Former UW guard Mike Neill, true HS legend, dies, surprised by his hometown

He was our Jimmy Chitwood, a legendary, somewhat mysterious long-range basketball shooter from the other side of the mountains, who played on a high school team nicknamed the Bombers and whose story had the feel of Hollywood movie. .

Sadly, Mike Neill will be remembered on June 14 at a golf tournament in Richland, Washington, by nearly 100 friends and family who recently discovered that the legendary had passed away a year ago without his loved ones know it.

Neill, a former University of Washington guard who played at Richland’s Columbia High School — or simply Richland High — was 67 and homeless when he died in March 2023 in Yakima, about 75 miles from his hometown. hometown. The cause of his death was believed to be a heart attack, although his friends could not confirm this.

“For a year and a month, no one knew,” said Obie Amacker, one of the organizers of a golf event planned at Horn Rapids Golf Course. “There was just one article in the paper that said his age, so no one thought it was him. It’s a sad story.”

Everyone always loves the long-range shooter who can score in batches, which is how Steph Curry and Caitlin Clark built their huge basketball following. Neill was no different.

He was a 6-foot-3 left-hander, a great curiosity, who burst onto the Washington high school scene after growing up shooting late at night at a basket in his family’s driveway in the Tri-Cities.

Mike Neill played 3 seasons for UW.

Mike Neill played 3 seasons for UW. /Obie Amacker

As a fresh-faced, floppy-haired sophomore in 1973, he averaged 24.5 points per game and guided the Bombers to a 23-3 record and a state runner-up finish. He would lose in the state championship game 67-59 to a Seattle Roosevelt team that included 7-foot center James Edwards, who became a UW teammate of Neill and played two decades in the NBA, but the reputation of the young shooter to be ahead of his time was secured.

A year later, Neill did it again, scoring at a higher rate and advancing to another state title game. This time, he averaged 26.1 points per game and led Richland against an undefeated and powerful 1974 Garfield team – still considered the greatest team ever assembled in state history – and lost 62-44, finishing 23-3.

In 1975, Neill was an even more prolific scorer, averaging 28.7, as creative as ever in his shots around the perimeter, for a Bombers team that finished 22-4 and in fourth place in the tournament. State.

All of his offensive production came without a 3-point line, which makes his basketball exploits at Richland over three years even more astonishing.

He received a UW scholarship and headed to Seattle. As a freshman in 1976, he scored 5.9 points per game and came off the bench for a 23-5 NCAA Tournament team, the Huskies’ first playoff appearance in 23 seasons since their appearance in the 1953 Final Four . He grew a mustache and didn’t lack confidence.

Neill became a starter at UW as a sophomore and junior, averaging a team-leading 8.8 and 11.5 points during an outing in 1977 and 1978, respectively, before running into trouble of notes that he could not overcome and no longer played.

Back in the Tri-Cities area, Neill became a bit of a recluse, away from the bright lights of basketball, struggling to adjust without the game being more central to his well-being. He eventually became estranged from his family, which included brothers Phil and Steve, who were players at Richland, with Phil even coaching the Bombers for a long time. Someone said Mike tried to referee matches, although it’s unclear if that happened and how far he went. He began wandering and left the city, ending up in Yakima.

Richland, if not Washington State, will forever claim him as that kid with a magic touch, as a basketball hero not unlike those in the movie Hoosiers, with people loving his dominant mannerisms, remembering only good things about someone who kept everyone safe. bewitched.

“Very sad,” UW forward and teammate Kim Stewart said. “Neill was one of a kind.”

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