Kankakee High School welcomed two special guests Friday, when the school held its inaugural Kankakee Kays Athletics Conference during the weekend.
Dr. Lionese Bias, the mother of Len Bias, the number two pick of the Boston Celtics in 1986 who died two days after being drafted, kicked off the event with a keynote address.
“Dr. Bias has a great approach with young adults and is a dynamic speaker,” said Kankakee athletic director Ronnie Wilcox. “She is a natural fit for us and knows what the kids are going through. I feel like our student-athletes received her message well.”
Dr. Bias then spoke directly to the female athletes, and former Kankakee Kay and recently graduated University of Oklahoma men’s basketball player Jamuni McNeace talked to the male student-athletes.
“We felt that, overall, we had a really successful year in all of our sports, and we wanted to celebrate that,” Wilcox said. “We wanted to congratulate our athletes and inspire our athletes while giving them some warm words of encouragement as they move forward.”
Dr. Bias then spoke to parents and community members, and McNeace hosted a free basketball camp for two hours.
For McNeace, the idea of coming back to Kankakee to host a camp and talk to the kids was a no-brainer.
“I consider Kankakee my home,” McNeace said. “I lived out here until my sophomore year of high school. My family grew up out here. It feels great to be back. This is the most at home I’ve felt in a while.”
Although McNeace moved to Texas before getting his chance to star for the Kays for more than a cup of coffee as a sophomore, he remembered having all but given up on basketball before Wilcox, then the Kays basketball coach, pulled him aside and asked him to give the game another try.
“Coach Wilcox is probably the reason I started playing basketball,” McNeace said. “I moved back and forth between Kankakee and Texas a lot. I got cut from the team my freshman year in Texas, so when I moved back here, I wasn’t thinking about basketball until Coach Wilcox saw me in the hallway and talked me into playing again.”
The 6-foot-10, 210 pound McNeace went on to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship at Oklahoma University, becoming a fan favorite for his high-flying dunks and shot-blocking skills.
McNeace recently worked out for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and, although he doesn’t expect to be drafted this year because of injuries this past year, he’s confident he will work his way into the NBA or play overseas.
Kankakee basketball standout Lavelle McIntosh took full advantage of the opportunity to learn and improve at McNeace’s camp, both on the court and off.
“He showed us a lot of good stuff today,” McIntosh said. He taught us what footsteps we have to follow to get to where he’s at.
“I have a lot of the young kids looking up to me right now, and I look up to Jamuni, so today was big in helping me become a better leader.”