As Joye Lee-McNelis enters her 10th season as head coach of Southern Mississippi's women's basketball program, she reflects on the impact she has had on her Alma Mater.
Lee-McNelis, who played basketball at Southern Miss from 1980-84, believes this experience has allowed her to better connect with her players.
"Getting the opportunity to come back home to coach where I played gives me the opportunity to now connect our players with some of the people that impacted my life," Lee-McNelis said in a recent interview. "Southern Miss is very special. I think it's a hidden gem."
Southern Miss has a high graduation rate for its student-athletes and Lee-McNelis is very proud of her contributions in this area.
"One of the things our staff does is divide our players into small groups. They then meet with our staff each week to make sure they're on top of their classes," said Lee-McNelis. "We're really committed to the opportunity for them to take advantage of getting that college degree."
Lee-McNelis, as the first college graduate in her family, is grateful for the opportunity to instill this value of a college education in her players. Along with emphasizing the importance of education, Lee-McNelis also stresses her players' involvement in the community.
"As a team, we are very involved in the community with United Way, Habitat for Humanity and our children's center," explained Lee-McNelis. "All of those things are important in helping our players understand how they are giving back to their community."
Lee-McNelis is very involved in the growth of her players on the court, but especially off the court as well. She currently employs a three-part philosophy to ensure her players get the most out of their years at Southern Miss.
"My philosophy is every young lady that comes in our program grows and matures as a person," said Lee-McNelis. "I want them to understand that every decision made off the basketball court is made through the eyes of a mother. Every decision made on the court is through the eyes of a coach. This helps them grow and develop a trust with our staff."
Lee-McNelis continued to explain the additional parts of her mother-like coaching philosophy.
"The second part of my philosophy deals with the classroom. When I talk to any potential recruits, I make it clear that I'm the most strict on going to class," said Lee-McNelis. "That's where tough love comes into play to help them understand the importance of education. If you don't go to class, there will be punishments."
"Some of those punishments include suspension of games, cleaning toilets in the school of business and even making a player run with books her backpack from the class she missed."
The final aspect of Lee-McNelis' philosophy involves chasing your dreams.
"Talk is cheap. If you want to achieve your dreams, you have to be prepared to put in the work every single day," said Lee-McNelis. "I think our staff does a good job of putting our players in positions to understand that, and we really don't sugar-coat anything."
Looking ahead to this upcoming season, the Golden Eagles are optimistic and look to bounce back from three straight seasons of injuries.
"The last three years we've been snake-bitten by injury. We feel that we're due for something good to happen this year," said Lee-McNelis. "We have nine new players from different parts of the country and we have to work very hard as a staff to prepare them to understand each other and accept those different cultures."
With a relatively young roster this season, Lee-McNelis will turn to her veteran backcourt to lead the team.
"Our strength this season is going to be our perimeter. Jamierra Faulkner is one of the best point guards in the country," raved Lee-McNelis. "Her leadership on the court is critical for our success. She is definitely the cornerstone of this team."
"Jerontay Clemons is another leader on this team. She made the All-Freshman team last year in Conference USA. She's a budding star that has a chance to be very special before her career here is over," explained Lee-McNelis. "With so many new faces this season, her and Jamierra will lead our team."
Lee-McNelis is excited about the growing fan and community support behind the Southern Miss program. She especially harped on the benefits of playing at home in recent years.
"Anytime you get the opportunity to play at home, it's a huge advantage because you don't have to change your daily routine," said Lee-McNelis. "The fans are a huge part of our success at home, but also just being able to sleep in our own beds and eat the same pregame meals pays big dividends to finding success at home."
The Lady Golden Eagles officially tips off the 2013-14 season with a game vs. West Alabama on November 8 at 11 a.m. CT.
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