Sunday, 18 July 2021 19:25

‘Special talent’ on the rise: McNeil quickly becoming a top 2024 basketball recruit

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Paul McNeil pulls up for a jumper during a workout last week, one of his thousands of extra shots he's put up this offseason. Paul McNeil pulls up for a jumper during a workout last week, one of his thousands of extra shots he's put up this offseason. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.


ROCKINGHAM — The dream for Paul McNeil Jr. has always been to play Division I basketball, and for the rising sophomore at Richmond Senior High School, that dream is becoming more and more of a reality each day.

The 6-foot-6, 165-pound shooting guard has spent hours in Richmond’s gym this offseason, putting up thousands of shots with another goal in mind — making his family proud.

Sometimes working on his craft by himself to the echo of a lone basketball inside an empty gym, or other times working out with a handful of Raider teammates, McNeil is starting to climb the ladder as one of the top recruits in the state in the class of 2024.

Earlier this month, McNeil received his first two Division I offers. The University of Tennessee offered him on July 8, followed by Western Carolina University a day later. 

It’s a list that Richmond head coach Donald Pettigrew, along with several regional college scouts, expects to grow over the next couple of seasons.

“It feels great to get my first couple of offers and I’m thankful for them,” McNeil said following a workout last week. “I put God first in everything, but I’m still not where I want to be. I’m still going to work regardless.

“Getting offers (as a rising sophomore) says a lot about my game, and it’s great to see my work paying off on the court,” he added. “I still want to prove myself despite hearing what the scouts say. I want to be one of the best players to ever come through Richmond, and my teammates are always helping me.”

Despite Richmond’s 2020-21 season being shortened to 13 games, McNeil exploded onto the varsity scene as a freshman. He led the Sandhills Athletic Conference in scoring with 18.1 points per game and added 8.2 rebounds per game, fourth best in the conference. 

His PPG and RPG averages also led all freshmen in the state, according to MaxPreps.

McNeil had double figures in nine games, and scored 20 or more points six times. Against Hoke County on Feb. 2, McNeil scored a career-high 31 points, and he averaged 22.5 PPG in Richmond’s playoff run. 

A threat from all areas of the floor thanks to his smooth jump shot and solid basketball frame, McNeil shot 40% from beyond the arc, added a 58% shooting percentage from the field and hit 86% of his shots from the line.

“Paul’s work ethic is unreal and he’s a special talent,” Pettigrew said. “He was in the gym on Christmas Day putting shots up, and not a lot of high schoolers do that. He has a God-given gift that many players don’t have, and he’s always working to improve.

“He doesn’t complain, he just plays,” he continued. “His attitude is great, he’s happy to watch his teammates be successful and he’s not a selfish player. Paul just wants an opportunity to change his life and he is starting to get that chance.”

Rising sophomore Paul McNeil Jr. has two Division I offers and interest from several other schools. (Kyle Pillar)

As the recruitment process continues to heat up for McNeil, Pettigrew said he’s trying to get McNeil in front of as many college coaches and scouts as possible. 

During an event in Winston-Salem earlier this summer, Pettigrew noted approximately 60 college coaches from across the country saw McNeil compete. He explained that McNeil “has a chance to be one of the best players to come through Richmond if he keeps doing what he’s doing.”

According to Justin Byerly, an NCAA scout based in North Carolina, programs like Arizona State, Georgetown, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, N.C. State and UCLA have reached out expressing interest in McNeil.

It’s also been reported that McNeil could possibly soon be on the University of North Carolina’s radar, although nothing has been made official.

With all of the hype surrounding his future college playing potential, McNeil remains humble and said he’s only focused on what he can do now to improve. He’s also making his family a top priority during the process.

“The reason why I work hard every day and grind to get what I want is to make it for my family and my mom,” McNeil explained. “When I’m in the gym, I think a lot about my mom and how much we’ve been through. Making her and my family proud motivates me.

“I’m never satisfied, and I think playing Division I basketball will give me a better life,” he added. “It’s my dream because it’s my way to be successful. I want to experience going to college and playing at that level. And I have a strong mindset that I think will get me there.”

Pettigrew explained some of the qualities that make McNeil a DI prospect are his shooting ability for his size, his handling of the ball, his upbeat motor and his efficiency on both ends of the floor.

Richmond’s fifth-year head coach added that McNeil’s success starts in the classroom, and plans to help him keep his grades and GPA up over the next three years.

While he’s in the gym, McNeil said he’s focused on maintaining a high shooting percentage, while also fine-tuning the nuances of the game. Some of those include his jump shot, creating space, working to the left side and defense and rebounding.

Despite the high level of college interest, and his ultimate dream being to play in the National Basketball Association, McNeil isn’t rushing things or overlooking the next three years as a Richmond Raider basketball player.

“I’m really excited about the upcoming year, and I’m thankful to be a Raider,” McNeil said. “Coach Pettigrew does a great job and I know me and my teammates want to make a state championship run.

“There’s a lot more to come — not just from me, but from the whole team,” he closed.

Last modified on Sunday, 18 July 2021 20:11
Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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