Cullen Neal

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Mountain West gives New Mexico guard Cullen Neal medical hardship year

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The 2014-15 season got off to a rough start for New Mexico, as starting point guard Cullen Neal went down with a serious ankle injury in the team’s third game of the year. The injury, suffered at the Puerto Rico Tipoff, was ultimately a season-ender for Neal and it was one of many hits the Lobos took from a health standpoint.

Friday afternoon the school announced that its request for a medical hardship waiver for Neal had been granted by the Mountain West. As a result Neal retains that season of eligibility, meaning that he’ll have three years left to play at UNM.

Neal scored 26 and 23 points in New Mexico’s first two games before suffering the injury in the Lobos’ loss to Boston College, and without him things changed considerably for head coach Craig Neal. Hugh Greenwood, who was expected to spend the majority of his time playing off the ball, had to move back to the point. And other injuries throughout the course of the season led to New Mexico finishing with a 15-16 record.

Cullen Neal will be asked to lead the way for UNM next season, and that would have been the case regardless of the Mountain West’s ruling. The good news is that he’ll have three more years to lead the way as opposed to two.

New Mexico point guard to miss remainder of season due to ankle injury

Cullen Neal
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Shortly after New Mexico’s 66-53 win over No. 24 Colorado State on Saturday, the news many expected to hear became official. Sophomore point guard Cullen Neal, who hasn’t played since the Puerto Rico Tipoff in November after injuring his right ankle, will sit out the remainder of the season and apply for a medical redshirt according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal.

Neal partially tore tendons in his right ankle in the second half of New Mexico’s loss to Boston College on November 20, and his exit from the lineup has led to senior guard Hugh Greenwood moving into the role of primary ball-handler. Prior to the injury Greenwood was expected to spend the majority of his time off the ball for the Lobos, who are currently 10-4 overall and 2-0 in Mountain West play.

Per NCAA rules, had Cullen Neal played after the 15th game of the season, which is Tuesday at San Diego State, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue a medical hardship waiver (the official term for the more commonly used medical redshirt). UNM’s compliance office and the Neal family, including mother Janet and Craig Neal, have met on multiple occasions since the injury to ensure they have all the proper documentation to file for the waiver, though there is no timetable on when the NCAA will actually rule on the request.

Without Neal the Lobos have tightened things up defensively in order to account for the comparative lack of scoring, and the results thus far have been positive. New Mexico has won seven of its last eight games, and Saturday both Sam Logwood (15 points) and Devon Williams (13) scored in double figures.

New Mexico’s Craig Neal unsure if starting point guard will return this season

Cullen Neal
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After scoring a total of 49 points in New Mexico’s first two games of the season, sophomore point guard Cullen Neal suffered a severe right ankle sprain in the Lobos’ loss to Boston College in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tipoff. Upon the team’s return from San Juan, it was reported that Neal could miss anywhere from three to five weeks as a result of the injury.

However, according to Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal, New Mexico head coach Craig Neal is unsure of when (or if) his starting point guard will return to the lineup. There’s a chance that Neal could miss the remainder of the season as a result of the ankle injury, with the head coach noting that if a decision had to be made at that point in time (this past Thursday), “I don’t think he comes back.”

The elder Neal is looking at this situation from the perspective of a father wanting what’s best for his son as opposed to focusing on how the team would benefit from Cullen’s return to the court. And he wants his son to make the decision that’s best for him, even with the desire to get back onto the court to help his team.

“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.”

Since going 1-3 during that stretch the Lobos have won three straight games, most recently beating UL-Monroe 54-46 Saturday night. New Mexico’s been hit hard by the injury bug of late, with Arthur Edwards (finger) and Jordan Goodman (concussion) out of the lineup as well.

With that being the case the Lobos have stepped up on the defensive end of the floor, with none of their last three opponents shooting better than 35 percent from the field. In wins over New Mexico State, Valparaiso and UL Monroe, New Mexico allowed an average of 46.3 points per game.