Leetown native is seeking a C-USA Championship
Hattiesburg, Miss. - Turning dreams into a reality is sometimes hard to achieve for most people, but one Leetown, Mississippi native got her chance.
Joye Lee-McNelis, Southern Miss women’s basketball head coach said, "When I was a very young child growing up one hour from here, my dream was to play basketball at Southern Miss."
McNelis got her chance to play at Southern Miss. In her four seasons from 1980-1984, she became the fifth player to score over a thousand points. McNelis also led her team to post-season play for the first time in 1981.
But her accomplishments didn't stop there.
McNelis said "the guy that I married to, my husband now, Dennis, gave me my first job. And so at 21-years-old, I became a full-time assistant at Southwest Texas State (Now Texas State)."
A few years later, McNelis accepted a head coaching job at Memphis State, which is now the University of Memphis, where she became the youngest Division I coach in the country at the age of 28.
McNelis said "God really blessed us. He really did. We had a lot of success there. But truly, that's not what I wanted. The only other job I wanted was Southern Miss."
After McNelis signed a five-year extension with Memphis, Southern Miss came calling.
But mixed opinions from her family made her choice very difficult.
McNelis said "our daughter told me, she says 'mom, I never had a dream to graduate from a high school in Memphis. But you've had a dream. Mom, we're going to Southern Miss.'"
McNelis took over the Lady Eagle basketball program in 2004. And after the last two seasons, the Lady Eagles made it to two C-USA Championships, but lost both of them.
McNelis said "the unfortunate thing that we were a little caught off by was losing so many players that we've lost last year that we didn't really put into the factor of leadership. And that's where our team has really struggled this year to be very honest with you."
The Lady Eagles enjoyed a 52-18 overall record in the past two seasons.
But this season, the Lady Eagles have struggled.
Southern Miss has only won one conference away game. Currently, Southern Miss have a 14-13 overall record with two games left to go in the regular season.
McNelis said "we have a group of players that are hungry. They're disappointed in us losing when we lose. And our coaches just continue to find different ways, creative ways, to be able to keep them positive and continue to maintain a level of intensity in practice, so that we can be successful."
This season hasn't panned out the way McNelis had hoped for, but, the ladies do have an opportunity in the C-USA Tournament to turn their season around.
McNelis said "we've been so close to a championship. But just a few things slipped through our hands and has not allowed us to do that.”
McNelis said “I truly believe that all of that is to teach us all lessons, including me, that you know what? Continue to work, nothing is easy. You got to work hard. You got to go the extra mile. You got to look at yourself in the mirror and see what you can do differently. And that's what I've done, is to be able to do that, so we in turn can do everything in our power to bring a championship to Southern Miss and be a part of March Madness and the Big Dance."
The Southern Miss Sports Hall-of-Famer helped the Lady Eagles win a pair of conference championships as an assistant coach in the past.
And now as a head coach, McNelis wants nothing more than to have her team win a conference championship and to play in the NCAA Tournament.