New Gophers coach Richard Pitino officially received a committment from his first recruit for the 2013-14 season last week in Daquein McNeil. The Vermont Academy senior point guard had offers from Louisville, VCU, Oklahoma and Richmond among others, but had committed to Florida International before Pitino took his current job at Minnesota. The 6-3, 175-pound McNeil, who is from Baltimore but started going to Vermont Academy as a sophomore, has a reputation for seeing the court well and being able to create off the dribble.
Questions in bold below with McNeil's answers in regular type.
Tell me about what attracted you to coach Pitino in the first place. Why did you want to play for him?
It all started when I went to my visit at FIU. He knows my coach here at Vermont Academy pretty well, so they already had a good bond. And my coach here at Vermont Academy always told me, as I was choosing my school, that it was always about the coach or the assistant coach who recruited you the hardest. Because that means they really want you to be there.
I would always see coach Pitino during the summer (around the AAU circuits). This is when he was still at Louisville, and Louisville had offered me. … I would just say that he is a very consistent guy, and he really liked me.
You said that you hadn’t talked when him specifically, yet. Do you remember the first time he reached out to you?
Yes … August 28 (2012).
Wow, you rememember the exact date.
Yes, because coach Kimani called me first and I was shocked and then he got coach Pitino to call.
Did you say you were shocked?
Yes, because coach Kimani, he was a coach on the circuit that I played for and I would have never thought he’d be coaching in college.
Ah, OK. So did you keep in constant contact with those guys from there?
Yeah. He [Pitino] would just text me and tell me good luck in games. He would ask me how my season was going, things like that.
When did you hear that he might be going to Minnesota?
Me and my friends were watching ESPN one day and I heard it. It was kind of a rumor at first.
What was your thought at that moment?
I was kind of shocked but I kind of kept it to myself. I was kind of shocked, but knowing him and knowing the guy that he was, I knew he would call.
And when did he call?
It was the day after he came to Minnesota and he did the big conference in the gym.
So was that a big thing for you -- that he obviously reached out to you so quickly, that he showed that even though he moved schools, he was still very interested in you?
I was just grateful. Because I know when things like that happen with coaches and they get new jobs and they leave their old school. They really don’t take players. So I was just grateful. I couldn’t complain about it.
You mentioned again that you were offered by Louisville. I know you were also offered by Rutgers, VCU and Oklahoma. Any others?
[University of Alabama- Birmingham] and Richmond.
So some pretty big schools in there. Especially when you look at Louisiville, Oklahoma, VCU being a very exciting program. Coach Pitino must have made a pretty big impression on you for you to say, ‘No, I’m going to go play for Florida International’).
Was it a hard decision?
Actually, no. After coming from the visit at FIU – I pretty much want to work hard and that’s it. And when I went to visit at FIU, for them to be a new program and seven or eight players being new, they were working so hard together --and it was for him. So that’s what really got me.
Did your friends tell you that you were crazy for choosing FIU over Louisville?
No, I mean, most of my relatives were [saying that] – but for the main part, my friends, they were just excited. They were like, it’s a good choice. They know he’s a young coach and everything, he’s not new to the game, but he’s a young coach and they were saying ‘That’s going to make it fun for you.’
Would you say it was mostly his personality then, and the things you saw there that attract you to him?
How much of a factor was his playing style? It seems like the style he brings, every recruit in America wants to play that way.
Yes, we also play kind of the same way at my high school. So I there were a lot of things, but when you look at that it’s like I’ve been going to my high school for three years (McNeil spent his freshman year at Carver Vo-tech in Baltimore) and I’ve been playing OK. So it’s pretty fast and no one wants to play the slow, half-court game, so I guess that was also a big part.
Has Pitino talked to you any about where you will fit in immediately with this current roster?
No, he hasn’t.
Have you played at point for most of your high school career?
Yes. I’ve played a lot of different guard positions, but at my high school, I’ve mostly played point.
And do you feel like that’s kind of where you belong, at point? Or do you feel comfortable in a lot of positions?
I kind of feel like I belong there with how my attack can create shots for others.
Have you talked with Pitino about whether he wants to keep you at point or play you in another guard position?
No, we haven’t even talked about positions at all, we’ve just talked about how – we all know the Big Ten is a big step up and we’ve talked about how I need to come in ready to work and be prepared.
What do you think is the biggest strength that you bring to the table?
I’m a pretty good slasher, I would say, going to the rim.
You haven’t had a chance to visit Minnesota yet, have you?
No, I will soon – in May.
Do you know when yet? No, maam.
It’s going to be for a weekend though?
Any idea about your major yet?
At FIU, I was going to major in public health and social work, but I’m not sure right now.