Last season, Will Neighbour established himself as one of the best shooting big men, in college basketball, despite playing the latter part of the season with a severe shoulder injury.
The apex of his season was when he was named the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week after leading his team, the University of Arkansas Little Rock Trojans (UALR), to consecutive victories in late December.
He tallied 18.3 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over three games to earn the award and connected on an impressive 45 per cent of his three point attempts, during the same time span.
That was a coming out party of sorts for the 6’10” forward from Grayshott, Hampshire. The following week UALR would play the No. 2 ranked team, Kentucky Wildcats, featuring Anthony Davis. The same team that would become national champions a few of months later.
The Trojans were favoured to lose and they did, however this would have been the perfect game for a player to make a national statement.
Sadly it wasn’t to be as Neighbour would miss the bout due to a right shoulder injury, suffered in the Trojan’s previous victory over Denver.
“I was ready to play that game against Kentucky the whole year and after the week I just had I felt my game was at its best so when my shoulder injury happened I was upset for a few days but started to look forward and try to get back on the court as soon as I could,” said Neighbour.
That injury would also cause him to pass up an opportunity to try out for Great Britain, as they prepared for the Olympics. Though he would only miss two games for UALR.
“[I] would have loved to play for them (Team GB) but this was the best decision. Playing on my injured shoulder any more would have been bad.”
After the Olympics, Team GB moved up 20 spots to be now ranked No. 23 in the world, which means there should be lots of opportunities for Neighbour or any other aspiring players to help qualify for the next Olympic Games in Rio, though playing in London was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
That wasn’t the first serious injury for Neighbour. He injured his left shoulder while playing for Daytona State College. This is a junior college where Neighbour spent a year getting his academics up to NCAA standard for division one basketball. The injury caused him to sit for a year after transferring to UALR.
This time he credited the Trojans athletic department for getting him back on the court sooner than expected and played with a shoulder brace.
“Anything extended over my head is pretty tough. I just try not to think about it when I’m out there,” Neighbour told Sun Belt Sports during the season. “I’m just trying to find more and more ways to play in the post. I just want to get my game back to where it was peaking.”
He played in that condition for the last 14 games and still managed to average 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds for the season. Good enough to net a place on the All Sun Belt Second team.
Back in April he told Hoopsfix.com that one of his goals was to “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.”
He can now tick that weight gain box but as for his NBA wish? Guys that play in the Sun Belt Conference are a long shot to make an NBA roster but Neighbour is a unique player.
Neighbour, who majors in criminal justice, started playing basketball as a guard but a late growth spurt saw him move to the front court, though he retained his guard skills.
There are not many 6’10” guys that play small forward in college basketball. As Dirk Nowitzki said on the Dan Patric radio show last year, had he gone to high school or college in America, he more than likely would have been converted to “a traditional back-to-the-basket player.”
Neighbour plays inside and out for UALR, whose most famous basketball alum is Derek Fisher.
If the Trojans can come together as a team, Neighbour thinks they can make the NCAA tournament though he admits they do still have work to do.
“Will is an outstanding young man,” said UALR assistant coach, Charles Cunningham. “He represents his family and country very well. Will is blessed with a lot of basketball ability and he loves the game. He is a very good player that’s getting better each day.”
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