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Detroit Western International guard Brailen Neely has heard the whispers throughout his life.
“You’re too small to play” has been told to the 5-foot-8 guard countless of times. But that hasn’t discouraged Neely at all; in fact, it’s driven him to become the player he is today and has committed to Oakland University in 2016.
“I heard it all the time,” he said. “But of course you have some people who will try you out, like Coach Greg Kampe (Oakland coach). He likes small guards, so thank God for that.”
Neely led Western in scoring last season, averaging 15.1 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. He also averaged 4.5 assists and 2.1 rebounds, helping lead Western to a perfect 26-0 season and a Class A title, the school's first. Neely is also a Second Team selection in the MLive Detroit Dream Team picks.
Neely wants to major in Sports Management, and said that Oakland’s style of play will fit him perfectly.
“They fit my playing style,” he said. “The coaches are great, the players are great. I can learn from the point guard over there now, Kahlil Felder. He tells me that they will take care of me and teach me. I’m going to have a fun experience over there.”
Despite his small frame, Neely has become a tenacious defender and one that guards in his conference have trouble shaking.
“Defense and leading my team,” he said on his greatest strengths. “You weren’t going to play for Coach Mac (McDowell) if you didn’t know how to guard. Coming in to high school, that was one of the things I had to work on. And now I’m one of the best defensive players in the state.”
And as for his leadership, he leads both vocally and by example.
“If the team sees my actions and intensity on the court, they’ll pick it up,” Neely said.
Neely’s father played for East Catholic, and his brother for Murray Wright, and both of them have had a huge influence in his life. When Neely isn’t playing hoops, he’s usually working out and doing bicycle work with his dad, including bike rides to the gym.
“I would always play basketball in the yard with my dad and brother,” he said. “They got me into the sport.”
His time at Western has been everything he’s imagined, including that championship run this past season that brought joy to everyone involved.
“It’s been a fun journey,” Neely said. “It was special and it will be with me for the rest of my life.”
Neely’s coach, Derrick McDowell, who he simply calls “Coach Mac” has helped Neely become an elite point guard.
“Coach has two personalities,” he said. “Off the court, he’s the coolest dude you’ll know. You can talk about anything with him. On the court, he’s tough. He’ll be on you even if you are doing what you’re supposed to do, just to teach you a lesson. He’s a great coach.”
Coach McDowell shared back the love.
“He’s just a super guy,” he said. “You enjoy him as a person and a player. He’s been a pleasure to coach and be around.”
Before he steps away from Western, Neely wants to leave an imprint at the school that will never be forgotten.
“I want to be remembered as a winner,” he said. “I always hear people say that we only won because of transfers Josh McFolley and Gerald Blackshear. Don’t get me wrong, they are great players. But we had the same team since my freshman year, so we were capable of that type of thing. Now that those guys are gone, I want to prove to everybody that we can still do it. We can still win a city and state championship. That’s pretty much my goal this year; I want to have the same success without those guys.”
Coach McDowell has coached a plethora of good point guards throughout his career, dating back to his days at Detroit Redford, including guys like Manny Harris and Dion Harris. But he had some bold words about Neely.
“I might get in trouble for saying this, but when he’s done, he’ll probably be the best point guard I’ve ever coached,” he said.
Not bad for a guy who doubters said was too small to play.
Fuad Shalhout is a high school sports reporter for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Fuad Shalhout is a reporter for MLive.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.