Words by Luke Hatfield | @Luke_Hatfield
At 6’ 3’’, a 15 year old Will Neighbour, in his final year at Bohunt School was always a decent basketball player, but nobody really considered him to be a legitimate prospect; after all, how many just-above-six-foot guards are there in the UK? But in just 12 months, Neighbour had a growth spurt, pushing him to 6’10’’, and suddenly everything began to fall into place.
“I got really lucky; both my parents aren’t that tall, so growing up I was always a guard,” Neighbour revealed to Hoopsfix. “I learnt that part of the game through, but when I began to grow so tall, I saw myself as a forward or centre. All I had to do then is work a bit on my post moves.”
Working with the legendary Jimmie Guymon, Neighbour practised daily on his game, and it wasn’t long before it paid off. He became a key part of Southampton Solent’s set-up, and as his potential grew, so did his options. National team appearances ensued, playing for England (leading the Under-18s in scoring) and Great Britain at a junior level, along with a move to the US to play for Central Park Christian High School.
“It wasn’t an easy transition for me by any means, moving to the US.” Neighbour explained. “I always miss being away from all my friends and family, it’s always going to be hard, but it was my dream to get over to the USA and play, and I was willing to do anything to make it happen.”
After leading Central Park Christian to the National Christian Education Basketball Tournament championship with an undefeated 25-0 record whilst averaging 21 points per game, the ever improving big man started to get looks from colleges.
“Winning the National Championship at High School was one of the highlights of my basketball career so far, that, as well as playing for my country,” Neighbour beamed. “But I always wanted to get further.”
The Solent product committed to NCAA Division 1 school University of Arkansas Little Rock (UALR), however, he became another player out of the UK to fall victim to the NCAA’s strict eligibility rules, forcing him to move to Daytona State College for a year.
He continued his great form; averaging 15 Points and 6 rebounds a game at JUCO, and being runner up for the conference Player of the Year award.
Having got his academics in order, and a summer with the GB U23s under his belt, Neighbour was now ready for the jump to D1. He stayed loyal to the original programme that had showed interest in him, and signed with UALR.
The coaches immediately fell in love with Neighbour, commending his great attitude, coachability and his inside-out game. He hasn’t disappointed, securing a starting spot and averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game with the Trojans thus far, including dropping a career high 22 on Middle Tennessee the week before last (and following that up with 21 against Florida International).
The knock on the 1990 born prospect has always been his slight frame, something he knows he needs to address to if he wants to reach the next level.
“All I need to do now, is work on my weight, so I can get stronger in the post, do a little more work on my inside game and work as hard as I can, then I might have a shot, to go to the NBA, if not that then Europe to try and play for as long as I can.”
Another potential obstacle for Neighbour’s professional hopes is injury, something he hasn’t been able to escape so far. During his time at Daytona State, Neighbour separated his left shoulder and tore his labrum during practice, which required surgery. Then, during a game against Denver with UALR, Neighbour separated his right shoulder, which saw him miss a number of games.
“The injury to my left shoulder was the worst one I’ve ever had, but after speaking to my coaches and physiotherapists I knew I could get over it. All I had to do was keep a positive attitude and fight through it, which I did. I’m just working hard now on getting my other shoulder strong by playing as much as possible.”
The Trojans stand 2nd in the Sun Belt Conference with 14-15 record overall and Will is hoping for a strong end to the season, so he can get a chance to shine in the NCAA Tournament in March.
“I know that if we keep working hard and play as hard as we can every day, we can win the Sun Belt and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.”
If all goes to plan, it won’t be too long before we see Will in the professional leagues rather than on the college courts.
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