When one considers the impact of a small town like Salmon Arm on BC and Canadian basketball, it’s pretty remarkable. Take the case of Allison McNeill.

Born and raised in Princeton, McNeill transferred to Salmon Arm Secondary in Grade 11 to play basketball for the Jewels, where she won back-to-back BC high school championships. McNeill idolized Joanne Sargent, a former Jewel who went on to play for Canada at the Olympics. McNeill’s time in Salmon Arm overlapped with teammate and future coaching partner Bev Smith, one of Canada’s greatest players and coaches. And then there is McNeill herself—the third Jewel in the Salmon Arm basketball crown—who over several decades coached literally thousands of players at all levels and revived the Canadian women’s national program back to world contender status.

After shining so brightly at Salmon Arm for coach Joe Kupkee’s Jewels, McNeill spent two years at Sudbury’s Laurentian University, winning back-to-back national championships. She then joined Smith at the University of Oregon, where she played in the first NCAA women’s tournament.

At Oregon she discovered her love for coaching while working basketball camps and learned the coaching ropes at Oregon and Portland State, as well as posts in Europe and several high schools back in BC.

McNeill really began to make her mark when she took the head coaching job at Simon Fraser University in 1988. Over the next 13 years, she led the women’s basketball squad to an impressive 363-79 win-loss record and 11 trips to the NAIA championships. In that time, twelve of her players were named NAIA All-Americans and six made the Canadian senior national team. She turned SFU women’s games into must-see events, playing to packed gymnasiums and drawing men’s coaches out who took notes on what they did.

From there, McNeill re-joined long-time friend Smith at the University of Oregon where she served as associate head coach from 2001-05 and helped lead the Ducks to the 2002 Women’s National Invitational Tournament championship and second round of the NCAA tournament in 2005.

In 2002, McNeill became head coach of the Canadian women’s national team and remained for the next decade, raising Canada’s world ranking from 22nd to 8th. With assistants Mike McNeill, her husband, and Lisa Thomaidis, she led Canada to 10th and 12th place finishes at the 2006 and 2010 world championships respectively, as well as 4th and 6th place finishes at the 2007 and 2011 Pan American Games.

The highlight came at the London 2012 Olympics, which Canada had qualified for in storybook fashion: the last berth on the last day, which just happened to be Canada Day. In Canada’s first Olympic women’s basketball appearance in 12 years, McNeill guided the team to a quarterfinal finish, equaling Canada’s best-ever Olympic result.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.