Stefan Moody’s historic Ole Miss career came to an abrupt end in the SEC tournament two weeks ago.
The Rebels could be close to landing his replacement.
Head coach Andy Kennedy and staff will host former New Mexico point guard Cullen Neal for a visit today through Saturday. Neal announced his transfer in a statement March 14 after playing the past two seasons for his father, Craig Neal, who is the head coach of the Lobos.
“I grew up around the Lobo basketball program and thoroughly enjoyed playing here, especially being able to play in the famous PIT!" Neal said in a statement. “I was blessed by being a part of a Mountain West Championship and participating in the NCAA Tournament my freshman season. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to play for my father for two seasons and will miss that in the future. Leaving my teammates, coaches, and all the support staff weighs heavy on my heart. I will miss all of them. I consider Albuquerque my home, and I love the University of New Mexico. I want to thank our great Lobo fans who have encouraged me and supported our team.”
New Mexico reached the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14 with Neal as its sixth man. He was fourth on the team in scoring, and the Lobos won 27 games. He took a medical redshirt a year later following a severe ankle injury.
Neal averaged 12.3 points per game last season and started 31 games. He led New Mexico with 114 assists, though he totaled 101 turnovers and shot 35 percent from the field. The Rebels, per sources, believe they can “develop him and get him better” and view him as a potential “staple of the team” at point guard.
Neal will graduate in the spring and have two seasons of eligibility remaining. The Lobos were 17-15 (10-8 Mountain West) and missed out on the postseason.
“My wife and I love our son and respect and support his decision,” Craig Neal said in a statement. “We are very proud of the thoughtful and deliberative manner by which he came to his decision. As parents we could not be more proud or supportive of our son. Cullen's next team will be getting an outstanding basketball player and an even better person.”
Should Ole Miss land Neal, he would presumably replace Moody in the starting lineup. The Rebels do return backup point guard Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey, and three-star point guard Breein Tyree was signed in the fall.
Neal would certainly have some significant shoes to fill. Moody cemented his place as, inarguably, an all-time Ole Miss great through his play as a senior. He fell 17 assists shy of joining LSU legend Pete Maravich as the only players in SEC history with 700 points and 150 assists in a single season, but he became just the fifth player in Ole Miss history and the 26th player in SEC history to top 700 points. He was a back-to-back All-SEC first team selection and Howell Trophy winner, scoring 20-plus points 22 times last season and eclipsing the 30-point mark five times. He topped 40 once.
Moody was the third-highest power-conference scorer in the nation, and he ended his career with a 19.6 points per game career scoring average, which ranks sixth in school history.
Ole Miss, sources indicate, will add at least three players this spring, and the roster will get a boost with the addition of Deandre Burnett, a transfer guard from Miami (Fla.) who sat out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. Along with the possible addition of Neal, the Rebels will target a power forward and a stretch four in the mold of recently-graduated forward Tomasz Gielo or former Ole Miss forward M.J. Rhett.
“We will add multiple players in the spring,” Kennedy said in a recent interview with the Ole Miss Spirit. Kennedy and Craig Neal have known each other for years, their relationship dating back to high school and on into college when the elder Neal played at Georgia Tech and Kennedy at N.C. State.
“We’ll continue to evaluate and add some pieces to continue in our quest to try to hang banners in the brand new Pavilion at Ole Miss. We’re constantly recruiting the best available players. I think we can add help along all positions. We need size along our front line, we need some versatility, we need some depth in our back court. So we’ll be looking at, really, any and all opportunities. You would be amazed (with how) the perception of the program (has changed) with the energy and the visibility that the Pavilion has brought us, coupled with the fact that we continue to have consistent success. It’s going to open doors for us in areas that have never been opened before.”
Cullen Neal is knocking at door No. 1.