At the dawn of every new day, Justin Neely and his father were the first ones to step into the legendary Miami Senior High School basketball gym.
The first sight from the moment he walks into the gym: the championship banners that carry the legacy of one of Miami basketball’s most legendary dynasties.
“It’s motivation to continue to work to get better every day,” Neely told 305 Sports. “A state championship is something is something that you want to accomplish and it’s a really big thing, especially at Miami High.”
Neely’s hard work was displayed in his nightly performances as he took over the Miami-Dade County basketball scene. He was named the 305 Sports Player of the Year after averaging 27.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game en route to the Class 7A District 15 championship.
Neely drowned in the thoughts of soon bringing back a state championship to Miami High and reaching his 18-year dream of playing at the next level. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was time to make critical decisions. The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) had long delayed the decision on whether or not there would be a winter basketball season, and how long it would last.
And for a rising senior that received five Division-1 offers over the summer, he wasn’t going to let the uncertainty of the FHSAA get in the way of his path. Neely ultimately chose to attend West Oaks Academy, a powerhouse preparatory school in Orlando, Florida.
He joined a number of South Florida’s top basketball prospects at West Oaks, including Northeastern’s Westley Cardet, JJ Harris and brother Matt and Ryan Bewley, who transferred with similar intentions.
The unfazed Neely, who made the move 250 miles away from home, immediately fell in love with his new lifestyle.
“We’re not doing anything but basketball up here because that’s what we’re here to do,” Neely said. “Being up here, you get a better chance to focus in on yourself and what you really want to do. There are no distractions.”
Neely’s daily schedule consists of a 6:00 a.m. personal workout at home — pushups and situps — and school from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. He’s then in the gym to lift, grabs a bite and is on the court from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. for team practice. He checks out of the gym at about 10:00 p.m. every night after individual on-court workouts.
He’s since added tone to his figure and is now about 6-foot-6, 205-pounds, which is a lot leaner than he was as a junior at Miami High. This new opportunity has only opened the door for him to put in more work with better trainers and players.
West Oaks plays in the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association Conference (SIAA), which is well-known for being filled with top tier Division-1 bound athletes. Their roster is filled with players with All-State honors and high-major offers and is donned as the No. 13 team in the country by MaxPreps.
With so many high-level scorers on the floor and there only being one ball, it’s going to take time for things to come together. Neely has only been on campus for just over a month, and says that players are understanding their roles on the team and that their chemistry is close to fully coming together.
Nonetheless, Neely has wasted no time in making an impact. In a recent trip to Arizona to play against top-notch teams from all over the country at The Grind Session, Neely thrived at all times. Through six games, he averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and nearly a steal per game.
“There’s no taking it easy,” Neely stated. I prepared for this. This is not a new thing to me, I’ve always been going hard at whatever I’ve done.”
“We’re all after the same goal. We’re all trying to make it to the next level.”
Neely’s recruiting continues to heat up, as he’s recently received interest from Stanford, UCF and Florida State. He holds offers from Rice, Temple, UTSA, VCU and Washington State. He wants to major in the business field.
“My dream is to make it to the league, but the academic part of the school is just as important as the basketball,” Neely said. “ I think you need the best of both worlds, and you have to find the right fit. You need to find a place where they need you and where you can be great.”