ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Coach’s son may yet become a Lobo
The New Mexico Lobos lost Steve Alford and his son, La Cueva High standout Bryce Alford, who will follow his old man to Los Angeles instead of playing for the Lobos next season as was the plan.
On Wednesday, though, UNM announced Steve Alford will be replaced by longtime friend Craig Neal as head coach. Now, the waiting begins for fans as to whether Cullen Neal, Craig’s son and a standout player at Eldorado High School who has signed a National Letter of Intent to play college basketball for the St. Mary’s Gaels in California, will also change course to replace his friend Bryce as an incoming recruit for the Lobos.
“If his mom’s good at recruiting,” Craig Neal said, “we’ll have a shot.”
Cullen Neal is a 6-foot-5 guard who averaged 26.4 points and 7.1 assists this past season for Eldorado.
His commitment to St. Mary’s was twofold. One is he loves the program and university, but he also was recruited by other universities because Steve Alford did not want both Bryce Alford and Cullen Neal on the UNM roster together as they are, in many people’s estimation, very similar in style and position.
Now that his old man has the job and a scholarship for his beloved Lobos is open, Cullen admits he may reconsider.
“I sort of feel like I’m in a win-win situation now,” Cullen Neal said Wednesday, wearing a Lobos T-shirt. “I love St. Mary’s and coach (Randy) Bennett and as of right now I’m still going there, but we (the Neal family) will talk about everything and see what is best. I would love to play for my dad, too, and I love the Lobos.”
There is no timetable on the decision, though it will likely have to come before April 11 as that is the first day coaches for UNM and St. Mary’s can fly to visit recruits in person in the spring recruiting period and both programs will have to know what their scholarship situation is by then.
An email request for comment as to whether or not Bennett would let Cullen Neal out of his letter of intent in time to join the team next season was not returned Wednesday night.
Janet Neal, Cullen’s mom, said she will support her son no matter what.
“He’s worked so hard to get to the position he’s in and this is his decision,” Janet Neal said. “I’ll support whatever he decides.
“Randy has recruited Cullen since the eighth grade, and he and his staff did a great job. Cullen fell in love with that staff and the university. It’s emotional. He’s been planning on going there all along, so this is tough.”
Many recruiting services have Cullen Neal rated much higher than Bryce Alford, who broke the state’s single season scoring record this past season while averaging 37.5 points per game.
Eldorado boys basketball coach Roy Sanchez, brother of UNM women’s coach Yvonne Sanchez and a self-described “Lobo fan all my life,” made no secret what he hopes Cullen Neal decides, but made it clear it isn’t a slam-dunk for UNM.
“(St. Mary’s head coach) Randy Bennett’s a great guy, as well, and Cullen would get taken care of there, too,” Sanchez said. “So it’s going to be tough for Cullen. A lot of people want him, and it’s great to be wanted. He’s got to find the right spot for himself.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal