A hat tip is due for reader Leading Edge Boomer, who pointed out that New Mexico's Cullen Neal is transferring after this season. You might wonder what this means for Purdue, but when GBI has a locked article stating that there is "A transfer guard Purdue may take a look at" it is not hard to put two and two together.
First off, what makes Neal attractive is that he will graduate this spring making him immediately eligible. Because of previous injuries, however, this season was his only full season of play. He averaged 26.4 points and 7.1 assists as a junior in 2012, when he was the No. 87 player nationally in leading El Dorado HS to a state championship in New Mexico. He originally committed to St. Mary's, but switched to New Mexico when his dad was named as Steve Alford's replacement.
This was a kid that was ranked slightly below Kendall Stephens and above Basil Smotherman and Bryson Scott in Purdue's 2013 class. Rivals had him 145th nationally, but he was a four-star according to ESPN. In ESPN's rankings he was four spots behind Nigel Hayes and two spots ahead of Mark Donnal. That's when the troubles began for him.
In August of 2013 he had to have an emergency appendectomy during New Mexico's exhibition tour of Australia. He was in the hospital for 14 days and his weight dropped to 170 pounds. He was able to recover and average 7.1 points as the first player off hte bench on a team that made the NCAA Tournament. He eventually moved into the starting lineup, but in November 2014 he was lost for the season with an ankle injury, causing him to take a medical redshirt for the rest of 2014-15.
He returned for this past season and had a season high 29 points against Oral Roberts. In the next game we actually saw him in West Lafayette. He had 16 points and five assists with 4 of 7 three-point shooting during their 70-58 loss. He finished the season averaging 12.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for the Lobos.
Now, here comes the tricky part, as offered in a timeline presented by the Albuquerque Journal:
Dec. 23-25, 2015
After eight turnovers in a loss to BYU in the Diamond Head Classic, Cullen Neal was benched with five turnovers in eight minutes in a loss to Washington State. Social media vitriol directed at Cullen Neal intensifies and he shuts down his Twitter account.
Jan. 2, 2016
With Elijah Brown in first half foul trouble, Cullen Neal scores 26 points in 15-point road win over Fresno State, the lone representative of the Mountain West Conference in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Jan. 16, 2016
Cullen Neal suffers concussion on final play of home loss to Wyoming, missing the team's next game (Jan. 23 at San Jose State).
Feb. 6, 2016
UNM lost controversial overtime game at league regular season champion San Diego State (a game that the Mountain West later acknowledged an officiating error late in regulation that likely cost the Lobos a win). In the extra period, a Cullen Neal turnover in the final seconds clinched the Aztecs victory. Social media criticism again begins to intensify.
Feb. 11, 2016
In a regular weekly news conference, Craig Neal for the first time opens up about the harassment and criticism Cullen Neal had received, including having to shut down social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter and change his phone number twice. Craig Neal also uses the term "death threat" to describe the harassment.
Feb. 13, 2016
Cullen Neal receives huge ovation from home fans in the Pit showing support for him, including several thousand holding signs saying "Go Cullen!"
March 10, 2016
In final game as a Lobo, Cullen Neal played 32 minutes, scored 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting with one assist and three turnovers. The 64-62 MWC tournament loss was clinched by a Cullen Neal jump shot being blocked by Nevada's Cameron Oliver with the Lobos trailing by a point. After game, asked if his son was transferring, Craig Neal said they had not yet talked about that.
He has been on a roller coaster ride mostly because he was the hometown hero and coaches son that was supposed to be the team hero, but if people are sending him death threats then I can understand why he wants to leave. He was also playing for his father, which is never easy. He was still an Academic all-MOuntain West selection and will graduate in just three year.
Neal seems like more of a combo guard and there is no question he is talented. Purdue also has the scholarship room for 2016-17, but it would take one spot away for 2017-18 as well since he has two years left. The backcourt might also be a little crowded next year, too:
PG: P.J. Thompson, Grant Weatherford, Carsen Edwards
SG: Kendall Stephens, Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline
SF: Basil Smotherman, Vince Edwards
Neal is listed at 6'5" 195, so he could probably play at the two or even the three. Purdue doesn't need him to play the point, but his passing could be an asset that makes him valuable. His 3.7 assists per game would be the most on Purdue's roster. At minimum, he would be an experienced, versatile wing and scorer that can contribute in a variety of ways.