Southern Miss' Lee-McNelis wins 2024 Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award

INDIANAPOLIS (USBWA)Joye Lee-McNelis, who coached the women’s basketball team at the University of Southern Mississippi for a 20th season despite a recurrence of stage 4 lung cancer, is the winner of the 2024 Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award. Lee-McNelis will be honored on Friday at the USBWA Awards Brunch at the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland.

Joye Lee-McNelisShe will be represented by her son Connor, the Director of Analytics and Player Relations on the Southern Miss staff.

The program will take place at 10 a.m. at the Cleveland Marriott Downtown at Key Tower, Salons F-G.

“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.”

The most recent recurrence, announced by the university last September, marks the third time she has been diagnosed with the same cancer since 2017.

“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.

In 20 seasons at Southern Miss, Lee-McNelis’ teams have had a record of 329-287. During the most recent 20-14 season, she missed just four games because of her condition and the passing of her father. In 33 seasons, including 20 at Memphis, her record is 558-443. 

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.

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association was formed in 1956 at the urging of then-NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers. With more than 800 members worldwide, it is one of the most influential organizations in college basketball. The USBWA has selected an All-America team since the 1956-57 season. For more information on the USBWA and its award programs, contact executive director Malcolm Moran at