Former Ole Miss basketball standout Johnny Neumann died on Tuesday in Oxford after a battle with cancer.
Neumann, known as “Johnny Reb” to cheering fans and timid opponents, was famous for his tenacious defense and prolific scoring even back in high school. The Memphis native graduated from Overton High School in 1969 and, after fielding interest from the likes of Adolph Rupp from Kentucky and John Wooden from UCLA, decided to go to Ole Miss and play for coach Cob Jarvis.
In Oxford, Neumann enjoyed the ultimate green light from the jump. Freshmen were not allowed to play for collegiate varsity teams, so he led the Ole Miss freshmen team to a 25-1 record and No. 2 ranking, averaging 38.4 points per game. Neumann then erupted during his sophomore season in 1970-71, leading the nation in scoring with 40.1 points per game 10 years before the 3-point line was introduced in college basketball.
He found himself scoring 57 here against Southern Miss, 60 there against Baylor and then turning around to put 63 on LSU. Neumann received consensus All-American and All-SEC honors as well as SEC Player of the Year while being dubbed as the “next Pete Maravich.”
He quickly earned the “Johnny Reb” reputation with his style on and off the court. He was the Ole Miss offense. Neumann had 792 attempted shots that season, 520 more than the next scoring option on the court, David Rhodes. His extravagant and fearless lifestyle translated to the pros after he signed a five-year $2 million contract to play for the ABA Memphis Pros, making him one of the highest-paid athletes at the time and the first to sign an NCAA hardship clause.
Neumann became notorious for spending money like he scored points, in bunches, with his first big purchase being a Pantera sports car, followed by an El Dorado Cadillac, followed by BMWs and so on.
He backed up his spending habits on the court as he averaged 18.3 and 19.6 points per game in his first two years and was named to the ABA All-Rookie team in 1972.
However, Neumann wasn’t able to find much more success as he hopped across the ABA and eventually the NBA. He had stints everywhere from Utah to Kentucky in the ABA and played with the Buffalo Braves, LA Lakers and finished his career in the NBA with the Pacers before playing in Italy and Germany.
Neumann returned to Ole Miss to earn his bachelor’s degree in general studies with minors in journalism, recreation administration and legal studies in 2016 at the age of 65.
Neumann is in a different league when it comes to SEC legends. LSU has Pistol Pete and Shaq, Auburn has Chuck Person and Charles Barkley and Ole Miss has Johnny Reb, a lightning rod in college with a solid professional career who never truly reached his potential.
Johnny Neumann is truly a Rebel legend and undoubtedly one of the greatest Ole Miss players ever. He was the subject of the ESPN documentary titled “The Rebel” and represented Ole Miss in the 2016 SEC Legends Class.
After a lifetime of high and lows, Rebels fans and players can look up to the south end of The Pavilion, see that No. 14 up near the rafters and be inspired by the great Johnny Reb.
The Memphis native attended Overton before playing one season at Ole Miss, averaging 40.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game during the 1970-71 season. He led the league in scoring that year with 923 total points, which still stands as a single-season scoring record.
Neumann received consensus All-American and All-SEC honors as well as SEC Player of the year. After that season, he left Ole Miss to play for the Memphis Pros in the ABA, where he averaged 18.3 and 19.6 points per game and was named to the ABA All-Rookie Team in 1982.
Neumann returned to Ole Miss and to earn his bachelor’s degree in general studies with a journalism minor in 2016.