cast of teammates, many of whom return this season, McNeil Jr. guided the Raiders to a 26-2 overall record in 2021-22.

The team won its first conference championship in five years and Richmond made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs, its farthest run since 1997.

Last winter, McNeil Jr. averaged 24.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 steals per game.

“I wanted to come back because I wanted to get a shot at winning a state title with Richmond,” McNeil Jr. explained. “When I left, that was on my mind a lot. So I chose to come back and try with my team. 

“I learned a lot in my short time (at Prolific Prep), both mentally and physically. I was really on my own and saw life a little differently. I became a better player and person and hope to bring that back (to the Raiders).”

Re-enrolling at Richmond this week, McNeil Jr. is set to make his season debut with the Raiders on Saturday. 

Richmond is set to play in a tournament at Fayetteville State University against Trinity Christian School with tip set for noon.

McNeil Jr. is currently ranked as the No. 10 player in the nation on ESPN’s Class of 2024 recruiting list.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-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.