Newly hired New Mexico coach Craig Neal shares a hug with Kendall Williams last season (USA Today Sports Images)
When newly hired New Mexico coach Craig "Noodles" Neal pulled into his driveway following his introductory press conference last month, he found his son waiting inside the house to chat with him.
Cullen Neal (Rivals.com)Cullen Neal told his dad he wanted to back out of the letter of intent he signed with Saint Mary's and play at New Mexico, which forced the elder Neal to do something few coaches ever do: Try to talk a top recruit out of committing on the spot.
"I had to take off my coaching hat for a second and play the role of dad," Craig Neal said. "I wanted to give him my expectations of him, have him look at the pluses and minuses of it and allow him to get feedback from other people on what it's like to play for your dad. It's a weird thing because he's a really good player who can help the program the next four years, but I wanted to make sure he didn't make the decision on emotion."
Before Craig would allow Cullen to make a choice, he took his son to the Final Four in Atlanta to speak with other father-son duos about the experience of playing for dad or coaching their kid. Cullen chatted with Valparaiso's Bryce Drew, Creighton's Greg McDermott and Oklahoma's Lon Kruger and exchanged texts with Doug McDermott, each of whom described the father-son dynamic as challenging at times but also rewarding.
That Cullen reaffirmed his desire to come to New Mexico after returning from Atlanta is a coup for a Lobos program suddenly in need of depth on the perimeter. With junior Tony Snell turning pro, junior Demetrius Walker transferring and incoming freshman Bryce Alford opting to follow his dad to UCLA, immediate playing time should be available to Cullen next season behind guards Kendall Williams and Hugh Greenwood.
"I'm really excited about my decision," Cullen said. "I wanted to do a lot of research and my dad knew a lot of guys who had been through it. They gave me a bunch of great advice. They told me playing for your dad is going to have its ups and downs that you have to work through but that it's going to be the best experience of my life. They said they wouldn't want to do anything else."
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