FAYETTEVILLE — The third time that Mike Neighbors went after Destiny Slocum in recruiting he was successful.
Neighbors landed Slocum on April 18 as a grad transfer from Oregon State University. It was the second time at University of Arkansas that Neighbors had recruited Slocum and he had also tried to sign her when he was at the University of Washington.
In a teleconference on Thursday, Neighbors recalled the story of recruiting Slocum since she was in high school. He even had a commitment from her at one time to play at Washington.
“She committed to us in Sept. 30, 2014, before she goes into her junior year,” Neighbors said. “She had come to our elite came at the University of Washington. She had absolutely wowed us. She held her own against our current team which would ultimately end up to be a Final Four team. But she held her own in the player vs. camper game. So we knew we had something special.
“She was in Boise, Idaho. We were in Seattle. Not very far apart. Idaho is not your traditional hotbed of basketball talent. This was somebody who was special.”
Knowing he had something special Neighbors opted to watch her play frequently as a sophomore.
“She was getting ready to be a sophomore,” Neighbors said. “That coming up school year I used my maximum allowance number of days – at that time was five. So I went and made the direct flight from Seattle to Boise. Which is like going in a time machine because it’s a time zone change but the flight is less than an hour. So you take off at 9 and and you land at 8:56 or something.
“You can go over and back. I did that 5 times her sophomore year. Watched them play all the way through. Then that summer made the decision as a staff that I as the head coach was going to watch every single game that she played that summer. So if there was every a question as to which game I was going to go to I was going to see the Idaho Hoop Dreams play and I did. I saw every single game they played the summer entering her junior year.”
Since Neighbors saw her during the summer that allowed him to be use his recruiting time during her junior year wisely.
“As a result when the school year started we were able to do home visits,” Neighbors said. “So the entire month of September everybody did their home visits and we did ours. Went over there I want to say it’s the 26th or 27th, trying to find the exact date because you know how I am about that. -Toward the end of the period.
“She finished her home visits on the 30th and she called me I was in San Antonio, Texas. Ironically doing Amber Ramirez’s visit. And she called to commit. Said she had finished her visits. She was done and her family had decided she was committing to the University of Washington. At this point and time she’s one of the top 5 players in the country. Huge news, great sign, great commit. We go all the way through that season with her committed her junior season, I go and watch again maximum allowed – NCAA Allows us 5 opportunities – I went to 5 games, saw them win a state championship.”
However, it wouldn’t be long until Neighbors would get a phone call from Slocum that would change a lot of the future.
“We go to the NCAA Tournament,” Neighbors said. “It was our first year going to the NCAA tournament – we lost a game in Iowa. Year finished up we went to the national convention. Went to the Final Four as coaches do all our convention stuff.
“I land back in Seattle from getting back from the Final Four. I’ve got a phone message from her that says she needed to talk to me and my stomach sunk. And I immediately knew she was getting ready to tell me bad news. Which was she decided she was going to decommit. After being committed for a full year – and she did. She decommitted and I was OK with it. I understood she was a 16-year old kid. She needed to take more visits and go all the way through the process.”
Neighbors didn’t give up on Slocum at this point and continued to recruit her.
“So again I follow her that entire summer including a trip to Russia to watch her play in the FIVA National Championsihips,” Neighbors said. “I follow her, watch every single game. We go back to the visits. She visits officially and commits to the University of Maryland.
“So miss my opportunity to coach her. Devastated, hated every step of it. I really wanted to coach her. We go through that year, her senior year. She has a great year. I don’t go to one single game. I honor the fact that she is committed to Maryland. I don’t watch her. I don’t write her, I don’t try to recruit her. I’m just happy for her and she goes on and they win another state championship. And we low and behold go to the NCAA Tournament and go to the Final Four that year. With the trip, beating Maryland by the way. End up beating the team to go to the Elite 8 that she had committed to.”
Slocum went on to be named the WBCA National Freshman of the Year in 2017 at Maryland. Little did Neighbors know their paths would cross again.
“So we went all the way through that year,” Neighbors said. “She goes to Maryland. She plays there as a freshman; She has a great year We finish things up at Washington; We get knocked out. We go to the Sweet 16. We wind up in Dallas that year.
“And this is also right about the time I’m getting ready to take this job. In fact, I had already taken it in principle – but we hadn’t announced it. We go to Dallas and we’re at the National WBC Awards. Kelsey Plum is being named the National Player of the Year. And right sitting next to us is Destiny Slocum and her family because she’s just won the National Freshman of the Year award. So here we cross paths again.”
Neighbors explained thought that their paths were still set to cross some more in the future.
“A week later I’m announced as getting the job here,” Neighbors said. “A week after that she announces she’s leaving Maryland. Immediately I make a phone call. She visits Arkansas. She came to an official visit to Arkansas. As we were first getting here.
“If you go back and look at the dates – it’s the weekend we had 12 inches of rain. On a Friday and Saturday afternoon and Fayetteville flooded. So she chose to go to Oregon State – which is kinda hard to blame her with where we were at and what she saw on her 48-hour visit. She goes Oregon State obviously has two tremendous seasons. We kinda get things turned around here. She decides to grad transfer – and there you have it. Now she’s a Razorback there’s some more turns we can talk about.”]
After sitting out the 2017-18 season, she has been a starter the past two years for the Beavers, averaging 15.4 points and 4.5 assists as a redshirt sophomore, and 14.9 points and 4.7 assists this season.