South Surrey resident and former Canadian national women’s team coach Allison McNeill works with Semiahmoo Totems’ Deja Lee at a morning practice last week. Below

South Surrey resident and former Canadian national women’s team coach Allison McNeill works with Semiahmoo Totems’ Deja Lee at a morning practice last week. Below

Hall-of-fame hoops coach ‘just wants to help’

Allison McNeill helping guide Semiahmoo Totems Grade 8 girls basketball team to undefeated season.

To hear Allison McNeill tell it, she is simply helping out where she can at Semiahmoo Secondary, giving a pointer or two to a Grade 8 girls basketball team already loaded with young talent.

But talk about the legendary hoops figure – longtime bench boss of the Canadian women’s team and a member of both the Simon Fraser University and B.C. sports halls of fame – with her co-coach at Semiahmoo, Lori Pajic, and the truth comes out.

“She’s pretty humble, so if she’s playing it down, she definitely has more of an impact than she says she has,” Pajic told Peace Arch News last week, moments after an early-morning shoot-around ended and students scurried off to class.

“It’s a pretty nice addition… needless to say, we’re pretty lucky to have someone of her calibre working with our girls here at Semi, let alone our Grade 8 girls – the beginning development level.”

McNeill, a 57-year-old South Surrey resident, has a coaching resumé as impressive as any in the province. She began coaching high-school basketball – from Revelstoke to Langley’s W.J Mouat and Seaquam secondaries – before moving to the university ranks. She was the head coach of SFU’s women’s team for 13 years, while also coaching Team Canada to a number of world championship and Olympic appearances, the most recent being the 2012 Summer Games in London, after which she retired.

Throw in a stint as an assistant coach with the NCAA’s University of Oregon Ducks, and there’s few basketball courts she hasn’t seen since beginning her career in the early 1980s.

And now here she is, at a South Surrey high school at 8 a.m. on a Friday, teaching a handful of girls the fundamentals of the game.

“When I left Oregon (in 2005) and then left the national team, I did really want to get back into youth basketball,” McNeill explained.

“I just want to help, and I like coming here in the morning because it’s early and I’m going to the gym anyway.”

She’s also quick to admit that many of her young charges “have stolen my heart.”

Despite being retired, the longtime coach has never quite left the game. In the late-2000s, McNeill said she would periodically lend a hand with Elgin Park’s senior girls hoops team, which was then coached by Stu Graham, a friend of McNeill’s. She has coached in a part-time capacity with Basketball BC and a few Lower Mainland club teams, including the Vancouver Sports Club, where a number of current Grade 8 Totems also play.

“That was one of the draws to coming out – I’ve known some of these kids a long time. I just thought it would be fun to get involved, and now I’ve gotten to know the other kids, too, and I love them. It’s been great.”

McNeill has stayed involved in the game in other ways, too, and in recent years has travelled across the globe – from Spain to Lithuania  – to speak at coaching seminars. She left last Saturday for Japan, where she was slated to speak at another basketball workshop.

“I’ve never completely left it. That’s gotta happen at some point, I guess, but not yet,” she laughed.

Though she has chosen to slow the pace of her career down in recent years, McNeill said she looks back fondly at her time with both Team Canada and her university squads.

“Coaching the national team was an all-encompassing job. You become obsessed with it – you have to be. And I miss it – I miss the excitement of it. But I was ready to do something else,” she said.

“I was with the national-team program for 16 years… it was time for someone else to have the opportunity.”

Since 2012, McNeill said she has had to tailor her coaching style to better suit younger players, but relatively speaking, says sees the same amount of passion for the game in youth players as she did with players at much higher levels.

“I loved coaching the national team – those women are so driven, so hard-working – but I love this too because these girls are also really driven, they’re just younger,” she said.

“I was probably more of a yeller when I was younger, but I’ve grown to where I’m more of a teacher now. My dad made a comment to me one time that young kids haven’t built up their armour yet, so you don’t want to be too harsh with them.

“As they get older and stronger, then you can be a little tougher on them. But I think both Lori and I have a good balance of being able to push them but also encourage them.”

That strategy certainly seems to have worked with the Totems this year. With playoffs expecting to begin this week, the Grade 8 squad remains undefeated, and the margins of victory have routinely been of the double-digit variety.

And true to form, McNeill lays most of the credit at the feet of Pajic, the players and their parents.

“I’m the beneficiary of their hard work,” she said.

Pajic, however, knows how much McNeill has meant to her players’ development this season.

“Allison’s really good at teaching the fine, technical features of the game – the little things that, a lot of the time, people don’t notice,” she said.

“Those are the things that really translate into the success they’ve had as a team… I hope our girls realize how lucky they are to have someone like Allison coaching them.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tanvi Pandhi, a Grade 12 student at Fleetwood Park Secondary, took part in the Surrey school district’s survey of students in grades 10 to 12, with a focus on health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey students voice concerns about mask wearing, distancing in schools

Surrey school district has been surveying students in grades 10 to 12

Cambridge Elementary School music teacher Darlene Lourenco is “on the mend” after contracting COVID-19. She had a two-week stay at Surrey Memorial Hospital, including in the ICU. (Photo: submitted)
Surrey music teacher at home after two-week hospital stay battling COVID-19

Meantime, Surrey Teachers’ Association sends letter with safety demands to board of education

The Peninsula Community Foundation is set to host an online poker fundraiser on Dec. 11. (Unsplash photo)
Peninsula Community Foundation plans online poker tournament for charity

December fundraiser to feature pair of Surrey/White Rock poker pros

Lacey, a palomino paint, is in “amazing” shape now, compared to when she was rescued in August 2015. (Leanne Peniuk photo)
BC SPCA’s horse-rescue program offers equine intervention

Book Rescue Me raises funds, awareness for animal-welfare agency

Hugh Dobbie’s South Surrey-based tech business Yare Media was recently acquired by California’s Visaic Inc. (SFU photo)
South Surrey tech company acquired by California business

Hugh Dobbie founded Yare Media in 2016, and ‘will remain involved’

An animated Gordie Hogg introduces his 'Community Connections' videos. (YouTube screenshot)
Community Connections: Gordie Hogg speaks with Kathy McIntyre

Former mayor, MP began posting conversations on YouTube in June

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read