Dream becomes a reality

She might only be a junior in high school, but Heidi McNeill’s collegiate basketball future is already set.

The 6-foot-3-inch Oak Harbor post recently made an oral commitment to play basketball for June Daugherty and the University of Washington, starting in the fall of 2005.

“I’m a home town kid, so I wanted to stay as close as I could and they have a great program,” McNeill said.

From the time already spent with her future teammates and coaches, McNeill, a lifetime Husky fan, couldn’t be happier with her decision.

“All the players and coaches are really nice, they just treat you like family,” she said.

Although she ultimately chose to play college basketball two hours from home, McNeill’s options certainly weren’t limited. Almost every day Oak Harbor coach Brett McLeod received a piece of mail or a phone call from universities around the nation. Nationally recognized programs the likes of South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, Kansas State and Boston College were on the waiting list.

“It was pretty overwhelming,” McNeill said.

Though flattering, both coach and athlete are happy to have the decision put to rest.

“I think getting that out of the way kind of clears up her mind so she can just enjoy her last two years of high school,” McLeod said.

So how does a player that’s not yet started her junior season draw so much attention?

The answer is simple. In just her first two years McNeill led her team in scoring, rebounds, blocks and was an integral part in the Oak Harbor girls basketball program advancing to their only two state tournament appearances in school history. She averaged just under 18 points and nine rebounds a game in 2002.

“She’s got great athleticism that college coaches like and she’s still got the room for potential,” McLeod said.

To go along with numerous post moves, the primarily right-handed player made her offensive game that much more lethal, shifting a heavy focus to her left hand during her freshman year. If the shot’s on, her signature left-handed sweeping hook is almost impossible for opponents to contain.

“I’ve worked a lot with my left hand,” she said.

Not only can she score inside, but McNeill proved she had one more weapon hidden in her arsenal at the last half of 2002-03. She was able to nail three three-pointers, showing her opponents an unexpected soft touch from outside.

“There will be a little bit more outside shooting this season, hopefully,” she said with a gleam in her eye.

McLeod wants to make it clear it’s not only her athletic ability that makes McNeill so special.

“She’s really coachable,” he said. “She wants to get better, but she doesn’t see herself as ‘ah I’ve arrived, I’ve got my college stuff taken care of.’ She still works hard in drills and wants to be a leader.”

The Wildcats tip off their campaign for a third straight trip to the state tournament at 7:30 p.m., tonight, Dec. 3 at Bellingham. Oak Harbor plays their first home game at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5 against Anacortes.

The road to Tacoma won’t be easy, as only two WesCo teams can qualify, opposed to last year’s three.

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