ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Craig Neal doesn’t like looking ahead too much with his current team.
When it comes to recruiting, however, the first-year head coach of the No. 22 New Mexico Lobos prefers wrapping things up a couple years in advance whenever possible.
That is why there were no big surprises on Wednesday’s first day of the early signing period for college basketball. Neal announced UNM received letters of intent from 6-foot-4 Texas shooting guard Xavier Adams and 6-9 California power forward Joe Furstinger, who make up the program’s Class of 2014 recruiting class.
“I think both of these guys will have a major chance to play as freshmen,” Neal said. “… I’m really, really happy with those guys.”
Adams, who plays his first game this week for Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus High School, was recruited by the Lobos since before his junior year of high school and gave a verbal commitment last January.
While Neal isn’t allowed yet to talk about his 2015 recruiting class, the Journal has spoken to Dane Kuiper, a shooting guard from Arizona, and Jordan Hunter, a point guard from Texas, who have both given verbal commitments to Neal and the Lobos before even playing their junior seasons in high school.
Asked about his preference of getting recruits locked up so far in advance, Neal said he thinks it shows strength and stability in the program – as long as you’re confident in your ability to evaluate talent.
“I just think we do our work earlier,” Neal said. “I can’t help it that people don’t see a players potential. That’s a credit to the guys I got working for me. I spent a lot of years in player personnel when I was with Toronto (Raptors in the NBA), and I think I know who can play and who can’t play. And I know how I can use each kid. I can’t help it that other people are behind. I’m trying to get the 2015 class done. If you can do that, you solidify your program even more. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
The byproduct of early commitments, as in the case of Adams, is other programs who weren’t recruiting him as early as the Lobos were coming at him hard for the past year trying to lure him away.
Adams told the Journal last month he never wavered, because the Lobos coaching staff showed faith in him first.
“We’re very fortunate in that we were able to keep Xavier because he had a lot of big schools come after him, even though we had his commitment,” Neal said.
“That’s just the business. We’re very fortunate that he stayed loyal.”
And not only that, the Lobos feel it has become apparent to more and more people of late what they saw in Adams before his junior season of high school.
“He’s arguably a top 5 player in Texas,” said Neal, “which is saying a lot.”
As for Furstinger, who just gave his verbal commitment last month, Neal said he sees a player who “came on like gangbusters” in the summer club basketball scene, is a good outside shooter and can use his 7-foot-4-inch wing span to become a very good shot blocker.
Furstinger plays high school basketball for former Lobo Jeff Reinert (1980-82) at Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic School.