ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A little more than an hour after the final buzzer sounded for Craig Neal’s first victory as the head coach of the No. 23 New Mexico Lobos, a 5-foot-10 point guard from Texas put the cherry on top of the celebratory cake.
Jordan Hunter, a high school junior at Beaumont (Texas) Ozen High School, on an unofficial recruiting visit to Albuquerque with his family, sat in Neal’s office and told him he’s committing to play for the Lobos. He is the second player in the Class of 2015 to give UNM a verbal commitment.
“It made me feel kind of good because he kept repeating, ‘I just coached my first game and now I’ve got my future point guard,’ ” Hunter told the Journal
of his meeting with Neal on Saturday night. “It was nice to give him that news after his first game.”
The NCAA prohibits Neal and others at UNM from talking about prospective recruits until they sign a letter of intent, which can be signed at the earliest for basketball players in mid-November of a player’s senior season, meaning Hunter is still a year away from signing with UNM.
Hunter, who says he’s a scoring point guard who likes to play fast, joins Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol shooting guard Dane Kuiper in the Lobos’ 2015 recruiting class.
Both players are rated as three-star recruits and said they wanted their recruitment to end early so they could enjoy their junior and senior seasons of high school.
“I talked to Dane today (Sunday) and we were talking about how the fans are crazy (there in the Pit) and we wouldn’t mind playing in that arena,” Hunter said.
First-year Lobo associate head coach Lamont Smith was the lead recruiter on Hunter and made inroads by reaching out to his parents, Amanda and Robert, before hitting the player with the recruiting pitch.
“He was the only one that called them first,” Hunter said. “He got real close with my family and with me and then coach Neal did, too. That was important.”
Hunter said he will likely take an official recruiting visit – one the school pays for – in January, the earliest the NCAA allows high school juniors to take official recruiting visits.
Hunter also had a scholarship offer from Texas A&M.
NEAL STAT LINE: There have been plenty of statistical breakdowns already of No. 23 New Mexico’s two exhibition games and Saturday regular-season opener.
Here is the current statline for first-time head coach Craig Neal since his April hire to take over the Lobos:
• Games coached: 1
• Class of 2013 recruits signed (and already playing): 3
(The Class of 2013 had five new recruits, but Tim Myles and Obij Aget were signed before Neal got the head coaching job).
• Class of 2014 recruits who have given a verbal commitment to UNM: 2
• Class of 2015 recruits who have given a verbal commitment to UNM: 2
Wednesday begins the early signing period for Class of 2014 recruits, meaning Texas guard Xavier Adams and California forward Joe Furstinger can sign letters of intent with UNM.
NO REDSHIRTS: In his first game as coach, Neal played all 14 players on the Lobos roster, erasing early in the season any questions about whether he’ll use a redshirt on athletic 6-foot-6 forward Tim Myles.
“If I tell y’all something, I’m going to stick to my word,” Neal said, referring to telling reporters two weeks ago he likely wouldn’t redshirt any players this season. “I know a lot of coaches do coachspeak and say they aren’t going to redshirt anybody then the day before say they are. That’s not me.”
Last year, UNM used 12 players in games while freshman Devon Williams and Kansas transfer Merv Lindsay sat out as redshirts – Williams to preserve a year of eligibility while continuing to develop his game and Lindsay per NCAA rules for players who transfer from other Division I programs.
The NCAA does not allow players to redshirt once they’ve played in a regular-season game.
Playing 14 players is rare in college basketball, where Division I teams are capped at 13 scholarships (UNM’s 14th player who saw action on Saturday was walk-on Chris Perez).
The Lobos hade not played 14 players in a season since 2005-06.