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Cullen Neal carving own path at St. Mary's

2/14/2012

Don’t look for the New Mexico Lobos to pop up on St. Mary’s schedule after the 2012 season now that junior guard Cullen Neal (Albuquerque, N.M./El Dorado) -- son of Lobos assistant Craig Neal -- committed to the Gaels.

“I know all the New Mexico stuff, so I don’t think they’ll be scheduling them anytime soon,” Neal said.

What Neal also knows is scoring. He’s tossing in 28 points per game for his high school team, including 46 points in one contest. Arizona State, Stanford, San Francisco, Gonzaga and yes, the Lobos, wanted him.

Cullen didn’t have to pick up the phone to inform anyone of his decision, he told his father, the person who recruited him as hard as anyone.

“It’s difficult,” Craig Neal said. “He’s my son but at the end of the day you have to be a dad and advise him. He did what he wanted to do and he’s really happy about it. You always want your kid to be where you are but sometimes that’s not the best situation. I like [St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett]; I respect him and they’ve got an up-and-coming program.”

Cullen Neal's decision is a tale of a young man who simply wanted to spread his wings and become his own person, not unlike his father.

“Steve [Alford’s] been really supportive. We’ve recruited him but Cullen always wanted to do his own thing," Craig Neal said. "Hey, I grew up in Indiana and wound up going to Georgia Tech.”

Craig Neal played high school ball for his father in Indiana before venturing out on his own. The plan worked for him as he went from Georgia Tech to the NBA and into the coaching profession. Now, it’s Cullen’s turn.

And Cullen couldn’t be more excited.

“I love the coach and the staff up there. They’re a top-20 program," Cullen said. "I wanted to get away and do my own thing. (Dad’s) really happy for me.”

Neal’s decision was finalized following a weekend visit with the Gaels. The junior knew it was time and made it happen. His father signed off and trusted Bennett to continue his son’s ascension and development. Plus, dad saw a head coach recruit his son with the proper respect and interest.

“He saw Cullen play as a freshman but he always thought he’d go play where I was,” Craig Neal said. “This summer he asked what the deal was and I told him to go recruit him. He recruited Cullen by himself and built a great relationship with him. Being a coach, you have to have trust in the coaching fraternity.”

In case you're wondering: how good is Cullen Neal? We've got him graded out as a fringe ESPNU 100 player with a grade of 90. He can flat-out play and St. Mary's plans on handing him the basketball and letting him run some point. He'll be an integral part of Bennett's plan once he arrives on campus.