Q & A With Cory McNeill
Cory McNeill joined the Virginia women’s basketball staff in May after spending four seasons at Georgetown University, including the Hoyas’ run to the 2011 NCAA Sweet Sixteen. A native of Baltimore, Md., and former player at Morgan State, McNeill recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com to answer questions about himself and the first few months on the job.
Question: What went into your decision-making process to coach at UVa?
McNeill: I liked that feeling of being at a university that had the same focus on academics as on athletics. I was very interested in the challenge of bringing Virginia back to the top of one of the toughest conferences in the country, the ACC. With the facilities and the community and the support that we have, this is a program that can compete for a national championship.
Question: What has your interaction been like with the team so far?
McNeill: The kids are great. They’re in the office everyday, which is a good thing. They’re very eager to learn right now and they’re excited. They ask a lot of questions, which they should, and it has been really fun being around them and getting to know their various personalities. Getting to know who they are and where they can help us next year.
Question: What would you say is your biggest strength as a coach?
McNeill: My biggest strength is that I’ve always been in love with being on the court. I love teaching the game and developing kids, but I also love to recruit. I try to have a happy balance between the two but if I had to choose it would be on the court because of the development process and watching a kid go from point A to point B. That’s the biggest thing that I love about coaching basketball, that teaching process on the court.
Question: What made you first want to get into coaching?
McNeill: I didn’t necessarily know coming out of college that I wanted to be a coach right away. I was a business major so I tried the field of banking and it just wasn’t for me. Eventually I got an opportunity to work at Coppin State on a part-time basis, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Being able to reach out and help players develop their games and develop them as human beings was something that was very attractive to me about the coaching profession.
Question: What are some of your interests outside of basketball?
McNeill: I’m very competitive. I love sports, period. I love to watch football. I love bowling. One of my favorite hobbies is Sudoku. I like numbers and I like figuring out puzzles.
Question: Georgetown had a meteoric rise during your four-year tenure, earning back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths for the first time in school history (2010-11). What were some of the things you learned during that time?
McNeill: When I got to Georgetown, there were 16 teams in the BIG EAST and we were picked to finish 15th. That’s a long way to the top, however, what we did initially was that we recruited kids that changed the culture. They were kids that were good enough and coachable and fit with the system.
Question: You were the defensive coordinator at Georgetown. What did that entail?
McNeill: Defense is key to me. I think defense is the backbone of any program. If you don’t defend, you don’t win. If you look at most of the teams that win championships or go deep into the tournament, all of them play solid defense. That’s what we instilled at Georgetown and that’s what I will help Coach Boyle instill here at Virginia.
Question: Talk about your first impressions of John Paul Jones Arena.
McNeill: This facility is amazing. Here at Virginia, we have our own practice gym, we’ve got a pro arena with a big scoreboard and suites. The biggest thing is that this arena sells itself because of the features that it has.
Question: What kind of student-athletes are you looking to recruit to Virginia?
McNeill: It’s interesting when you talk about Virginia being the No. 2 public school in the country, you definitely have to find kids that can fulfill their academic responsibilities as well as athletic. We always want to look for a kid that is well-rounded and that can perform on the court and in the classroom. There’s a balance that we’re looking for.
Question: What would be a piece of advice you would give to current players?
McNeill: I’ve always believed that in order to have big things happen, you have to take care of the little things. If you take pride in dominating the little things and those little assignments, you’ll get great results. For a student-athlete, I would tell not to jump to the big thing or try to skip to the end result because they need to go through the whole process.
Question: Talk about the caliber of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
McNeill: The ACC is a wonderful conference and one of the top three in the country. You can tell that by the fact that they send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament every year. The ACC is an offensive conference, where teams get up and down and score a lot of points. In order to succeed you’ve got to be able to run and compete at that level.
Question: Who has influenced your career the most?
McNeill: My family for one. My mother, father and brother have been my biggest supporters. It’s funny they always get so excited, wherever I am they jump on the bandwagon. I have to report to my father and tell him all about the recruiting trail. When I’m around my brother, he quizzes me on the team. And then my mom just says ‘always let them know that you care.’ So I have that balance and they are big supporters. One other person who was really important in my growth as a coach has been my former boss at Coppin State University, Derek Brown, he was a big mentor for me. He really taught me the ins and outs of the game in terms of x’s and o’s and how to get points across to your players and how to teach them and make them better.
Question: What has been your proudest athletic moment?
McNeill: My proudest basketball moment was last year when Georgetown made its run to the Sweet Sixteen. We had UConn on the ropes and a play here or there we may have been in the Elite Eight. That moment was big because to see how far we had come in four years was a tremendous accomplishment.