Stefan Moody ended his two-year Ole Miss career as one of the most productive players in school history.
Cullen Neal hopes to follow suit.
Neal announced Wednesday he’ll finish out his college career at Ole Miss, choosing the Rebels over Texas A&M and Ohio State, among others. Neal has two years of eligibility remaining after transferring from New Mexico, where he averaged 12.3 points per game last season. He started 31 games and also led the Lobos with 114 assists.
“Ole Miss felt like home,” Neal said in an interview with the Ole Miss Spirit this afternoon. “It was a great environment. I love (Ole Miss head) coach A.K. (Andy Kennedy) and T.A. (Todd Abernethy), who was involved in my recruiting. Just felt like those two guys made it homely, and I was around Deandre Burnett and Sebastian Saiz for a while. Those guys made me at home, which is what I was looking for.”
Ole Miss will use Neal as its primary point guard, and he’ll certainly have some significant shoes to fill. Moody was the third-highest power-conference scorer in the nation last season, and he ended his career with a 19.6 points per game career scoring average, which ranks sixth in school history.
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.
“That definitely factored in,” Neal said of immediate playing time, “but no matter where I go I’ve got to earn my playing time. I’ve got to work hard and be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. No matter what, I’ve got to keep working and try to be the best player I can be.”
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 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 last season.
“I definitely think the NCAA Tournament is our goal, and advancing in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I know the coaches are doing a great job recruiting, and I know it’s our job as players to be in the gym working hard to get to that level. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing, and hopefully it turns out to be successful.”
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. 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.
“There were a lot of factors, but I think the biggest factor is I trust A.K.,” Cullen Neal said. “When I left (New Mexico), I knew I had to put my trust in somebody. I believe A.K.’s my guy. I completely trust him and everything he brings to the table, and there’s a big opportunity at Ole Miss.”
Though he believes he can help Ole Miss in a number of ways, more than anything else, he wants to win.
“Strength is a big thing,” he said. “I always try and work on my strength and try and get stronger. Always working in the weight room trying to get better. I think I bring a leadership role to the team, I think I’m a great player with great court vision and great basketball I.Q. I think I bring another aspect along those lines, and I shoot the ball pretty well as well. There’s a bunch of things I can bring, but, most importantly, I want to win. I hate losing more than I like winning. That’s the biggest component.”