Last summer he had back surgery that caused him to miss the 2000-01 season. This summer he is a dominating center for Great Britain, at the 21st World University Games now being contested in Beijing, China.
It appears that things are getting back on track for UNC redshirt freshman Neil Fingleton. The 7-5 native of Durham, England is getting lots of attention on the basketball hardwood, and off, as a member of the Great Britain basketball team.
Richard Windle, also a member of Great Britain's basketball squad, posts a diary of his Beijing experiences at www.sheffieldsharks.com, along with "match" reports and player stats. Windle described the scene during the Opening Ceremony as the athletes of Great Britain entered the stadium:
"To enter a stadium packed with 60,000 people is amazing, myself and Neil brought up the rear of the GB team, proudly holding our huge GB flag. The pictures should be unbelievable! While we stood on the field, Neil was asked for photo after photo. People have never seen somebody his size before."
That Opening Ceremony encounter took place after Neil and his 'mates got the Games started on a winning note -- an 83-67 thumping of Hong Kong -- as Neil was the center of attention.
"From the warm-up it was clear that [Great Britain] would have an incredible size and power advantage. Their tallest player being 6-6 and GB's 7-5," stated Richard Windle in his postgame report. Great Britain pulled away from Hong Kong in the 3rd quarter. "Our guards began to find Fingleton inside the paint more and more. Enabling him to knock down 5-foot and 6-foot shots by simply turning and shooting over the Hong Kong defence," Windle reported.
Fingleton played 30 minutes and finished with 20 points, made 9 of 13 field goal tries, hit 2 of 7 shots from the free throw line and gathered in 9 rebounds.
The following day (8/24), Russia easily defeated Hong Kong 100-46. Russia's physical style of play would be Neil's next challenge.
"BRITISH STUN RUSSIANS," said the headline at Britball.com. Great Britain had, in fact, upset highly regarded Russia 72-66 to take first place in Group F, advance to the quarterfinals and remain a medal contender.
Britball.com also reported that, "Neil Fingleton dominated the early offensive game, taking advantage of the lack of inside presence of the Russians and picked up multiple trips to the foul line."
Richard Windle saw it like this: "GB began the game brightly, finding Fingleton several times in the paint and the North Carolina centre getting fouled and going to the line ... where he was 5 of 6."
Fingleton scored 8 points (1-3 FG, 6-10 FT), hauled down 3 rebounds and played 24 minutes in the surprise win over Russia.
Neil, and Great Britain, now move on to Group K round-robin play (8/26, 27 & 28) with South Korea, USA (featuring Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter of Maryland and Roger Mason of Virginia) and Brazil. Group winners advance to medal play on August 30 and 31.
After the game with Russia, Neil got even more attention from teammate Windle. No rave reviews this time though. This recognition involved some good-natured fun about Great Britain's ill-fitting uniforms and Neil's on-court appearance:
"I think the most comical looking of all of us is Neil. With his huge mullet now in full flow, hair flying all over the place. With the wristbands, the mullet, his Ming the Merciless moustache and Stocktonesque shorts, all he needs is a headband and some Chuck Taylors and he could be from the Boston Celtics of the 1980's."
Back on March 29, 2000, UNCbasketball.com's interview of newly recruited Tar Heel Neil Fingleton concluded with interviewer/writer Thad Williamson saying, "All it's safe to say now is that this large English lad's development will be one of the most interesting storylines in Chapel Hill over the next four years--and that Fingleton does appear to have a reasonably good sense of just what he's getting into starting next fall."
Based on all that has happened so far in China, Neil Fingleton, the 7-5 North Carolina center and redshirt freshman from England, is well on his way to being the center of attention in Chapel Hill.
Stay tuned for more on Fingleton ...