NCAA Hoops: Neal brings St. Louis area background to tourney

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Second round NCAA tournament action tips off Friday afternoon at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

(ST. LOUIS-KTVI) New Mexico Lobos Men’s basketball head coach Craig Neal opened his remarks to reporters gathered Thursday ahead of Friday’s NCAA regional second round matchup against Stanford by talking about the special place St. Louis had in his upbringing.

Neal grew up in Southern Indiana, a product of Washington High School, who played for his father Stan before going on to play college basketball at Georgia Tech and later, a pro career that included stops in Denver and Miami.

“When you grow up in Southern Indiana and you are a high school coach and there is not lots of means in your family, you do a lot of road trips by car,” Neal said. It’s a unique situation in Southern Indiana. We didn’t have any baseball and so you are either a Cardinals fan or a Red fan…St. Louis is a cool town and I’m very fortunate to be here to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

Neal’s parents will both be here for the games to watch their son and their grandson, Cullen, a Freshman guard for the Lobos. Cullen, who was let out of a pledge to Saint Mary’s in order to play for his father when Steve Alford left New Mexico in the offseason to take over at UCLA, overcame appendicitis and convinced his father he’d be strong enough to play. Cullen Neal responded by being the fourth-leading scorer for the Lobos, which earned a trip to the NCAA tournament by winning the Mountain West Conference championship.

“He’s come through with flying colors and really matured,” Craig Neal said. He’s had a fairly good year and hopefully he will play well in the tournament.”