He stands around six feet in stature and couldn't possibly weigh an ounce more than 180 pounds. In fact, if he weren't wearing his MU basketball warm-ups, you would never guess he was even affiliated with the basketball program.
Lucky for the Golden Eagles, McNeilly is part of their program. And he is far from ordinary. His personality and his work ethic are ideal for his position as graduate manager.
"I'm around the guys a lot," McNeilly said. "I'm basically the liaison between the coaches and the players. If they need anything, I'm there. I also take care of a lot of other managerial duties, like making sure the guys are getting their shots up and grabbing their rebounds for them."
McNeilly's road to Milwaukee began in 2006, when current MU head coach Buzz Williams was hired as the head coach at the University of New Orleans. McNeilly, at the time a senior guard starting for the Privateers, averaged 15.1 points per game in 37.6 minutes per game in Williams' only season there.
Buzz did not let that go unnoticed.
"Jamie is one of my all-time favorites," Williams said. "More than any other player I have ever coached, he was passionate on a daily basis and gave everything he had to give, without fail."
McNeilly is not short to reciprocate the praise, saying that Willams' remark is "probably one of the best compliments anyone has ever paid me."
After the conclusion of McNeilly's senior season, Williams approached him about his future options.
"After I graduated from New Orleans – like immediately after – he sat me down and was saying how he thinks coaching would be a great thing for me if I didn't want to continue to play," McNeilly said. "I told him that, ‘Right now, I want to play still.' But I understood him and I believed him, and now here we are."
While playing for USC Heidelberg of the German Pro-A League in 2007-2008, McNeilly averaged 10.9 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.6 rebounds a game. Despite having respectable numbers while playing professional basketball, a phone call from Williams in early June of 2008 put his playing career on indefinite hiatus.
"While I was playing in Germany last year Buzz called me, and being over there I was kind of out of the loop, so he called to tell me he had gotten the job," he said.
"And then he offered me a spot. I was shocked. An opportunity to help Buzz out was a no-brainer for me. It was hard to give up playing, but in the long run, going back to school, getting my Masters, and getting in to coaching early could really pay off for me."
After making the trip back to the United States, McNeilly enrolled in the Graduate Professional Studies program at MU and got to work being the new graduate manager for the men's basketball team. He hopes the two endeavors will go hand-in-hand.
"I decided to get my masters degree in leadership studies," McNeilly said. "I think it's really going to help me out if and when I decide to start coaching. But if not, I'd like to start teaching back home [in Toronto]."
Through his position at MU, McNeilly is beginning to see coaching as a legitimate future. He is soaking in the atmosphere of a major basketball community and is not hesitant to help the team – and his potential future – in any way he is able.
"I just want to do all the little things I can do to help the team out," he said. Anything at all, whether it's mopping the floor or carry bags or help coaches type up scouting reports. Anything. I want to learn everything I can because the staff here is amazing. I'm going to just take pride in doing all of the little things possible to make us better on a daily basis."
One of Buzz's first assignments to McNeilly was far from small. In fact, it was about seven feet tall. Right before he accepted the job, Buzz sent McNeilly to scout fellow Toronto native and 7'0" center prospect Liam McMorrow while he was playing at Durham College last season. Although he maintains he had little to do with McMorrow transferring to Marquette, McNeilly did say that McMorrow will be a good fit for the Golden Eagles system.
"I went and saw him, and he moves like he is 6'6", which is really good," McNeilly said. "He's going to be a really tough, hard-nosed type player. He has really good work ethic and he is dedicated to the program. That's going to help him above all else – he just wants to win and will do whatever it takes to win. If Buzz tells him to run through a wall, he will start running through walls. We definitely need a guy like that."
So does Buzz treat McNeilly differently now that he is an assistant rather than a player? McNeilly finds the notion ridiculous.
"Oh no," he says immediately, laughing. "And I knew he wouldn't be. He's exactly the same. I think he takes pride in being the same to everyone all the time."
What ever McNeilly's coaching future holds is anybody's guess, but his work ethic and personality certainly give him a head start for any career. If you ask him to describe himself in three words, he will tell you point-blank:
"Honest, relentless, and a winner."
The perfect mentality for Marquette University and for a future big-time head coach.
Patrick Kurish is a junior majoring in Journalism.