Contributors, Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Sean McNeil reflects on decision to leave Bellarmine

By his own admission, Sean McNeil had this game against Bellarmine circled for quite some time on his calendar.

By the end of West Virginia’s 74-55 victory Tuesday, McNeil was in the back of the handshake line waiting to give out a few well-wishes to some familiar faces who were there at the beginning of McNeil’s college career.

“I still keep in contact with most of those guys,” he said. “I was definitely ready for this one. I wanted this one.”

His 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting went a long way in the Mountaineers’ victory, but that, as they say, is the now.

You’ve got to flash back to 2017 to get to the core of why McNeil wanted to play so well against the Knights.

He was a Kentucky kid back then, having led his high school to a runner-up finish in the state tournament, yet the interest shown in McNeil from Division I schools simply wasn’t there.

“I had two offers,” McNeil said Tuesday. “They were both Division II schools.”

One of those was Bellarmine, a Division II power back in those days, but now in its second season in Division I playing in the ASUN Conference.

The small school out of Louisville, coached then and now by Scott Davenport, had seen McNeil slip through the recruiting cracks and put as much of a full-court press on him that a Division II school with limited resources could.

“He spent a lot of time recruiting me,” McNeil said.

And, as McNeil’s story goes, he got to Bellarmine for orientation week in the fall as a young man with a chip on his shoulder, believing he was destined to be better than a Division II athlete.

Before the first week of classes were completed, McNeil was out of there.

“There were a few things going on, some personal stuff,” McNeil said. “I just felt like I wasn’t really ready. I went home for a year.”

Very few close to McNeil at the time was happy with that decision.

“My mom and dad weren’t very pleased with me when I decided to leave within 48 hours,” he said. “I joke with them now that I knew it was going to play out like this.”

Davenport, a coach well respected amongst his peers, including WVU head coach Bob Huggins, and a coach who won a Division II national championship in 2011, could also be counted as one on the not-pleased list.

“Those conversations I had with coach Davenport when I decided to leave, he obviously wasn’t happy,” McNeil said.

Any coach wouldn’t be happy. I decided to leave and conversations were had in his office that I definitely remembered going into tonight.”

If one’s story is written through the decisions they make, that moment in Davenport’s office was maybe its own chapter in McNeil’s story.

Very few agreed with him walking off the Knights’ campus that day.

Had McNeil stayed, who knows how much different his life would have been now?

“You always look back and remember where you came from,” he said. “It’s a credit to them for how far the program has come in moving up to Division I last year. That’s a credit to Scotty and his record there and how much he wins. But, yeah, I think about how much it could have been different.”

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