The name Joye Lee-McNelis quickly became synonymous with a successful, fast-paced, exciting brand of basketball, and when you combine McNelis' style of play with a basketball crazed town like Memphis, Tennessee, well it is like giving Elvis Presley the perfect rock-and-roll song to sing.
Only the second women's basketball coach in Lady Tiger history, McNelis has built a solid foundation over the last 12 years. A constant in an ever-changing Athletic Department, McNelis is credited with leading her teams to four consecutive conference championships, five consecutive 20-win seasons and seven post-season tournament appearances. She has also coached 14 all-conference players, and has two former Lady Tigers playing in the WNBA. Just this past season, McNelis reached another coaching milestone, amassing her 200th career win.
McNelis strives for her Lady Tigers to be competitive on the court, and dedicated in the classroom. Her goal is for each of the players who pass through her program to succeed in life once their collegiate careers are complete. She stresses family values and the importance of giving back to the community which is so supportive of her program. That message was evident this past summer when four Lady Tigers walked the stage at graduation and received their degrees. Shannon Hamp, Kaneshi Hart, Kalara McFadyen and Rita Beckwith all completed their degrees, and are embarking on their lives beyond college basketball. Over the last 12 years, 29 Lady Tiger seniors have completed their degrees, and three more are on track to earn degrees in the next year.
Things didn't come easily for McNelis. She inherited a Lady Tiger basketball program that had won just 21 games in three previous seasons, including back-to-back 6-22 finishes.
In three short seasons, McNelis turned the Lady Tiger program into a winner. And, in the last 12 years, she has worked hard to gain national recognition for the Lady Tiger program. She achieved that in 1999 as the Lady Tigers entered the Associated Press Top 25 Poll for the first time in 14 years.
McNelis' last two seasons have been what is considered very uncharacteristic for a U of M women's basketball program. Back-to-back losing seasons have McNelis striving for consistency and for players who are anxious to turn the program back into the force that it was just a couple of years ago.
Injuries and inexperience have plagued the squad the last two years as the 2002-03 squad finished at 13-15, which was still an improvement from the 11-17 year that the 2001-02 team had suffered through. Despite the disappointing outcomes of the last two seasons, the Lady Tigers still managed to place Shannon Hamp on the all-Conference USA team both years. Hamp also became the 15th Lady Tiger to join the 1,000-Point Club in 2002-03, and it appears that Princess Swilley will join the elite club during the 2003-04 season. Fans also witnessed a piece of history during the 2001-02 season as Kalara McFadyen received national recognition after recording what is believed to be the first-ever triple-double without taking a single shot.
In 2000-01, McNelis led her squad to a 17-13 record and a first-round appearance in the WNIT. The Lady Tigers opened the season with five straight wins, marking the first time in 12 years that the Tigers had jumped to a 5-0 start. Memphis struggled a bit during the C-USA season, but closed out the league regular season with six consecutive victories, and entered the C-USA tournament as the No. 6 seed. Memphis opened the tourney with a win over Saint Louis, but lost by six points in the second round to Houston. Senior Tiffany Adkins was named to the C-USA first-team, and Princess Swilley was named to the league's all-freshman team. Adkins also became McNelis' third player to be invited to the WNBA's pre-draft camp.
What McNelis will be remembered for during the 1999-2000 season is that she took a team that had just one "experienced" senior and seven underclassmen to a level that surpassed most of the team's pre-season expectations. Just one year after enjoying their first national ranking in several years and a 22-win season, the Lady Tigers were not ranked in any of the pre-season polls, and were picked to finish third in the National Division by McNelis' C-USA coaching peers. With that in mind, McNelis and the Lady Tigers set out to prove that they could still be successful without all-American Tamika Whitmore, knowing it would take a total "team" effort to do so.
McNelis capitalized on the word "team" using 11 different starting lineup combinations, and the team followed suit as eight players finished the year scoring between 5.9 and 15.1 points per game. The Lady Tigers finished the year as the second place squad in the National Division with an 11-5 league mark, and a #3 seeding in the C-USA Tournament. Three Lady Tigers were honored to the all-C-USA team, including Yolanda Reed and Tiffany Adkins who both landed on the third-team, and Shannon Hamp who was named to the all-freshman team, as Memphis finished the year just shy of McNelis' sixth straight 20-win season with an 18-12 overall record. Once again, the Lady Tigers were "on the bubble" for the NCAA Tournament, but fell just short of that goal with an appearance in the WNIT, as McNelis led The U of M to their sixth straight post-season tournament.
McNelis received several accolades during the 1999-2000 season. In a pre-game ceremony prior to the Feb. 13 meeting against UAB, former University President Dr. V. Lane Rawlins presented McNelis with the first-ever President's Award which honors a coach who exemplifies highest commitment, dedication and effort to support academic welfare of student-athletes. She also received the Wings Award from the Department of Business and Finance for a motivational speech she gave to the department earlier in the year.
In 1998-99, McNelis led her Lady Tigers to a 22-10 overall record; 10-6 in Conference USA, as well as their first national ranking since the 1984-85 season. The Lady Tigers entered the poll at No. 24 on Dec. 14 and saw little movement for four weeks before dropping out of the poll after a disappointing loss to eventual C-USA champion Tulane. After an opening day loss to Ole Miss, the Lady Tigers pieced together nine straight victories early in the season, enjoying their best start since the 1976-77 season when the U of M opened with an 11-1 record. The Lady Tigers continued through the season hoping for a berth in their fifth straight NCAA Tournament, but it would be the WNIT where the Lady Tigers made their best showing. After three straight wins in the WNIT that sent the Lady Tigers to the Final Four, the Lady Tigers fell just shy of the championship game with a loss to Wisconsin. But the finish in the WNIT marked several key highlights for the Lady Tigers. Besides senior Tamika Whitmore breaking a 21-year record with 45 points in the third-round win over Arkansas State, the Lady Tigers advanced to the second round of a post-season tournament for the first time since the 1994-95 season. One of McNelis' top recruits, Whitmore finished the season as the national scoring leader with 26.3 points a game.
In 1997-98, McNelis became the first coach to win two Conference USA tournament championships as her team, picked to finish third overall in the preseason, won the C-USA regular season championship for the second straight year, and then won the tournament championship for the second time in three years. The Lady Tigers finished the season with a 22-8 record, marking McNelis' fourth straight year with 20 or more wins.
During the 1996-97 season, McNelis guided the Lady Tigers to a 22-7 record and a Conference USA championship. Memphis recorded one of its most historic wins that season with an 81-74 victory over Florida in Memphis' own Lady Tiger Classic. For the third straight year, the Lady Tigers earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
McNelis led her 1995-96 squad to a 20-11 record in just her fourth year at the helm of the Lady Tiger program. The 1994-95 season truly marked the beginning of the winning tradition of Lady Tiger Basketball.
The 1994-95 Lady Tigers had an overall record of 22-8, the fewest losses recorded since the 1986-87 campaign (20-9). Since then, McNelis has recorded an even lower total of seven losses in 1996-97. During the 1994-95 campaign, six of the squad's losses were by a combined total of 15 points. However, included in the win column were victories over top-ranked Ole Miss (79-69) and Southern Cal (74-72 in the first round of NCAA Tournament).
Earning a bid into the 1995 NCAA Tournament marked the team's first invitation since 1987. As well, the team advanced to the second round, only the second time in Lady Tiger basketball history that the team had played two games in the NCAA Tournament.
In 1995, the Lady Tigers captured the Great Midwest Conference regular season title with a 10-2 league record. It was their first regular season conference title since joining the GMC in 1991. As well, it was the first time since 1986-87 that the Lady Tigers were the top seed in a conference championship tournament.
In her third season at Memphis, the squad finished with a 17-12 record, the first winning slate for Memphis since the 1986-87 year (20-9). As well, the team's third place finish in the Great Midwest regular season was the Lady Tigers' highest finish since the 1987-88 year when they were the number two seed at the Metro Conference Tournament in Tallahassee, Fla.
During the 1994 Great Midwest Conference Tournament, McNelis led her squad to yet another first. The team won its way to the championship game for the first time since the 1987-88 season.
The 1993-94 season brought about yet another first for McNelis and her Lady Tigers. Winning their own Kitchens Unlimited-Union Planters Bank Classic marked the first time since the 1988-89 campaign they had achieved that feat.
McNelis accomplished all those achievements with one of the nation's youngest starting lineups.
During the 1993-94 season, McNelis started three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior. However, at one time her starting lineup featured four freshmen and a sophomore.
The 1992-93 season brought about many new highlights for the Lady Tigers. McNelis led her squad to its first tournament championship (Central Florida Tip-off Classic) since the 1987-88 season. The team's 5-2 start was its best since the 1988-89 season when The U of M opened 5-0.
As well, the Lady Tigers advanced to the championship game of their own Kitchen's Unlimited-Union Planters Bank Classic for the first time since the 1988-89 season.
And finally, for the second consecutive season, the Lady Tigers advanced to the semi-finals of the Great Midwest Conference Championship Tournament.
Despite the odds, McNelis guided her first Lady Tiger team to a 12-17 record in 1991-92. Those wins marked the first time since the 1987-88 (15-15) season that a Lady Tiger team had double figure wins.
During that season, McNelis led her squad to a 58-50 win over then nationally-ranked Arkansas. In addition, for the first time since the 1987-88 season, the Lady Tigers won their first round conference championship game.
All of these accomplishments in just her first five years led Basketball Times to name McNelis one of the nation's "Coaches on the Rise."
McNelis and her staff have been making a name for themselves, as they have inked numerous outstanding players since joining The U of M.
Since arriving at The University of Memphis, McNelis has recruited three players who have earned Great Midwest Newcomer of the Year honors (Keeta Matthews, Kitty Allen and LaTonya Johnson). Senior forward LaTonya Johnson participated in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver, Colo., as a member of the South Team before the 1995-96 season and, earned honorable mention all-America honors. Most recently, Johnson finished her sixth season with the San Antonio Silvers Stars of the WNBA.
Also among McNelis' top recruiting highlights is Tamika Whitmore who ended her stellar career in 1999 as the second all-time leading scorer in school history. A five-time all-American as a senior, Whitmore is the most decorated player in Lady Tiger history. A two-time Conference USA Player of the Year, Whitmore was the second player recruited by McNelis to be drafted to play in the WNBA. In 1998, she also became McNelis' first player to participate on the USA Basketball R. William Jones Cup team that took the gold in Taipei, Taiwan.
The University of Memphis Athletic Department proudly announced the hiring of McNelis on April 11, 1991. The former assistant coach at the University of Southern Mississippi was very familiar with the Lady Tigers as she had coached against U of M teams since 1986.
McNelis had little time to recruit as she arrived at The U of M with just four days left in the spring signing period. However, she and her staff made up for lost time, signing six players during the fall of 1992.
Prior to accepting the position at The University of Memphis, McNelis helped lead Southern Mississippi to a five-year 103-47 record. The 1990 and 1987 Golden Eagles squads won the Metro Conference tournament championship and the 1986-87, 1988-89 and 1989-90 USM teams participated in the prestigious NCAA Tournament.
While at Southern Mississippi, McNelis was responsible for recruiting, and several of her recruiting classes were ranked in the Top 10 nationally. She recruited Janice Felder, a 1994 Kodak All-American to play her collegiate career at USM.
Prior to accepting the USM position, McNelis served two seasons as an assistant coach at Southwest Texas State University, where she served as recruiting coordinator and was co-director of the school's summer basketball camp.
McNelis' experience goes well beyond her coaching days. As a player, McNelis was one of the better players to wear a USM uniform. She was a four-year starter for the Lady Eagles from 1980-1984, leading her squads to an overall record of 73-38. One of the leading scorers, she continues to rank sixth all-time in points scored with 1,510 and is eighth with a career scoring average of 14.0 points per game.
At Hancock North Central High School she was a four-year letterwinner in basketball. Her teams went to the state tournament four straight years and won state titles twice. She still reigns as the school's all-time leading scorer.
On April 19, 1993, McNelis' high school jersey #14 was retired along with Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre's. That day was declared Joye Lee-McNelis-Brett Favre Day by Hancock County.
On April 14, 1997, McNelis garnered another prestigious honor as she was inducted into the Southern Mississippi Hall of Fame. Once again she shared the spotlight with friend Brett Favre.
Family is an important aspect of McNelis' life, and she feels her husband Dennis is the backbone of her success. Dennis, along with their children Whitney, 12, and Connor, 8, are a supportive and vital part of the Lady Tiger program, as it gives the Lady Tigers a real feel of a family atmosphere.
McNelis' accomplishments do not end with basketball. The Lady Tiger coach is as well known for her activity in the community as she is for her coaching.
McNelis has become one of Memphis' most informative and motivational speakers, as she stays busy speaking to Mid-South civic groups, schools, churches and corporations.
McNelis has served as chairman for the 1997 and 1998 March of Dimes Walk America, which reached an all-time high of charitable donations.
McNelis has also helped raise money for LeBonheur Children's Medical Center as well as conducting clinics throughout the city of Memphis. She was most recently honored by the Kiwanis Club with the George F. Hixon Fellowship Award.
Community involvement does not stop with McNelis, as she feels it is important for her players to be active in the community as well. She feels that community involvement for her players is a three-fold process. First, it helps them to learn to speak with confidence in front of large groups. It also allows them to meet and socialize with different people from different cultural backgrounds. And finally, their exposure in the community builds support for the team and helps Lady Tigers become a household name.
As a team the Lady Tigers have performed motivational and inspirational speeches at local schools, churches and for under privileged children.
The Lady Tigers' community relations resume includes: working with a reading program for local elementary schools; collecting Christmas gifts for the Salvation Army; working closely with the March of Dimes; conducting clinics through the city and participating in a pen pal club.
"I believe it is important to mold the total program, therefore it is important to have them involved in the community," McNelis says. "Our players get to experience dealing with different people from different backgrounds. Sure it helps our players, but it also helps the community."
McNelis at a Glance HOMETOWN Leetown, Mississippi HIGH SCHOOL Hancock High School ALMA MATER Southern Mississippi (BA 1984; MS Education 1986) COLLEGIATE PLAYING EXPERIENCE Southern Mississippi-1980-84 6th All-time Leading Scorer (1,510 Pts.) Inducted Into USM Hall of Fame in 1997 COACHING EXPERIENCE Southwest Texas State - Assistant Coach (1984-1986) Southern Mississippi - Assistant Coach (1986-1991) The University of Memphis - (1991-Present) COACHING HONORS - 208-146 (.588) Career Record - Four NCAA Tournament Appearances (1995,1996, 1997, 1998) - 3 WNIT Appearances (1999, 2000, 2001) - WNIT Final Four Appearance (1999) - 1998 Regular Season Conference USA Champions - 1998 Conference USA Tournament Champions - 1997 Regular Season Conference USA Tri-Champions - 1996 Conference USA Tournament Championship - 1995 Great Midwest Regular Season Championship - Coached Three Conference Newcomers of the Year - Coached 14 all-conference players - Coached three C-USA All-Freshmen team members - Coached the 1998 and 1999 C-USA Player of the Year - Finalist for the 1995 National Coach of the Year - Tabbed by Basketball Times as One of the Nation's "Coaches on the Rise"
McNELIS' YEAR-BY-YEAR RECORD