Updated: Jun 11
After taking a hiatus due to COVID last year, the 2021 Tarkanian Classic returned with 175+ teams spread across multiple gyms in Las Vegas, NV over the span of a week. Featuring elite basketball competition in prep and high school divisions, the must-see annual December high school tournament provided evaluators an opportunity to watch the prestigious NBA Academies in Africa and Latin America in addition to programs from around the U.S., Canada, and even Germany.
Pro Insight was on hand to cover the event and caught up with Liam McNeeley of John Paul II HS (TX) and Drive Nation (TX). Last summer, McNeeley was called up to play on Drive Nation’s 17U team alongside 2022’s Vincent Iwuchukwu and Jordan Walsh during the prestigious Nike Peach Jam after a strong showing with the 15U squad. Furthermore, his stellar play to the tune of averaging 5.7 points and 5.0 rebounds helped the USA Junior National Team earn a 6-0 record and a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Xalapa, Mexico.
Since moving to John Paul II, he and junior guard RJ Jones have formed a dynamic tandem on-and-off the court. The 6’8” forward comes from a talented basketball bloodline as his mother, grandfather, great grandfather, and uncles all played Division I. One of the top prospects in the 2024 class, McNeeley has a natural feel for the game, brings multi-level scoring and plenty of versatility.
As part of the Pro Insight Q&A series, McNeeley talked about his favorite kicks to hoop in, his first year with John Paul II, his USA Basketball experience, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2024 prospect Liam McNeeley, from Richardson, Texas:
Pro Insight: What are your favorite kicks?
Liam McNeeley: Shoot, I like the Jordan 11s, the lows. I like all Jordans, though.
PI: How about your favorite kicks to hoop in?
LM: I'm really rocking with KD 14s right now. KD 13s or 14s — that's usually what I go to right now.
PI: This is your first year with John Paul II — how have you enjoyed the experience, so far?
LM: I love this school. I enjoy going to school. The first three weeks of school I missed because I was with USA Basketball on the championship run. So once I came back, I had a bunch of make-up work, so my teachers worked with me a lot, got me back on track, and now I'm good.
PI: What were the deciding factors when choosing a school?
LM: Well, this school is just a good fit for me academic-wise and for me basketball-wise. So just playing with my boys is so fun. Yeah, it's just a good atmosphere at John Paul II.
PI: What’s it like playing with your teammate R.J. Jones?
LM: Oh yeah, that's my guy. I played with him for a while. We play for the same AAU team. Last year, he played on 16U. I was on 15U. So, like we've known each other for a while, but yeah, that's my guy on-and-off the court.
PI: What are your current measurements?
LM: I'm 6’8”, 190 [pounds], wingspan probably like 6’8”, 6’9” — somewhere around there.
PI: Congratulations on the gold medal at the FIBA U16 Americas Championship. Talk a bit about your experience with USA Basketball last summer.
LM: Oh man, that was crazy. We just jelled from the training camp to the airport to Mexico to the championship podium to the way back home. It's just like…those are my brothers and we didn't even spend very much time together so we had to just jell quickly, form chemistry, and just play well together.
PI: Who did you room with?
LM: Actually, we had our own rooms due to COVID. So yeah, we just had to wear masks everywhere, testing every day. So yeah, [our] own rooms.
PI: We talked with Ron Holland about his USAB experience as well and heard testing was tough.
LM: Yeah, it was tough. They stuck it far up my nose (laughs).
PI: Talk a bit about the basketball culture in Texas.
LM: Well, as you know right now Texas is getting a lot of love on Twitter and Instagram for being the best basketball state. In my opinion, it is. I think that is, because we all play against each other like all the time. We don't duck. We want all the smoke, so like I said, we want all the smoke so we just cook. We just keep going at each other.
PI: You played up with the 17U team during Peach Jam — describe your experience with Drive Nation.
LM: So, I moved to Drive in sixth grade. Jermaine is doing a great job with the program, as is Brandon Espinosa, the EYBL director. So the first week of Peach Jam, I was playing 15s. Had a good week. I averaged 21, 8, and 4, and then for the second week of Peach Jam in the tournament round, I played up with 17s. It was a great experience. Played with guys like Vincent Iwuchukwu, Jordan Walsh, Chase [Ross], TJ Caldwell, just great guys. Great coaching. It was a good experience.
PI: Is there increased pressure that comes with being nationally ranked?
LM: I mean, there's always going to be pressure, just 'cause like there's a lot of eyes watching, but basketball is my favorite thing to do. It's my safe place, so I just have fun with it and just play ball.
PI: What’s your recruitment update?
LM: Just a lot of schools…they can't reach out to me yet, so it's like I gotta reach out to them if we want to talk. I took a couple of unofficial visits, taking an unofficial visit to Duke.
PI: There are a lot more post-grad options available these days with G League Ignite, OTE, and NBL, among others. Have you and your family done much research into those opportunities?
LM: Not really. My main focus is on college right now, but as those opportunities keep getting bigger and keep showing themselves, I'm [going to] of course look at them.
PI: What is your leadership style on the court?
LM: Well, when my guys go in, we got a big lead and I'm always happy for them to do well. But when I'm on the court, I feel like I got a good motor, like I keep it going, got good energy, and I just encourage my teammates to play hard.
PI: Would you describe yourself as an introvert or extrovert?
LM: Shoot I’d say I'm an introverted extrovert. I like being inside, but I'm good with people.
PI: What do you bring to a team off the court?
LM: I feel like I'm funny, sometimes. I got a lot of friends on the team. We all family. Those are my brothers, so yeah.
PI: What are you most passionate about outside of the game of basketball?
LM: Shoot, I don't do a lot except for basketball. I mean, I hang out with my friends a lot, my boys of course. When I'm not hooping, I'm probably sleeping or eating or hanging with my friends.
PI: How do you see your role at the next level?
LM: I consider myself to be a versatile player. I can play one-through-four positions. So just like my role in college or the next level, just being able to be used in many different ways and just doing everything I can to help the team win.
PI: Who are your favorite music artists?
LM: Ahh shoot. I’d probably say YoungBoy right now. I like Drake. Drake’s the GOAT. Oh, yeah.
PI: Drake is definitely a global icon.
LM: Yeah, he put a lot of people on like young rappers’ features and stuff.
PI: You have one hashtag to describe yourself. What is it?
LM: Shoot, probably #chill. I'm chill, I'm relaxed and [enjoy] having fun.
PI: If you were stuck forever on a deserted island and had all the food, water, and shelter you needed — what three personal items would you bring?
LM: I’d of course bring a basketball. I get bored without it. My cell phone definitely and shoot probably bring like Dirk [Nowitzki] or something. Dirk is my childhood hero.
PI: What is your biggest pet peeve?
LM: People having their mouth open when they chew, making noise, and stuff. That's so annoying to me.
PI: If you woke up tomorrow to see a fortune in your bank account, what would be your first purchase?
LM: Shoot, I’d probably make an indoor basketball court like in my house. That would be kind of cool.
PI: How would you define the word ‘success?’
LM: Probably just keep on improving so that means on-and-off the court academically and basketball wise, just keep progressing.
In case you missed it, check out our first interview with Liam, from fall 2020: