ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Craig Neal promised a faster tempo from Day 1 as head coach of the New Mexico Lobos.
He just forgot to mention his first game as head coach will be next week in Australia where his team will be playing with a 24 second shot clock.
“I told you we were going to play faster,” he said, flashing a big grin to reporters on Monday after his team practiced using the up-tempo clock. “I said we’re playing faster, so there’s no excuse. We’re playing faster.”
The Lobos are allowed a week’s worth of practices for their upcoming trip to Australia (they leave Friday night and return Aug. 13). The NCAA allows teams one international summer trip for exhibition games every four years.
The Lobos not only were getting used to the 24 second shot clock, faster than the 35 second clock used in the college game, but also international court dimensions (a slightly shorter court, a longer 3-point line and wider free throw lanes).
Monday’s practice was held with just 10 players as both Australian Lobos – Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow – are already in their home country awaiting the arrival of their teammates.
UNM is also still without junior college transfer guard Deshawn Delaney (finishing his final class of junior college) and incoming freshman center Obij Aget (awaiting clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse).
“We’ll get both of them in August,” Neal said.
The 90-minute practice, which was open to the media, was at times sloppy, which is to be expected for July, but it didn’t lack intensity from the first-year head coach.
“You get some people in here and you all want play like the Harlem Globetrotters,” Neal barked after one stretch of several turnovers in a row due to players trying to make fancy passes.
UNM will play the Sydney Kings professional team on Aug. 6 in Sydney, then two professional league all-star teams on Aug. 8 (SEABL All-Stars in Melbourne) and Aug. 11 (Queensland All-Stars in Brisbane).
Neal not only gets to cut his head coaching teeth on the upcoming trip, he gets to see several new Lobos in game situations for the first time.
“It’ll get us ahead a little bit with our new guys,” Neal said of the extra practice time. “… But the most important thing is how much rest do we give them when we get back? We’re going to take some time off when we get back and let them get settled into being college students.”
Neal does not plan on trying to figure out a set starting lineup on the trip (the Lobos return four starters from last year’s 29-win squad anyway). He said he’ll likely shuffle the rotation frequently.
MOVING ON UP: Bairstow, the Brisbane, Australia, native, may miss one of the three Lobos games in his home country.
“Cam might not be able to play the second game because he got invited to go play for the national team – to try out for the world championship team,” Neal said.
Bairstow is coming off an impressive performance for the Boomers in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, leading his team to a Silver medal. The World Championships take place next summer.
FATHERLY LOVE: For anyone interested in how Neal may treat his son, Lobo freshman Cullen Neal, Monday gave a good answer.
After two turnovers from the younger Neal in the span of a few minutes, the elder Neal tore into Cullen Neal about protecting the ball and making good decisions. If anything, he was a bit harsher on his son than the rest of the Lobos on the court.
“It’s different,” Craig Neal said. “It’s a lot different than him shooting around on the side baskets while we’re practicing. I think he’ll be OK.”
Cullen Neal, the recent Eldorado High graduate, who happened to have his high school coach Roy Sanchez, in attendance at Monday’s practice, later drained three 3-pointers on three-consecutive possessions during drills.
CULLEN TAKE 2: Cullen Neal will play in Thursday night’s New Mexico High School Coaches Association North/South All-Star basketball game at Albuquerque High before the team leaves Friday for Australia.
Joining him will be childhood friend Bryce Alford, the La Cueva graduate who is now a freshman at UCLA.
Asked if the game officials would let his team play with two basketballs at the same time to accommodate the high-scoring Neal and Alford on the same squad, Sanchez said, “They’re going to have to I think.”