Blocking It Out

Known throughout his Syracuse University basketball career for his mental struggles almost as much as his incredible shot blocking performances during the Orangemen's championship run, Jeremy McNeil is coming into this season in a spot he couldn't have imagined himself only a year ago.<br><br>

McNeil is the lead-by-example guy for this year's squad.

"We have a lot of guys on this team that can lead verbally," said assistant coach Mike Hopkins. "Craig (Forth), Hakim (Warrick), Josh (Pace), and Gerry (McNamara) all talk a lot. Jeremy leads by his actions. He's a senior and he won't have the verbal leadership that Kueth (Duany) had, but he'll show the young guys what needs to be done through his play."

It's been a winding road for McNeil during his five years at Syracuse. After leaving Sam Houston High School in San Antonio, Texas, where the 6-foot-8 center was a top 35 prospect and earned Adidas All-America laurels, he played just six games his freshmen year due to a condition called "hammer-toe" on both feet. He had surgery on both toes and was awarded a medical redshirt for the season.

His redshirt freshman year, McNeil started 21 of Syracuse's 34 games and ranked sixth in the BIG EAST averaging 1.9 blocks per game.

Then during his sophomore season, while coming off the bench in all 30 games he played, McNeil left the team after the game at Georgetown upset about playing time and having had an argument with coaches. He flew home to Texas, mulled things over and asked to come back to the team a week later, after support and influence from his mother Zohnnie.

It was Zohnnie that changed the way McNeil saw things, basketball in particular. When she passed away before his junior year, McNeil responded by blocking 100 shots and was ranked 14th in the nation with 2.857 blocks per game.

"I'm here because of my mom," McNeil said. "I'm playing for her."

More on this article can be found in this month's issue of The Juice.

Cuse Nation Top Stories