Neighbors, who was an assistant at UW, was hired three days after previous coach Kevin McGuff left abruptly for Ohio State.
Always one for lists, Mike Neighbors kept a short stack of note cards in front of him during his introduction as Washington’s newest women’s basketball coach.
Each card was a reminder of a story to tell, or someone to thank, or a theme to address.
Midway through Friday’s news conference, he came across a card with the word “momentum” highlighted in bright yellow.
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“Momentum — that’s what we’re going to try to capture upon,” Neighbors said. “We have a passionate fan base, and we’re going to continue that with our success on the court.”
At first glance, Neighbors, a 44-year-old native of Greenwood, Ark., who has never been a head coach, seems like an odd choice to replace Kevin McGuff. McGuff turned the program around during his two-year stint as head coach before abruptly leaving last week for Ohio State.
UW athletic director Scott Woodward admitted the school conducted “the fastest, most intense (coaching) search that we’ve ever done.” The Huskies didn’t interview an outside candidate, and the finalists included Kevin Morrison and Neighbors, both UW assistants.
Three days after McGuff’s departure, Neighbors signed a five-year, $1.9 million contract to coach the Huskies.
“Scott was able to act fast,” Neighbors said. “I’m really happy to announce today I’m able to act fast, too.”
Neighbors said every non-senior on the roster will return to UW next season, including leading scorer Jazmine Davis, a two-time All-Pac-12 point guard; forward Talia Walton, who made the all-conference freshman team, and Katie Collier, a McDonald’s All-American post player who redshirted last season with a knee injury.
Neighbors retained a recruiting class ranked 11th nationally by ESPN that includes four-star prospects Kelsey Plum, a McDonald’s All-American point guard; guard Briana Ruiz and forward Chantel Osahor.
Neighbors also kept the previous coaching staff intact, as Morrison and Adia Barnes will return as assistants, while adding Fred Castro from Tulsa.
“The fact that we were able to keep the band together … that is a huge momentum-keeper,” said Neighbors, who has been an assistant at Xavier, Arkansas, Colorado and Tulsa before coming to Washington.
Despite Neighbors’ lack of head-coaching experience, UW players lobbied for him because the program, which has had four coaches since 2007, needed stability.
“When coach McGuff left, obviously it was upsetting and tough to take at first,” said Kristi Kingma, the Huskies’ departing senior captain. “But when you look toward the future you understand coach Neighbors had the same vision that coach McGuff did. Nothing really is going to change.”
Neighbors reiterated the same thing during a 22-minute news conference filled with self-deprecating humor and entertaining anecdotes in front of family, friends and UW players.
He talked about elevating Washington, which finished 21-12 last season, to top-25 status.
He joked about his animated on-court demeanor and promised he’d be more laid back. Since taking the Husky job, Neighbors said he lost 11 pounds and received 3,381 phone calls, emails, texts and Twitter notifications.
An avid movie and music buff, he touched on his obsession for creating lists, particularly a top-1,000 movie and music spreadsheet that he routinely updates.
He admitted Washington wasn’t his dream job when he began his college coaching as an assistant at Arkansas in 1999, but he fell in love with the Huskies shortly after arriving in Seattle two years ago.
And Neighbors thanked a lot of people, including UW administrators and staff, men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin, McGuff and Woodward.
Near the end, Neighbors choked up when talking about his 16-year-old daughter Abby, 11-year-old son Alec, girlfriend Amy Ratliff, stepfather Brownie McBride and mother Anna, who he called “the best coach I’ve ever known.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org