The Leetown, Miss., native Joye Lee-McNelis was named The University of Southern Mississippi's fourth women's basketball coach on May 24, 2004. Lee-McNelis, one of the school's all-time basketball greats, was the fifth Lady Eagle to score more than 1,000 points in a career. Heading into her thirteenth season as head coach and her twentieth with the Southern Miss program, Joye Lee-McNelis has been associated with the Lady Eagles' program for 50 percent of the last 40 years. First as a standout player, then a successful assistant coach, and for the past twelve seasons as head coach of her alma mater, McNelis presence has formed a complete, well-rounded women's basketball program that is putting Southern Miss back on the map.
Building a successful program takes time and commitment and does not come without its ups and downs. When McNelis took over the Southern Miss women's basketball program in 2004, she wanted to return the program to the winning tradition of old. Now in her thirteenth season, there is something to be said about the return of an athlete to his or her alma mater ... loyalty and passion. With her appointment, the Lady Eagles have made steady strides in that direction.
Southern Miss Women’s basketball finished 12-3 at home in Reed Green Coliseum during the 2015-16 campaign. The Lady Eagles had the third best home winning percentage in Conference USA. Freshman Caitlin Jenkins earned National Freshman of the Week honors and collected C-USA Freshman of the Week three times.
The Lady Eagles finished the 2014-15 season with a 25-11 record, posting back-to-back 20 wins seasons for the first time since the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons. It's also the first time a team has posted 25 or more wins in back-to-back seasons since 1988-89 (26-5) and 1989-90 (27-5). This was also the farthest a Lady Eagle team has advanced in postseason play, advancing to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.
Southern Miss placed a pair of Lady Eagles on the Conference USA All-Conference team (Tamara Jones, 1st team and Jerontay Clemons, second team). Clemons also earned C-USA All-Defensive Team honors. The Lady Eagles set a new attendance record with 5,480 fans in the Michigan game. The last time more than 5,000 fans attended a women's basketball game was in 2000. The 2014-15 Lady Eagle team experience a record which saw an increase of 51 percent.
The 2013-14 squad exceeded all expectations heading into the season as the team finished with a school-tying 27 wins - a plus 12 over 2012-13. After being picked to finish 13th in the preseason poll, the Lady Eagles used a 10-game winning streak down the stretch to propel themselves into a second-place finish in Conference USA with a 13-3 record, giving McNelis the Coach of the Year honors. Jamierra Faulkner earned her third straight first team all-conference honor and was tabbed the league's Defensive Player of the Year in addition to earning her second all-defensive team honor. Freshman Brittanny Dinkins earned all-freshman accolades while Tamara Jones was named the Newcomer of the Year. In 2012-13, the Lady Eagles had a pair of players receive Conference USA honors as Jamierra Faulkner earned her second-straight all-conference accolade and earned a spot on the all-defensive team while freshman Jerontay Clemons received all-freshman honors.
In 2011-12, McNelis had three players receive Conference USA honors as Jamierra Faulkner earned first team honors while Tanecka Carey was a second team selection and Nitesha Pierce was named to the all-freshman team. Carey was tabbed the C-USA Newcomer of the Year.
During the 2010-11, McNelis placed two players on the Conference USA third team in Rachel Vigers and Tanesha Washington while freshman Jamierra Faulkner earned all-freshman honors. In 2009-10, Pauline Love earned her third-straight first team all-conference award. In 2008-09 season, Southern Miss was one-win away of claiming at least a share of a regular season title and one win away from returning to postseason.
During the 2009-2010, Pauline Love earned her third-straight first team all-conference award. In 2008-09 season, Southern Miss was one-win away of claiming at least a share of a regular season title and one win away from returning to postseason.
Her 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons. She also had two players named to the C-USA All-Tournament team (Pauline Love and Andrea Barber), another first team all-conference selection (Love) and the C-USA Sixth Player of the Year honoree (Tanesha Washington). The Lady Eagles' Candace Rucker earned two Rookie of the Week honors as well. In 2007-08, the program landed its initial, first-team all-conference selection (Love) since the inception of Conference USA, recorded the first 20-win season since 1995-96, and advanced to postseason play for the first time since 1999-2000. In addition, they had two players earned player of the week honors (Love and Stephanie Helgeson).
While the 2006-07 team proved to be the turning point, as a short-handed team recorded a 15 win season, landed three players on C-USA All-Conference teams (Amber Eugene, Kendra Reed and Lauren Pitman), and three others were named C-USA Players of the Week (Eugene, Reed and Emer Foley).
With a combined effort of McNelis's door-to-door, person-to-person approach to promoting and the team's successes, Lady Eagle basketball has seen an increase in attendance every year she has been here, including increased season ticket sales and memberships in the "The Wings Club." McNelis also displays a passion for a more important aspect of succeeding in sport -- succeeding in the classroom.
In 2008-09, Kendra Reed became the only three time C-USA All-Academic player. The year before, two Lady Eagle players were named to the C-USA All-Academic team (Reed and Liz Biland). In 2006-07, Southern Miss placed two players on the Academic All-District Team by ESPN The Magazine (Reed and Kristin Chaney), two were named to C-USA All-Academic teams (Reed and Chaney), five received C-USA Commissioner's List honors (Reed, Patterson, Chaney, Biland and Rachel Manuel), and one (Chaney) was named C-USA Women's Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Evidence of improvement was seen following the 2005-06 season, in which the squad posted a 14-15 record, a plus-five game turnaround. She accomplished that feat with only one junior college transfer, two sophomores and five freshmen. The Lady Eagles finished in a tie for third in the conference with a 10-6 record.
McNelis returned to her alma mater after 13 seasons as head coach at the University of Memphis, where she compiled a 229-156 record. She was only the second coach in Lady Tiger history and took over a program that had won just 21 games over a three-year span, including back-to-back 6-22 finishes. In just three seasons, McNelis turned the Memphis program into a winner and over 12 years, she helped the Lady Tiger program gain national recognition when in 1999 Memphis entered the AP Top 25 for the first time in 14 years. McNelis is credited with leading her Memphis teams to four-consecutive conference championships, five-consecutive 20-win seasons and eight postseason tournament appearances. She coached 14 all-conference players and has two former players currently playing in the WNBA. Over those 13 seasons, 32 players who have competed in the program have completed their degrees. After her first five seasons at Memphis, McNelis was tabbed as one of the nation's "Coaches on the Rise" by Basketball Times.
During McNelis' tenure, she coached three conference newcomers of the year and two conference players of the year. Among her top recruiting highlights is Tamika Whitmore, who finished her career at Memphis as the second all-time leading scorer in school history. As a senior, Whitmore was named to five different All-American teams. Prior to her stint at Memphis, McNelis spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Southern Miss (1986-91). The 1987 and 1990 squads won the Metro Conference tournament championship. The 1986-87, 1988-89 and 1989-90 teams each participated in the NCAA Tournament, with the 1989-90 team advancing to the second round. During her tenure, those teams posted a record of 103-47 and her last two seasons those teams posted a 53-10 record, including the most wins in a season with 27 in 1989-90 and finished the season ranked in the Top 20. "I believe that you can have an interest in a lot of things, but you have to have passion," McNelis said. "I'm very passionate about being the head coach here, and I'm passionate about the job. I think it's bigger than basketball." While at Southern Miss, McNelis was responsible for recruiting. Several of her classes were ranked in the Top 10 nationally. She also had a hand in recruiting Janice Felder, a 1994 Kodak All-American and the most decorated Lady Eagle in the program's history. Prior to accepting the Southern Miss position, McNelis spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Southwest Texas State University, where she served as recruiting coordinator and was co-director of the summer basketball camp. McNelis' accomplishments do not end with basketball. While at Memphis, she became one of Memphis' most informative and motivational speakers. She served as chairman for the 1997 and 1998 March of Dimes Walk America, which reached an all-time high in charitable donations. McNelis also helped raise money for LeBonheur Children's Medical Center, as well as conducted clinics throughout the city of Memphis. She was honored by the Kiwanis Club with the George F. Hixon Fellowship Award. Community involvement does not stop with McNelis, as she believes it is important for her players to be active in the community as well. During the 2005-06 season, McNelis and her Lady Eagles performed more community service than any of the other athletic teams, receiving the Southern Miss Athletic Department's Community Service Award. Following Hurricane Katrina, McNelis delivered supplies and goods to the people in her community of Leetown. Other community service projects include the Extraordinary Eagles, honoring elementary and middle school students at two of the Lady Eagles basketball games for academic achievement. The Lady Eagles and coaches worked as "celebrity waitresses" at Chesterfield's Restaurant to raise money for breast cancer. McNelis stepped out the box and went back to her roots of being a cowgirl, as she rode a mechanical bull that raised in excess of $7,000 for the Hattiesburg's Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. Her team had numerous speaking engagements at the local elementary and middle schools about the benefits of staying in school.
McNelis, her staff and players also held several free clinics for faculty and staff children as well as Upward Basketball. She was a four-year starter for the Lady Eagles from 1980-84, helping the program post a 73-28 record. She helped Southern Miss advance to postseason play for the first time in 1981, when the Lady Eagles advanced to the second round of the AIAW Region Tournament. McNelis ranks among the top 10 leaders in seven statistical categories, including eighth in all-time scoring with 1,512 points, eighth in scoring average (14.0 ppg), field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted and free throw percentage. She had an outstanding career, represented by her induction into the Southern Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. She was a four-year letterwinner in basketball at Hancock North Central High School. Her teams went to the state tournament four-straight years and twice won state titles. She still reigns as the school's all-time leading scorer. On April 19, 1993, McNelis' high school jersey No. 14 was retired, along with Minnesota Viking quarterback Brett Favre. That day was declared Joye Lee-McNelis-Brett Favre Day by Hancock County. McNelis is married to Dennis McNelis, and the couple has two children, Whitney and Connor. Whitney is married to Michael Wilkerson.