Mississippi’s McNelis earns Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award

Published 9:05 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

Southern Miss women’s basketball head coach Joye Lee-McNelis has been named as the 2024 recipient for the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award. McNelis, in her 20th season at Southern Miss and 33rd as a head coach at the Division I level, is the 47th recipient of the award named for former Tennessee head coach and women’s basketball icon Pat Summitt. She will be honored on Friday at the United States Basketball Writers Association Awards Brunch prior to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I am truly honored to even be mentioned alongside such a great name as Pat Summitt,” Lee-McNelis said. “I am thankful that the USBWA has recognized me as courageous, but believe my faith in God, trust in my doctors and belief in my wonderful coaching staff allowed me to focus on my own battles off the court this season. To me, the greatest award I have today is being able to wake up each day and continue to coach young women in the game I love.”

McNelis, now in her third battle against adenocarcinoma, received her first diagnosis in 2017. After receiving news of her third recurrence of the cancer, she began receiving immediate treatments in September 2023 and continued coaching for the rest of the season.

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“Joye’s willingness to make public the details of her diagnosis and treatments, her consistent efforts to encourage and support other patients and the example she has set by continuing to coach her team is an inspiration to us all,” said USBWA executive director Malcolm Moran.

Under her tutelage, the Lady Eagles finished this year 20-14 for their first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 2013-14 and 2014-15. She is 329-287 in 20 seasons in Hattiesburg and 558-443 overall in her 33 years. She is one of only 70 coaches in the history of the sport to win at least 550 games and coached her 1,000th career game against Murray State on March 23.

While undergoing treatments and coaching at the highest level of college basketball, she, along with her family, mourned the passing of her father, Louis Dempsey Lee. She missed one game of the 2023 Lady Eagle Thanksgiving Classic to assist with the funeral preparations.

Through it all, McNelis has remained steadfast and an inspiration to her program. The Lady Eagles, down to seven players for the 2024 Postseason WNIT, advanced to the tournament’s Super 16 despite their immense adversity.

“Coach McNelis is an excellent example of the grit that we pride ourselves on at Southern Miss,” said Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain. “I am thankful for her leadership on and off the court. Myself and the entire Southern Miss family have been praying for her continued healing. She is truly an inspiration to her team, our department and our university.”

The USBWA Awards Banquet will take place at 10 a.m. ET (9 a.m. CT) at the Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Towers in Salons F-G.

The 2023-24 season marks the 47th that the USBWA has presented a Most Courageous Award.

Past recipients include Cori Carson of Marymount in 1996, Rayna DuBose of Virginia Tech in 2003, Tiffara Steward of Farmingdale College in 2010.

In 2012, the last of Pat Summitt’s 38 seasons at the University of Tennessee, an annual recognition for women’s basketball was created in her name. Honorees in the last 12 years have included Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University in 2015, Holly Rowe of ESPN in 2017, Kendall Currence of Northeastern in 2022 and Angelique Francis of Little Rock in 2023.