Updated: 02/26/2014 10:30 PM |
Created: 02/26/2014 9:21 PM
By: J.P. Murrieta, KOB Eyewitness Sports 4
You can like his play off the bench or dislike his overzealous reactions on the court, but either way people are talking about UNM freshman Cullen Neal.
Let me start by saying Cullen Neal was the reason the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team came from behind to beat Utah State. Neal provided the spark off the bench the Lobos needed to rally at home. The freshman scored 12 points with three 3-pointers.
It's obvious the freshman has a firery, competitive spirit about him. In the first half of the Utah State game, head coach Craig Neal gave his son, Cullen, an earful on the bench to let him know he didn’t appreciate the way he was playing. Cullen took a 3-point attempt that his dad thought was too early in the shot clock and the coach lit into his player/son.
"He took a bad shot, I thought, in the first half and he (Cullen) said 'well then take me out' and I took him out," explained the head coach following the win.
Message received for Cullen.
“It was just a little argument,” said the freshman after the game. “He knows what to get me fired up and it worked.”
“I know how to push his buttons and I know how good he can be,” said Craig Neal. “I think he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Since he decided to play for his dad at UNM rather than suit up at St. Mary’s, we knew Cullen Neal would be constantly under the microscope. Lobo fans questioned whether he should be playing as much as he did at the start of the season. With scoring double figures 9 times already this year, I’d say he warrants some playing time. But still some Lobo fans aren’t squarely in Cullen’s camp yet.
Cullen is talented, a good student and very respectful to reporters following a game. It’s ironic that as boisterous as he can be ON the court that OFF the court he is ‘matter of fact’ and to the point in front of the microphone. His occasional antics on the floor just rub some people (even Lobo fans) the wrong way.
Let me give Cullen some unsolicited advice. Stop with the sticking out of your tongue, the blowing of kisses to the opponents student section and the behind the back passes that go off your foot. You WANT the people in your own building to like you and right now there are some UNM fans who have a tough time supporting those actions. Danny Granger was one of the most talented Lobos of the last two decades and I can’t remember him ever laughing at opponents after he hit a big shot. I know you’re energetic, enthusiastic and passionate and a tiger can’t change his stripes. (The overzealous behavior on the court is nothing new. Cullen would occasionally flex his muscles running up the floor in those epic La Cueva-Eldorado matchups in high school). But fans appreciate Barry Sanders more than Ocho Cinco. Act like you’ve been there before. If your player development continues throughout your career, you will likely have plenty of opportunities to make your opponents wish you played on their squad.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott also plays for his dad. He can light it up from anywhere on the floor. He’s one of the top 10 all-time scorers in college basketball, but you don’t see him taunting his opponents by sticking out his tongue or blowing kisses. And you know what? He’ll likely be the player of the year. Now that is something to shoot for.