Ball is Life

ECU's women's basketball team unites in a huddle.

What can help a team improve its chemistry throughout the course of a season perhaps years on down the road? The answer to that is creating a family type bond. The East Carolina University women’s basketball team has had a unique opportunity to create that type of environment, thanks to head coach Kim McNeill.

McNeill is entering her second head coaching tenure after leading the University of Hartford to new heights. She had a winning record during her three seasons with the Hawks where she went 59-38 overall leading the team to three consecutive American East Conference championship games. That success came from her priding herself on putting family first.

There is one player on the ECU Women’s Basketball team that played under McNeill at Hartford and that is senior guard Sierra Dacosta. Dacosta knew of the family environment McNeill would bring to ECU from the very beginning. Family is something that she along with the rest of the team could see would be implemented after McNeill met the rest of the team back on March 28, 2019.

“She definitely prides family first,” Dacosta said. “With that being said, we all look at each other as sisters on and off the court. We look at them (the coaches) as our second family (and) our second parents, so by her (McNeill) implementing family first, she instills that so we can be better females in the real world like outside of basketball.”

McNeill works to create an environment that is worth playing for by creating a sisterhood among the team. That in turn helped McNeill turn the Hawks’ program around as she looks to do the same thing with the Pirates. While she wants to create an environment that is family-oriented for her players, it is not always easy for her because they still have to find ways to win basketball games.

“It’s not easy because our expectations are very high but we also create an environment where they know that we care about them and that it is more than just about basketball,” McNeill said. “We talk about life all the time, I talk about what we’re going through right now as a program and all the adversity we’ve gone through and how that’s gonna help them later on in life. They might not see it now, they may not understand it now but everything we’re going through right now is making us stronger as human beings, as a family.”

When McNeill accepted the head coaching position at ECU little did Pirate Nation know that they were getting a 2-in-1 package deal that came with McNeill. Joining McNeill and the coaching staff at ECU is her husband Cory McNeill who is the associate head coach for the team. McNeill said that what the women’s team has with her and her husband leading the team is special in many ways.

“I don’t know too many other programs that have that type of environment, have that type of culture where they have the experience that he and I both have as individuals and then together,” McNeill said. “It truly is a family environment here and even though we aren’t being as successful as we want to be on the court, we’re building those relationships and we’re building that trust outside the court which in the long run is going to be very important for this program to be successful.”

The Pirates are currently 4-17 overall and 1-7 in American Athletic Conference play with their only victory coming against the University of Memphis back on Jan. 28. Players have worked throughout the course of the season on trying to become closer as a team on and off the court.

Redshirt junior guard/forward Dominique Claytor said that while it’s been a journey as the season has progressed the team has continued to have confidence in themselves, they have continued to pride themselves on the sisterhood environment that McNeill has implemented across the board.

“This is what you want like you want a family,” Claytor said. “You don’t want people to just be all about business and they don’t care about other things that you have going on in your personal life. You want people to ask you how you’re doing outside of just being on the court and just being about straight business and basketball.”

While the season may not have produced a lot of wins like fans and spectators may have wanted, the team has shown that they are on the right track in terms of growing on and off the court. While the team wants to win as many games as they can, McNeill wants to make sure that the sisterhood she has created keeps thriving and growing all across the board.

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