By Steve Vasallo
Johnny Neumann brought a new dimension to Ole Miss basketball in 1970 that had never been present prior and one we have not seen since. A high school All American from Memphis Overton, Neumann was the top recruited player in the nation during his senior year. Following his freshman year at Ole Miss (in the 70’s freshmen had their own separate program), Neumann led college basketball in scoring with a 40 points-per-game average.
Today, he has returned to Ole Miss to complete the requirements for his degree in sports journalism. I met with him recently and reflected back on his “two years of glory” with the Ole Miss basketball team.
Q. How does it feel to be back at Ole Miss after a 42-year sabbatical?
A. It feels great! The campus is much larger now and the surroundings have changed considerably. Just getting to know my way around took some time at first. It has been wonderful reconnecting with old friends. In addition to pursuing my degree, I feel that I have something to give back to the young athletes.
Q. How has college basketball changed since the early 70’s?
A. When I was playing at Ole Miss it was more of a game of techniques. What I mean by this is that there was a considerable emphasis on aspects of the game such as blocking out; the one-dribble jump shot; and being an all around player on both sides of the court. It was a game of numbers and angles. Today the emphasis is more on athleticism.
Q. What about the speed of the game? Has this changed much?
A. It is pretty much the same depending upon the coaching philosophy of the offensive approach. The primary difference was in my tenure at Ole Miss there was no shot clock. Teams that wanted to slow the game down had the ability to do so.
Q. The year you led the nation in scoring, there was not a 3 point shot. Had there been, do you believe your 40 point average would have been impacted?
A. It’s impossible to say if I would have scored more. Approximately 30 percent of my shots were outside the arc. I took a good many shots from the 15-20 foot radius.
Q. You experienced the “Tad Pad” in its infancy (it opened in 1965) and now in its senior stages with only two seasons remaining, are there sentimental feelings present?
A. Without a doubt. I would love to have a piece of the floor once that time comes when the University makes those offerings. The gym has so many special memories for me. Archie (Manning) was often present at our games along with many other famous athletes in that era.
Q. Being a student at age 63, was there a considerable adjustment for you returning to the academic world?
A. It’s really not all that different. I do feel like I’m going to school with children. The writing styles have changed considerably. Most students bring laptops and IPads to class as I do.
Q. If you could offer just one piece of advice to the player of 2014, what would that be?
A. The main thing is for each player to look inside himself and realize the God-given talent he possesses is very special. Allow your head coach and the assistants to be your role models. The athlete today can be so easily influenced by his peers. You must know when to say “no.”
Q. Looking back, what was your most enjoyable moment at Ole Miss?
A. The dorm life with the players! The relationships developed and the unique personalities of my teammates will always be special to me. (In the 70’s Guess Hall served as the dormitory assigned for the men’s basketball team.)
Neumann was forced to leave Ole Miss prior to completing his degree due to his father experiencing a heart attack in 1972. He went on to play with a number of pro teams both in the US and Europe. He coached for some 30 years which included the Lebanese National Team qualifying for the World Cup. A recent All Century Team highlighted on the Internet included Neumann as the “17th best player” in college basketball history.
(Editor’s Note: Vasallo, a native of Nashville, Tenn., graduated from Ole Miss in 1969 with a BBA. Vasallo and his brother, George, announced Ole Miss basketball games for two seasons, from 1965-1967, on the campus station WCBH.) (February 11, 2014, Page 8)