It may have been the most watched exercise bike ride in Albuquerque.
While most of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team was running through a drill Thursday in the Rudy Davalos Center practice facility, three TV cameras and several sets of media-member eyes were fixated in the opposite direction.
Off to the side of the practice court was a stationary bike with Lobos sophomore guard Cullen Neal pedaling away.
The Eldorado High graduate has been relegated to bike duty for the past few weeks after sustaining a severe high ankle sprain in the Lobos’ Nov. 20 loss to Boston College. While the team had said Neal might return in 4-6 weeks, coach Craig Neal on Thursday cautioned there is a chance Cullen Neal does not return to full strength, leading him to miss the entire season. UNM would then seek a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA.
“Cullen is slowly making his way back. His decision will have to be made before Jan. 5 if he’s going to medically redshirt,” coach Neal said. “That will be up to him. That won’t have anything to do with me. It will have something to do with me as a father, but it won’t have anything to do with our program or our team.”
The coach added that if the decision were to be made today, “I don’t think he comes back.”
It is unlikely Cullen Neal’s ankle injury will be 100 percent healed by Jan. 5. So what will be the deciding factor in whether he returns at all this season, be it healthy or not?
“I’m going to do what’s best for Cullen, not what’s best for my team or what’s best for me,” Craig Neal said, adding that seeking medical hardship waivers is something he would let any player and his family make the call on, regardless of the team’s situation.
“I know he’s feeling a lot of pressure because he thinks he’s got to come back for me as his coach and as his dad, and I think he’s feeling a lot of pressure thinking he’s got to come back for his teammates. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do what’s best for him. That’s with all our kids.”
ON ARTHUR: Backup guard Arthur Edwards, who started two games in place of Cullen Neal before dislocating and fracturing a bone in his right index finger, is expected to return to practice Wednesday.
ON GOODMAN: Oft-injured 6-9 forward Jordan Goodman was a full participant in Thursday’s practice, his third full practice this week after being cleared by team doctors after being held out 12 days with a concussion.
“He’ll be available to play on Saturday, don’t know if I’ll put him into action because I don’t know if he’s ready – game shape – to play,” coach Neal said.
While many have speculated there is more to Goodman’s sitting out than injury, the coach addressed that Thursday.
“I know everyone wants it to be a discipline decision,” Neal said. “It has nothing to do with discipline. It has to do with he’s not been healthy. … He’s worked really hard, I’ve got to give him credit. He’s worked his butt off.”
Goodman has participated in eight of 42 practices since early October.
ON UTEP: Wednesday, the athletic directors had their say. Thursday, the guy who actually does the scheduling for men’s basketball had his.
UTEP AD Bob Stull and UNM AD Paul Krebs said they’re in discussions to renew football and basketball series, but Craig Neal, who does the men’s basketball scheduling, said that was news to him.
“I haven’t had any discussions with anybody about scheduling a game,” Neal said.
“I’ve made a comment that I’d listen, but we haven’t done anything. And I don’t know what football does. I do my scheduling; they do their scheduling. I don’t know where that came from. That’s on them. But I haven’t had, personally, any discussions if we’re going to play them or not, and I sign off on that.”