Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Continued: Gophers freshman McNeil embraces what he has

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 12, 2014 - 12:10 PM

“Everything with him is so kept in,” said McCormick, now 26, who as a 19-year-old high school basketball coach met McNeil shortly after his parents’ deaths. “It’s almost like a lockbox that he keeps inside of him. Even if he was feeling at his worst, he won’t tell you. He’d say, ‘I’m good. I’m OK.’ ”

A boy and his ball

As a 1-year-old, McNeil wouldn’t stop crying.

Ever.

Not after he was fed. Not after he was changed. Not when he was rocked.

“He was a crybaby!” said Smith, whom everyone just calls “Cookie.”

That all changed when a basketball was put in front of him. The crying stopped. Smith learned to bring a ball along anywhere they might need to take a picture.

“He was just so happy with the ball,” Smith said. “The ball would light up his eyes.”

As he got older, McNeil’s father took him to 3-on-3 games before heart problems caused his dad to stop, Smith said. At the only game his mother came to, when McNeil was in the seventh grade, he knew he had found his purpose. He saw the energy his play infused into her tired eyes and the inspiration her gaze reflected back.

Years earlier, with his mother in poor health, McNeil had moved in with Smith in East Baltimore’s Section 8 housing projects. Kenny Marks, a family friend, described it as “a lot of abandoned homes, constantly seeing people’s houses raided, constantly seeing people get locked up, constantly seeing people selling drugs.”

The two-bedroom house was shared by four — including Smith’s sons, Michael and Myron — and sometimes five people, with Mattocks staying for stretches when she was sick.

McNeil would see his mother as much as he could, visiting her in the hospital even when she was too tired to stay awake. He kissed her face twice while she slept.

But in the summer of 2007, everything changed. McNeil began to withdraw, going to school so little that his teachers didn’t recognize him when he showed up. He developed a new set of friends. He hung out in gangs.

In this life, there was no place for basketball, so McNeil stopped that, too.

Smith, who was working as an assistant at a law firm while enrolled in a GED program, tried to keep up. She would get calls from the high school saying he never showed, and she would leave work, comb the streets for her nephew, knock on doors, call the police.

“I mean, it was rough,” she said of their many battles. “I was back and forth with Daquein on the street. I didn’t let my boys go to the street — why would I allow Daquein to go to the street? I don’t care how angry he’d be with me.”

Sometimes when McNeil would disappear, Smith would climb back into her car and drive across the neighborhood, only to find him at a playground court, alone in the dark, shooting baskets.

“That was his relief,” Smith said. “If he couldn’t get it outside, he was going to get it within that ball.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Brooklyn 109 FINAL
Boston 107
Cleveland 98 FINAL
Orlando 89
Indiana 109 FINAL
Detroit 119
Milwaukee 107 FINAL
Atlanta 77
Houston 117 FINAL
Memphis 111
San Antonio 90 FINAL
New Orleans 97
Charlotte 75 FINAL
Oklahoma City 98
LA Lakers 98 FINAL
Dallas 102
Minnesota 102 FINAL
Denver 106
Philadelphia 93 FINAL
Portland 114
Phoenix 115 FINAL
Sacramento 106
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
(15) Arizona State 1:10 PM
Duke
Miami-Florida 2:30 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close