ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After losing to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament 10 days ago in St. Louis, Craig Neal didn’t go into hiding.
He didn’t take time to lick his wounds or catch his breath after a whirlwind first season as the head coach of the University of New Mexico.
Instead, Neal was in his office working the phone, on the road and in high school gyms recruiting for the coming season with the reality some player transfers are imminent.
On Sunday morning, Neal was reassuring future Lobo recruits he wasn’t going anywhere after his name had surfaced as a possible target for the University of South Florida coaching job. He also met with a former New Mexico high school star point guard about joining the Lobos next season as a preferred walk-on.
And Neal issued a statement to the Journal:
“I am humbled and blessed to be the coach of New Mexico!
“I am excited about the direction of our program and the players we have and have recruited that are coming in the near future. I want to thank my team for an unbelievable experience this year. I was very fortunate to coach a very special group. Sad to see Cam, Kendall and Chris go but can’t thank them enough for what they have done for the University of New Mexico.
“Want to thank all the fans and supporters for their undying passion and love for our program. Thanks to Paul Krebs and Bob Frank (for) believing in me and giving me an amazing opportunity. Thanks to the Board of Regents and all the professors and staff that have been so supportive to my team and myself. And would like to thank David Harris and Gov. Martinez for all they do for our university.
“I look forward to leading the Lobos for several years and enjoying the Land of Enchantment.”
As has been the case all season, Neal did not discuss his contract, which pays him $750,000 per season in base salary and compensation. Nor did he mention UNM athletic director Paul Krebs’ stance not to restructure the deal despite Neal’s record number of wins for a rookie head coach at the school. Two Mountain West Conference coaches – Boise State’s Leon Rice and UNLV’s Dave Rice – on Saturday received new contracts despite their teams not playing in the postseason.
Though there had been no reports of Neal leaving, Beaumont, Texas, point guard Jordan Hunter of the Class of 2015 was happy Sunday his future coach took the time to reassure him of that.
Hunter, who along with Tempe, Ariz.’s, Dane Kuiper have given verbal commitments to UNM for next year’s recruiting class, quoted Neal when he wrote on Twitter: ” ‘I’m not going anywhere Jordan’ — Craig Neal #GoLobos”
"I'm not going anywhere Jordan" – Craig Neal #GoLobos
— Juice!! (@JordanHunter8) March 30, 2014
His mom, Amanda Hunter, followed suit on Twitter, writing, “UNM Coach Neal a few minutes ago “I am NOT going ANYWHERE!” We do appreciate the call!”
UNM Coach Neal a few minutes ago " I am NOT going ANYWHERE!" We do appreciate the call!
— Amanda Hunter (@RN_Mandy) March 30, 2014
Both Hunter and Kuiper last week were placed on Rivals.com’s Top 150 recruits list for 2015.
Point guard Tim Jacobs, one of the best players in New Mexico when he led the Oñate Knights to the 2011 Class 5A state title, will join the Lobos next year as a preferred walk-on. He redshirted for UTEP for the 2011-12 season and spent the last two seasons at Cochise College in Arizona.
Jacobs and his family met with Neal on Sunday. The 6-foot-2 guard who averaged 14.3 points and 3.6 assists this past season said he looks forward to being a Lobo.
“He told me he needs me to run the second team next year and make things tough on Cullen (Neal) and Hugh (Greenwood) in practice,” said Jacobs, who played under current UNM assistant Craig Snow for three years in AAU basketball for the Danny Granger D1 Ambassadors. “He told me he wouldn’t be afraid to play me and put me on the court, either. He wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think I could play.”
On the move?
Associate head coach Lamont Smith is in the running for the Montana State head coaching job. He’s spent one season with UNM and is known for coaching defense and as being a well-respected recruiter in the west.