Jamie McNeilly has a Golden Summer

Coaching at the collegiate level is a year-round, full-time job. Long hours of hard work, both on the court and in planning meetings, countless days on the road recruiting. So why would Jamie McNeilly want to add to this workload during the summer?

“By far, the most important thing to me is the chance to represent my country,” McNeilly said. “I know that is a very unique and limited opportunity. Every summer that I get a chance to do that, I’m jumping on the opportunity.

“Obviously, Coach Buzz has been extremely gracious in giving me that time to do that. It’s not even close. Being able to represent your country on an international stage is, by far, the most fulfilling part of this. And also getting to know these young kids. They’re awesome kids. Great young men who are eager to go through the things I went through with the national team. Being able to share and help them grow has been extremely fulfilling.”

McNeilly, a Canadian from Toronto, has been involved in his country’s developmental program for years, first as a player and now as a coach. He has a passion to give back to basketball in his native country.

“I played for the national team twice, both times with the University team,” McNeilly continued. “That’s a team that plays in the World University Games. Once in Turkey and once in Thailand. In Thailand, we won the bronze medal. I kind of got introduced through that. The head coach of the U19 team, Roy Rana, and I had a long-time relationship, going back to when I played in high school. He actually coached me on a Toronto All-Star team. When he had the opportunity to coach under-age teams, he reached out to me and from there, I quickly joined the staff and have been with him since.”

McNeilly sees great benefits in coaching in the Canadian system and now has a gold medal to go along with the experience. In July, the Canadian team won the gold medal in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup in Cairo, Egypt. The Canadian team defeated the favored US team, 99-87, in the semifinals and captured the title with a 79-60 victory against Italy in the finals.

The experience of coaching in the Canadian system is beneficial in many ways and McNeilly sees it as a two-way street. He believes that while the experience and wisdom he takes from Virginia Tech and Buzz Williams is a true help to Canada, the same can be said for the knowledge he returns to Blacksburg.

“I think it kind of goes both ways. Coach Buzz gives me a lot of freedom here. And that freedom, when I get with the national team, I can share a lot of things first hand. It’s not ‘I see Coach Buzz do this and you should do this,’ it’s ‘I get to do this every day and I can do this for our program.’ And the same is true with the national team. There are things we do there, in our approach and philosophy, that is extremely different. Every summer I come back and say ‘Hey, Coach Buzz, how about this. This is what we do with the national team and this might be worth trying.’

“For the most part, our (Virginia Tech’s) philosophy and Coach Buzz’s philosophy is not going to change. We’re going to be who we are, but there are going to be things that we are going to continue to grow. There are little things that we do with the national team, that I come back and try and implement here and there with our team. So it kind of works both ways. Being with both teams helps each other grow.”

And while McNeilly is exposed to the finest young players in the Canadian system, and was obviously very involved in the recruiting on Nickeil Alexander-Walker, don’t expect there to be a wave of Canadian players on the Virginia Tech roster. He knows what an where the priorities are.

“Coach Buzz will let you know, we have to recruit our backyard better than anyone. That’s really important. Being from Canada and with Canada, for the most part, booming in basketball, it does help. But I don’t foresee a Virginia Tech roster having five Canadians. It’s awesome I get to go recruit Toronto, the places that I got to play high school ball and grow up. That is cool and I will continue to recruit Canada, but it’s nothing we’re going to heavily rely on.”

Experiencing new cultures has been a great benefit both personally and professionally. During his time as a player and coach in the Canadian system, McNeilly has traveled the world. Africa, Europe, South America, Asia are just a few places he has had the opportunity to visit. For a man that has always been so eager to learn, these travels have been tremendous.

This year’s trip to Cairo was a great eye-opener for McNeilly. The change in cultures, added to the challenges to international travel these days and having to quickly prepare to win a tournament, made this a truly unique experience.

“There were a lot of safety concerns that was unique to this trip. To be honest, when we landed in Cairo, that kind of all went out the window for the players and the coaching staff. It’s a big city. It’s a city that looks like any other city. And when you’re landing in that plane, it just looks like every other city. You go over there and its business. You’re doing a lot of scouting reports, a lot of prep work. There’s very little time, but it was very unique. It was very hot, as well. It was hot all the time.

“Cairo is 20-plus million people; it’s a BIG city. This was the first time being in an environment like that. We took our kids to see the pyramids, I rode a camel! I really got to experience it first-hand. That was awesome. A lot of our players were very hesitant to ride a camel. I was one of the first ones to run and hop on one. They saw me have the time of my life and, before you know it, I look back and the whole team was on camels.”

His own experience with international travel and competition is of great benefit to these young men, who are still just teenagers. An experienced voice in a short-term, high-exposure situation is needed and welcomed.

“For the most part, you get the kids for a couple of weeks at most, before a tournament. You’re not really developing them at all. It’s all just prep. ‘This is what you’re going to expect. Some of you guys are going to get sick, some of you guys are going to be jetlagged longer than others.’ Just things that they have no idea. Most of it is just prepping them for that and trying to apply as much basketball as possible into that little time. For the most part, they are who they are when you get them and you try to refine them and teach them the little things about international basketball, because it is very different.”

Looking to the future, McNeilly doesn’t know what to expect. Would he like to advance in the system? Will duties here at Virginia Tech limit these opportunities? How will fatherhood effect these opportunities? He makes these points very clear.

“I want to stay at Tech as long as possible and I want to stay with Coach Buzz as long as possible and I want to continue to do the national team and rise in those ranks as long as possible, as well. Every year, a lot of things change dramatically and you have to adapt. Hopefully, I’m doing it for a long time.

“If the opportunity (Being a head coach in the Canadian system) presents itself and it works out, absolutely. Representing my country is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my entire life, as a player and as a coach. Every year is unique. Every season is unique and every off-season is unique and I have to attack every off-season like it’s my first time going to do the national team. Different challenges present itself every year. At the end of the season, I usually sit down with Coach Buzz and say ‘Here’s what I’ve thinking, here are the dates, this is where the tournament is going to be. What do you think is best?’ Coach Buzz has been unbelievably gracious to allow me to represent my country. It’s hard to look down the road. It’s hard to say I’m going to be doing this.”

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