Jordan McNeil is one of just two seniors on the Towson men's basketball roster this season. The program is in transition after a talented crop of seniors graduated in 2018 and productive underclassmen Zane Martin and Justin Gorham transferred. The Tigers are leaning on McNeil as a leader during his senior year.
A breakout senior campaign would be nothing new for the Mount Saint Joseph graduate.
The Baltimore native played on a talented team in high school, and Gaels head coach Pat Clatchey recalled how McNeil developed into a leader after playing as the team's sixth man during his junior season in 2012-13.
"He was a good player," Clatchey said. "But at that time we had guys like Kam Williams, who played at Ohio State, and Phil Booth, who's won two national championships at Villanova, and we had Jaylen Adams, who plays for the Atlanta Hawks. So Jordan came off the bench as our sixth man and played that role very well. So I think he was kind of overshadowed by those guys.
"His senior year, Kam Williams was gone and [McNeil] stepped into that role, and man, he was a really good player his senior year."
McNeil, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard, helped lead the Gaels to a 34-5 record as a senior in 2013-14; Mount Saint Joseph claimed the Baltimore Catholic League and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships. According to Clatchey, it was the BCL title game that really showcased McNeil's development.
"His senior year, he probably made two of the biggest plays in the history of our program," Clatchey said. "We were playing Calvert Hall in the Baltimore Catholic League championship game. Jordan got an offensive rebound and got fouled with [less than a second left] and we're down two. He makes both foul shots, knocks them down and puts the game into overtime. Then in overtime, he hit a three that would pretty much win the game."
"He really blossomed. He was able to make big shots and deliver under pressure," Clatchey added.
Towson head coach Pat Skerry is happy to have a former Gael playing a key role in his program.
"Any time you can get a guy from Pat Clatchey at Mount Saint Joe's program," Skerry said, "you know you get a guy that understands winning, how to practice and has been well-coached. That's one of the best high school programs in the country."
Not only does McNeil hail from a well-regarded high school basketball program, but playing in the BCL has influenced his approach to the game.
"Jordan has been a guy that handles his business," Skerry said. "Even when things haven't gone his way, he shows up, he practices hard, he's handled his books, he's played different roles for us -- sometimes out of position -- [and] he's played hurt. He's a guy that becomes one of your favorite guys and he's helped us win a lot of games."
Perhaps more so than his game on the court, his role in the locker room is critical for the young Towson roster.
"Obviously, he has the ability to make some shots," Skerry said of McNeil, who shot 39.1 percent from 3-point range as a junior. "But the big thing we needed him to be was a stabilizing force. He understands defense, he understands terminology, he understands practice habits. Really, there's a lot on him. We need him to be extra good taking care of the ball, we need him to be more vocal. But he's a guy that is willing to do those things."
And while McNeil really proved himself to his high school coach during the biggest game of his prep career, McNeil's college coach said the moment he knew he had a pivotal player came during practice before McNeil's junior season. McNeil has proven himself ever since.
"His sophomore year, he wanted to play more, like a lot of guys," Skerry said. "And until you become a top-three worker in our program, you won't. I always ask everyone on the staff, ‘OK, who are our top three workers?' and you may get eight or nine guys or you may get three.
"But coming out of last summer, Jordan was a unanimous top-three worker. When you have a guy that's willing to do that and push himself, that's a life skill that's going to help Jordan be successful down the line."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson University Athletics
Issue 250: December 2018 / January 2019