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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Men's Basketball

McNeil looks for forward progress with men’s basketball squad

Maurice McNeil leads a fresh group of Cougars hungry for an opportunity to shine in pursuit of a second straight trip in the NCAA tournament.

Forward Maurice McNeil will be asked to contribute on offense by scoring and creating second-chance opportunities, and to clog up the lane and block shots on defense. | Newton Liu/ The Daily Cougar

McNeil said he feels confident that this squad has several players who can come together and replace the offensive production left behind byAubrey Coleman and Kelvin Lewis.

“We have guys that could have stepped up, but they didn’t have the opportunity because those guys were so good,” McNeil said. “Zamal Nixon, he’s better than the five points-per-game he averaged. Adam Brown is better than the seven points-per-game that he averaged. I’m better than the eight points-per-game that I averaged. I think that we have it there to pick it up.

“Kendrick Washington can do a lot of things, Kirk Van Slyke can do a lot of things. We have it, but just didn’t get the opportunity because we rode our horses in Kelvin and Aubrey. Once we start clicking and really start playing, people are going to be shocked because we’re going to be really good.”

McNeil is enjoying his increased role in the offense, scoring a team-high of 17 points in the Cougars opening exhibition match against Abilene Christian, and showing there is more to his game than just offensive boards and floor burns.

“It was good that I got a lot of touches,” McNeil said. “It felt good and I definitely feel like I got to grow off of this game, and keep growing every game to get better.

“Last year I didn’t really get the ball that much. I had to go get it myself, but I’m not going to get away from that. I’m still going to hit the offensive boards, get rebounds and put backs. But it’s going to be a plus getting the ball down low, and showing what I can do.”

McNeil has had a “strange journey” in his path following up to UH. He grew up in Harlem, moved to the lower east side of Brooklyn at the age of nine, and played high school basketball in Manhattan at Seward Park before he moseyed to University Park Prep in Houston.

McNeil followed that with two standout seasons at San Jacinto College averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore, before choosing UH to finish his college career.

In his first season as a Cougar, McNeil started 23 games and helped the Cougars reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1991-92 season.

“I can say in my first year coming here that I was part of the team that made it to the tournament,” McNeil said. “It’s definitely been a good experience for me, but we’re hungry, we want to get back there. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of people from last year’s team that contributed so much who are gone. We have to work hard to pick up the slack.”

McNeil will receive help on the blocks from a versatile group of posts that includes sophomores Washington and Van Slyke, as well as freshmen Alandise Harris and Mikhail McLean.

“I think I have chemistry with all the bigs on the team,” McNeil said. “Kirk definitely, he draws attention out by that three-point line, so they can’t double-down as much because they have to worry about his outside shooting. We definitely complement each other pretty well.”

Head coach James Dickey has emphasized hustle and defense as a means to success for this year’s squad and McNeil, last season’s C-USA leader in offensive rebounds, can’t wait to start the season and get his hands dirty like one of his favorite players.

“I actually like Dennis Rodman,” he said. “He was just a crazy player and he hustled and got his hands on every loose ball. I like Rodman and I feel like I’m going to have to play like him in order for us to have a great year this year.”

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