The doors swing open and Mike Neighbors is standing at the entrance.
“Welcome,” he said in that unmistakable southern drawl. “Y’all come on in.”
It’s a bright, clear and cool afternoon — the last day of autumn — and the Washington women’s basketball coach guides a tour through his newly purchased Mercer Island house and explains why he finally feels at home in Seattle.
Since taking the job as a Huskies assistant in 2011, Neighbors rented a one-bedroom, one-bath 860-square feet condo in Bitterlake, Wash. that he cherished.
“Although very functional for a single guy, it wasn’t very functional for a full team,” said Neighbors who became UW’s head coach in 2013 and leased an identical, but separate condo below.
“Two cable bills, two water bills and two everything,” he said. “It was the ultimate man cave. I used that as an entertainment area/game room. A place where the kids could play darts. But it was still not big enough to host the entire team.”
Whenever Neighbors hosted team dinners — his specialty is chicken spaghetti — there wasn’t enough room for everybody. So he cooked for the guards one night and the post players the next.
About a year and half ago, Neighbors began looking to upgrade on the condo and found a place in Mercer Island where he calls home.
“That word “home” is very important because I feel more settled now than ever before” said Neighbors, who has had seven coaching stops since leaving Bentonville (Ark.) High in 1997 where he was the girls basketball coach.
In his fourth year at Washington, he has the ninth-ranked Huskies (12-1) poised for a run at their first conference title since 2001. They’re also on target for a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Last season’s first trip the Final Four, proved to be lucrative for Neighbors who received a three-year contract extension that runs through the 2022-23.
It was the second straight year Neighbors, who made $41,0,000 last season, was given a raise. And the way things are shaping up this season, UW may have to pony up once again.
That’s not to suggest he’s looking to leave. Quite the opposite. He’s planting roots in the Northwest — hence the new digs.
“This is the first situation,” Neighbors said, “where I’ve been vested into a place for a long period of time.”
Maybe now the rumors and social media chatter about him leaving Washington after seniors star Kelsey Plum, Chantel Osahor and Katie Collier graduate next year, will subside.
“I got tired of hearing that,” Neighbors said. “I got tired of people saying, so and so and so in so are getting ready to do this and you’re the next head coach at so and so university. That wasn’t what I was thinking, but it was what people were saying so I wanted to stop people from having any argument with that.”
Admittedly, Neighbors contributed to some of the speculation.
While an assistant at Xavier, he lobbied hard for the head-coaching position when McGuff left for UW but didn’t get an offer.
“I haven’t told very many people this, but I really thought if I can’t get that job after doing the job that I think I’ve been doing here then I’m not going to get any job,” Neighbors said. “Kevin was saving a job for me here on his staff, but that job at Xavier kept dragging out and dragging out. And he was getting ready to have to make a decision.
“Believe me there was a thought in my head what if I don’t get this job and he’s moved on. Then what? For several weeks there, I’m looking at pharmaceutical sales and all kinds of different things.”
After taking over at UW in 2013, the Greenwood, Ark. native was linked to the Arkansas job the following year. “It’s my dream job and everybody knows that,” he said at the time.
Now, Neighbors offers perspective.
“When I didn’t get the second one, I was like maybe I need to rethink this dream job stuff and let’s get a good job,” he said. “Shortly after getting here, and getting into that role I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could do to keep this job. I wasn’t worried about another job.”
To anyone that has followed the man’s career, it will come as no surprise that Neighbors’ home is a reflection of his eclectic life. He is a fascinating study.
And nearly every inch of his five-bedroom, 4,000-square feet residence tells a story about the 47-year-old divorced father of two who has survived two heart attacks and enjoys an assortment of hobbies.
Pictures of Neighbors and his two kids — 20-year-old Abby and 14-year-old Alec — adorn the wall near the front door.
Dozens of photos of past players and coaches sit on the shelves next to his living room fireplace and chronicle his love affair with basketball that began as a toddler.
When asked to pick his favorite spot in the house, Neighbors points to the fire pit out back on wooden deck where evenings are often spent overlooking Lake Washington and enjoying a glass of Crown Royal whiskey.
“C’mon, I’ll show you my real favorite place,” Neighbors said before walking downstairs to an acoustically, pitch-perfect music room where he catalogs an expansive music and movie collection.
This is also where he keeps his prized guitar collection, including a black Fender that he purchased for $300 in college when he taught himself to play.
Neighbors’ house is a favorite hangout for the Huskies.
Two weeks ago, he waged an epic table tennis battle with Osahor that ended with them panting, verbally sparring and the UW coach winning 35-33.
In the adjoining room, Neighbors stores memorabilia such as old Sports Illustrated magazines and vintage lunch boxes.
“People often ask how in the world did all of this stuff fit in my old place and the simple answer is, it didn’t,” Neighbors said. “A lot of this has been in storage and now I’m finally able to unpack.
“So that feels good.”