East Carolina University introduced its 10th head women’s basketball coach in program history, welcoming Kim McNeill at a press conference Friday afternoon. Below are comments from ECU Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert and Coach McNeill, along with selected responses to questions from the media.
ECU Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert Opening Statement
“Thank you all for being here today. Before we get started, there’s a special group of people here that I’d like to recognize. Our current members of our women’s basketball team, will you join me in recognizing them.
There are many people here today that I’d like to thank. The first individual I’d like to thank is Nicole Mealing. Nicole was very instrumental throughout this year. She took over a program at a time where we were not very stable. The job she did with her, and her staff was very admirable. I’m very thankful for Nicole and the mark that she left on this program and how she guided this program throughout the season.
Several other people that I would like to thank. Caroline Bevillard, our SWA. Stephanie Coleman, our CFO. Rosie Thompson. Rosie, I want to publicly thank you once again. Rosie has answered the bell for East Carolina as a student-athlete, she’s answered the bell as an administrator, she’s answered the bell as a coach. I asked Rosie a couple of months ago to come in and fill in for us as an administrator once again. I told her it was on a full-time temporary basis and she told me she wanted a specific end date. So, throughout the recruitment process I asked Rosie to come in and visit with Kim (McNeill). Rosie I can’t thank you enough, you continue to answer the bell for us.
JJ McLamb, Ryan Robinson, our legal counsel Paul Ziegis, Parker Overton, Jim Seagrave. Parker, thank you for what you and Mickey do for our athletic department and the investment you continue to make. I’m very thankful for the two of you from a personal standpoint, but I’m also thankful that we have people like you that invest in our athletic department in a meaningful way.
This is a monumental day for the women’s basketball program of East Carolina. When we started looking for a coach, we wanted someone that had the qualities of a strong recruiter, a great communicator, someone with the passion and drive that could succeed at a high level. Someone that would engage this community. We found that in Kim McNeill. She has the pedigree. She’s recruited in our footprint. I talked to multiple coaches in this recruiting process. Head coaches and personalities in the women’s basketball community, national people, and I kept hearing about Kim McNeill. Andy Landers told me about her in a very meaningful way. He talked about her passion, her commitment and how she wants to win at a very high level. Kim inherited a team at the University of Hartford when she walked in the door, they had not had a winning season in three years. They’ve had three winning seasons; they’ve played in the America East Championship the past two years. This past season, they had 20 plus wins. One of the things that struck me yesterday that made me realize I had the right person was that when I talked to Kim yesterday afternoon, she talked extensively about her conversations with her players and how emotional they were that she was departed. It told me that we had the right person at the helm. Because of the way that she spoke of the family atmosphere and how she cares about her student-athletes. What also stood out in the interview process was the role that academics will play. How important that is to her to obtain a degree. She is going to promote a family atmosphere. Her family, which is here today so thank you all for being here and being a part of this. It is going to be a special family atmosphere that will benefit our student-athletes and our women’s basketball program. It brings me great joy to welcome the tenth head coach in the history of East Carolina athletics, Kim McNeill.”
Opening statement from head coach Kim McNeill
“Thank you everyone for being here today and taking time out of your busy schedules to come here and support, first and foremost, the young ladies here to my left. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
This is a very special day for me and very emotional as well. I’ve been very emotional all week. First and foremost, I’d like to thank my family that’s here with me, and I have to talk about them because I have an unbelievable family. I have a huge support from them. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible.
I’m going to start with my cousin, Debbie, who I look up to as my big sister. She used to keep me when I was little and when I would not listen or behave, she would pluck me on my head. That’s what she’s known for, keeping me in line so I would like to say thank you for taking your time to be here as well as her husband Lewis.
My mother, Juanita, who has been my rock and has never forced me to do anything but has always given me that foundation to be successful. She has shown me what it means to be a mother and to be a good wife, so I’d like to say thank you to my mom for that.
Then I have my daughter Gabrielle. Gabby, we call her. She’s very special. Gabby is very unique in her own way, She loves to draw, she loves to color, she’s a designer, she loves to sing and dance. She plays basketball every now and then, but she’s more our girly girl. And then my son, Cayden. Coach Dooley, Coach Godwin, Coach Houston, I don’t know which one is going to get him but depending on the season he’s into basketball or football or baseball. Right now, he’s more excited about going out and seeing the football team practice than sitting in here.
Then to my husband, Cory. This guy right here, he’s an unbelievable father first and foremost. My kids adore him. He’s an unbelievable husband and an unbelievable coach. He’s a student of the game. He’s a junkie as I like to call it. He watches pro-am games, he’s watching the NBA, the WNBA, he’s constantly learning. He’s just a junkie and a student of the game. Without him, a lot of the success we had at Hartford wouldn’t be possible. It would be selfish if I sat up here and tried to take all the credit for what we did in the three years. We had an unbelievable staff and I had an unbelievable right-hand man, so I’d just like to say thank you Cory.
Some family members that couldn’t be here today. I had two older brothers that got me started in basketball in our backyard. They were all six years apart. My dad had set us up with a pretty good backyard and a breakaway basketball rim. Every evening after school all of their friends would come and I would run out there as a five or six-year old, crying because they wouldn’t let me play and then my mom would stomp out there and say if she can’t play, nobody can play. So that’s where I got started and eventually, they wanted me to be on their team because my jumper got pretty good. So, I credit my brothers for where I am today because they got me started.
To my dad, who I lost back in 2002 to diabetes. I know you’re looking down on me today Dad and I know you’re extremely proud of me. Every day I think of you and wish you were here, but I know you’re proud of me and I’m doing this for you.
Thank you, Jon, for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to be the leader of the program. Not only to be a coach to these young ladies, but to be a role model, to be a mentor, to be an example to them and I look forward to this journey. Thank you to your staff. As soon as I walked on campus, I knew this was a place I wanted to be. Talking to Jon on the phone and just listening to his passion for this athletic program and his vision, his drive, I knew that these characteristics fit what I was looking for and they fit me. Then when I got here and met Caroline and all of the other guys and saw their passion and their belief in Jon and his vision, I knew that I wanted to be a part of Pirate Nation.
Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with a lot of great mentors in my life. I still have them in my life today. I’d like to give credit to Andy Landers, a Hall-of-Famer from the University of Georgia that really molded me and taught me what it looked like and what it meant to be a head coach. There were times when I walked into his office with problems and he would send me out until I had the solution. I didn’t understand at the time that he was molding me to be a head coach. I’d just like to say thank you to him for not only being a great mentor but being a great friend and someone, I can lean on and still talk to today.
To Kenny Brooks, head coach at Virginia Tech. We started together at James Madison, kind of got thrown out there together. Both of us were young and wet behind the ears, he just have me a chance to learn and grow. His career has been unbelievable at James Madison and now he’s at Virginia Tech, so I’d like to thank him for mentoring me over the years.
To Joanne Boyle at the University of Virginia. I was with Joanne at three different places. At the University of Richmond, then we went out to Cal Berkeley and then got back with her at Virginia. She’s just a wonderful woman. Very dedicated. I’d just like to say thank you for all of the opportunities she gave me.
To many assistants that I’ve been able to work with. From La’Keshia Frett to Cam Newbauer to Jen Hoover to, Lindsey Gottlieb, Sarah Holsinger, and many more that played a vital part in who I am as a coach.
Before I can move on in this journey I’m about to approach, I need to say thank you to Hawk Nation. I have to say thank you to Anton Dolf. To President Walter Garrison who believed in me and gave me my first opportunity to be a head coach. To Holly Strauss Brown, who was not only my SWA, but became an incredible friend to me and is someone I can always depend on and I still do today. To my current AD, Mary Ellen Gillespie for continuing to believe in my vision. And to Craig Sandlin who was my SWA and was there for me as well. To Tommy and Sue Rich for their investment in our women’s basketball program at Hartford. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of the things that we did.
To all of the loyal fans that continue to support the Hartford women’s basketball team during the change. And to my players from the University of Hartford. I know yesterday was a very emotional day and I would just like to say thank you for the instant buy-in they gave us. For three years, they immediately bought in to the change and to the process. Just so they know that without them, none of this would be possible. When we got there, they’d only won 11 games, we went from 17 to 19 to 23 wins and played in two conference championship games, wrote a new record book and took Hartford basketball to the top of the America East. But more importantly, we developed relationships for life. I want them to know that just because I’m not there every day, I will always be there for them.
Now, for my new family, Pirate Nation. I am honored to be the next coach of East Carolina women’s basketball. Our goal here will be to create a positive student-athlete experience that will be built around family. We want to develop young women that have great character, that compete in both the classroom and on the court. I’m going to challenge these young ladies every day to be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be. They will represent themselves, their families and this university in a first-class manner. And we will be very visible in the community.
I have built programs on three things, family, academics and basketball. Family is extremely important to me. I want young ladies to know that their relationships will be built, and we will know each other as people first and basketball players second. Understanding that every day won’t be peaches and cream, but there will be far more good days than bad. On those bad days, you will have your family here to support you. I want my student-athletes to have options once they graduate from East Carolina. Being successful in the classroom and getting a degree will be my top priority. We will play an up-tempo style, an exciting brand of basketball. We will have an identity and understand who we are and how we will win games and that’s on the defensive end of the floor. A variety of presses, half-court defenses and an up-tempo style of offense will make us very, very fun to watch. We will be a blue-collar team that will not be outworked.
Hard work and leadership is contagious, and it starts from the top. My staff and I will bring an infectious work ethic that will resonant throughout our players. I’m a firm believer that your team takes on the personality of your head coach. I want you all to understand that this is going to be a process and changing the culture doesn’t happen overnight. But understand that the foundation will be set from day one. I look forward to getting out into the community and building relationships. Pirate Nation you will be a big part of our success and we need you out.”
On what made ECU allowed her to leave Hartford:
“There are key things that I was looking for. First and foremost, the family atmosphere. The passion, the drive to take this women’s basketball program to the next level. Like I said, from the first conversation I had with Jon, I knew that he was going to be behind me to do what we need to do to get this program to where it needs to be. I’m from the state of Virginia and so it brings me back a little closer to home. I feel like I’ve had my best days here in this region, recruiting Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina so I’m comfortable with this area and recruiting.
Then, just the area. I’ve been in college towns. I’ve been in Athens, Georgia. I’ve been in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ve been in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I know how good it feels to have the community behind you and what you can do when you have that support. So, I’m looking forward to being back to that.”
“Recruiting never stops. We’ve got some kids that we’re looking at that could possibly be freshmen coming in, some grad transfers, some transfers. We definitely want to continue to recruit. We’ve got some scholarships to work with. I’m excited because my phone, ever since this announcement was made yesterday, I’ve had AAU, high school coaches, players all contacting me. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing yet. So that makes me really excited about the direction it can go in.”
On looking for to fill out the staff:
“I’ll have sit down meetings with them (previous ECU staff). But I have an unbelievable staff that we have developed a trust and a loyalty and a belief in our system. That’s really big to me. I want to surround myself with people that care about these student-athletes as much as I do because that’s a big part of who I am. I really like my staff and so we’re going to sit down and talk here in the next couple of days.”
On how to bring consistency at the leadership level:
“It all starts with trust. I understand that when newness comes in, it takes time. But I also go back, and you will hear me say this all the time, to family. Family and relationships. We’ve already talked about knowing each other as people first and the basketball will come second. I want to get to know them and they get to know me and understand who I am and what I represent and what’s most important. Once you get those relationships, the trust will come, and they’ll run through a wall for us. I think they’re hungry for leadership and some discipline and I’m excited for it.”
On why this was the right time to move:
“I don’t know if you can ever say it was the right time. I wasn’t going to leave Hartford for just anything. I had to have what I was looking for and East Carolina had everything I was looking for. It wasn’t easy to leave. We were building something special there, but I also feel we can build something very, very special here as well.”
On what she knew about the American conference:
“Obviously UConn was in my backyard at Hartford so obviously I knew a lot about them. Who doesn’t know a lot about them? But I know Central Florida’s Katie Abrahamson used to be in the America East, she left as I was coming. I know a lot about her. I know there’s a lot of coaching changes so there are some young coaches in the league. I do know that it’s a league that we can move up in. But I told the young ladies, that won’t be our focus right away. We aren’t going to talk about where we’re going to finish in the league. We aren’t going to talk about winning championships. What we are going to talk about is getting a little bit better every day and that will be our focus. Get a little bit better as individuals and a little bit better as a team and then that will move us in the right direction.”