Allison McNeill, head coach of the Canadian women’s basketball team that finished in the top eight at the 2012 London Olympics, and her husband Mike shared some of their expertise with a gym full of eager young players at a Friday camp at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary.
The night before, she delivered a keynote address at the school’s athletic banquet.
“I was trained as a teacher,” said McNeill, who spent four years in the classroom before embarking on a coaching career, first at universities then at the national level. “I’ve kind of done all levels. I’ve done a lot of basketball camps, and I’ve always coached the young kids. National team was full-time work, part-time pay, like a lot of jobs.”
Before her stint leading the national team, the Surrey resident had coached at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby and at the University of Oregon, where she was a starting guard in her playing days.
At the Olympics, she and Mike led the Canadian women to the quarter-finals where they lost to the eventual gold medal-winning Americans. It was the highest finish in 35 years for a Canadian women’s Olympic basketball team.
“A lot of people weren’t even expecting us to get to the Olympics,” McNeill said. “We actually qualified on Canada Day. And then we got the last possible berth to the Olympics.”
They did so by defeating Japan, which had twice beaten the Canadians the previous summer.
In December, after 11 years at the helm, McNeill retired from her national team head coaching duties. She and Mike now work at the grassroots level with aspiring young basketball players.
Mike, a former men’s team coach at SFU, was an assistant coach of the women’s team in London. His full-time job is director of coaching and development for Basketball B.C.
The couple conduct clinics throughout B.C. and parts of Western Canada. Come summer, Allison will speak at a clinic in Lithuania.
“Around the national team I’ve always been doing Steve Nash Youth Basketball, and coaching coaches and NCP (National Coaching Certification),” she said. “I’m blessed to be able to coach at all levels. I still love the developmental level — it might be my favourite.”
Here’s what Canada Basketball has to say: Allison McNeill is a Canadian icon, a treasure and a valued resource to the sport of basketball and the entire coaching community. She has dedicated over 30 years of her life to coaching female athletes in basketball and is recognized as an outstanding coach, teacher and friend by athletes and colleagues alike.
McNeill earned the 2011 Geoff Gowan Award, a lifetime achievement recognition for coaching development.
“If we don’t get our coaching better, then our sports aren’t going to get better,” she said. “We have athletes in this country. We’re not hurting for athletes. Look at hockey. If we don’t have good coaching at the youth levels especially, then it’s pretty hard to get players to the international level.
“But I’m not only interested in the international level, I’m just interested in the kids having a good youth sport experience.”