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Monday, December 22, 2014

Men's Basketball: Neal’s appeal sparks gossip

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM men’s basketball head coach Craig Neal questions a call by officials during a March 8 game at San Diego State. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish reported Thursday that Neal is a “legitimate target” for the coaching job at South Florida, but UNM recruit Jordan Hunter sent a tweet Sunday insinuating that Neal told him Neal is staying with the Lobos.

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The coaching carousel in college basketball is already under way, and Craig Neal’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate by one national media outlet.

The New Mexico coach who just completed his first year as the head man was called a, “legitimate target,” for the lead position at South Florida, according a Thursday report from CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish.

UNM sports information director Frank Mercogliano told the Daily Lobo on Sunday that neither Neal nor athletic director Paul Krebs has a statement regarding the CBS Sports report, saying in a text message they, “don’t comment on rumors.”

However, a Texas high school student that has given a verbal commitment to join UNM, wrote on Twitter Sunday that points to Neal staying put.

“’I’m not going anywhere Jordan’ – Craig Neal #GoLobos,” Jordan Hunter tweeted.

Hunter’s mother, Amanda, tweeted something similar: “UNM Coach Neal a few minutes ago ‘I am NOT going ANYWHERE!’ We do appreciate the call!”

The South Florida job has drawn attention after the school pulled offer to Manhattan’s Steve Maisello, who reportedly did not pass a background check with a discrepancy with his resume. The Bulls look to replace Stan Heath, who the school fired on March 14 after a seven-year run. USF had 12 wins each in the last two years.

UNLV head coach Dave Rice has also reportedly been tied to the vacant USF position. The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Saturday reported the Bulls offered Rice roughly six-year deal worth $1.3 million per year.

UNLV released a statement on Sunday saying school President Donald Snyder and athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy recommended that Rice receive a two-year extension to stay with the Runnin’ Rebels through the 2018-19 season.

Rice currently has three years left on his current deal but has come under fire this past season, when UNLV went 20-13 and lost in the Mountain West Basketball Championship semifinals.

He has coached UNLV since 2012.

Neal took the UNM head coaching job after serving six years as an assistant under Steve Alford, who departed for UCLA. The school and Neal agreed to a six-year deal, due to expire March 31, 2018 that gives the coach $750,000 yearly in base salary and other compensation.

In his first stint as head coach anywhere, Neal led the Lobos to a 27-7 overall record, the most wins by a first-year Lobo head coach. UNM also won the Mountain West tournament for the third straight year and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, falling to Stanford in the second round.

The conference tournament championship netted Neal an additional $20,000 bonus, per Neal’s contract.

That success drew recognition for Neal. He is a finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award, presented to the top rookie head coach, and the Jim Phelan Award for the nation’s coach of the year. Alford is also among the 15 finalists for the Phelan honor.

The announcement of the awards’ finalists came Wednesday, one day before the CBS Sports report about the Neal-to-USF rumor.