As a youngster growing up in Western Pennsylvania, Dale McNeil always envisioned himself earning a living while displaying his basketball skill sets in the NBA.
Now 30 years since his middle school years, McNeil has expanded his dream – instructing others on how to achieve their goal of making it into the NBA.
McNeil, 46, founded his Laurel, Md.-based operation, Driven Athletic Academy, to provide young players with skill sets, goals and an overall structure to prepare them for ascending levels within the hoop game.
“Whether an individual is looking to improve their overall level of fitness, life-skills, academics and/or preparing for an upcoming season, we offer a tailored program to help them achieve their personal goals,” said McNeil, a graduate of Benedict College in Columbia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation.
“Several of our clients have achieved success both on and off the court in the NBA and professional overseas basketball levels, Division I-III collegiate levels, 4A-1A high school programs and within the Amateur Athletic Union or AAU levels,” he explained.
The Pittsburgh native grew up in what he describes as a challenged environment known as the Monview Heights Housing Projects.
“Some of my best friends are either in jail or dead,” he said, while reflecting on his ability to choose a lifestyle away from drugs, drama and despair.
As the nephew of former ABA and NBA legend Billy “Mooney” Knight, McNeil had early exposure to the sport. As a toddler, he watched his uncle develop into the star of the Indiana Pacers, following a standout college career at the University of Pittsburgh. Another uncle, Terry Knight formerly played with the San Antonio Spurs.
“My Uncle Billy has always been our family’s rock but even though he may have been in a position to help me, I always took the initiative to help myself,” he said. “He was our family role model that all my uncles and cousins wanted to emulate. He’s still our hero.”
In following his uncle’s lead, McNeil enjoyed a successful high school career at Penn Hills and Woodland Hills high schools. He played sparingly at Allegheny County Community College and Benedict College while earning his college degree.
After college, McNeil relocated back to Pittsburgh but eventually pursued a teaching career in the District, working as a physical education instructor and later as a special education teacher.
“Even though I was a teacher, basketball continued to be my passion,” said McNeil, married and the father of two sons, Tyrik, 23 and Dimitri, 4.
“Being a physical ed teacher along with the special education experience has been very strategic in the development of my career as a basketball instructor,” he said. “It’s broadened my horizons on how to develop young players. You never stop learning. It’s my way of passing on the knowledge that I’ve learned,” he explained.
McNeil credits various role models in his life: his uncles (the Knight brothers); his father, Dale McNeil, Sr.; and his stepfather, Eddie Jefferies. He says Jefferies, a retired sports editor at the New Pittsburgh Courier and a former hoopster at Lincoln University, “helped keep me on the straight road as a youth and often took me to games while he worked.”
Since founding Driven Athletic Academy, McNeil has expanded his reach, advising up-and-coming international players, working with young NBA stars during summer camps and sharing his talent as a youth development coach for organizations that include the Washington Wizards (Jr Wizards).
He also assisted in the early career of retired New York Liberty great Tanisha Wright – his former neighbor from the Monview Heights projects.
For more information, call 301-693-6096 or go to www.drivenathleticacademy.com.