Neal Ready To Move Towson On Up

Nation's top leading scorer (sort of) to lead the Tigers




 
 

Oct. 25, 2006

By Phil Kasiecki

Special to CSTV.com

 



PHIL KASIECKI

Phil is the Sr. Editor of Hoopville.com, and contributes regular content to CSTV.com. E-mail here!

TOWSON, Md. - At first glance, Gary Neal might appear to be living the good life, as that of college kids goes.  The Towson senior guard is the nation's top returning scorer, although he didn't play in 75 percent of his team's games to qualify to be listed among the nation's leading scorers last season.  His team is also poised for a major breakout season, as he leads a solid, deep backcourt with a frontcourt of good complementary players.  For good measure, he's a solid student and is close to graduating with a degree in history.

 

But a couple of years ago, he didn't have it this good. Not by a long shot.

 

He was the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in 2003 and scored over 1,000 points in two seasons and was a key part of a recruiting class that helped begin La Salle's recent resurgence under Billy Hahn and John Giannini.  After his sophomore season, Neal and two other players were arrested and charged with the rape of a University of New Haven student who was working at a camp at the school and a player on La Salle's women's basketball team.  All three players withdrew from the school after that, and both basketball coaches at the school were forced to resign because they didn't comply with the school's policy for reporting such incidents.

 

Neal had already played his sophomore season with a heavy heart, having lost his mother to cancer a year earlier.  He was close to his mother, as he has been with his entire family as the youngest of three boys.  Towson head coach Pat Kennedy, who had no contact with him prior to the trial, says he wasn't sure how Neal would be psychologically, given the two major events in his life.  Neal's father, a probation officer, and two brothers, who have always supported him, were there during a difficult time.

 

"The only people who are going to stick by you are your family," Neal reflected.

 

After being arrested and facing the trial, the most important thing to him was to continue his education- since he always valued it.  Basketball wasn't at the forefront, though he always hoped he could come back to it one day.  He enrolled at Towson, just three blocks from where the Aberdeen, Md. native played his high school ball at Calvert Hall High School, and took classes in the meantime.  This current academic year marks the first time he has been on scholarship at the school.

 

Neal and the other two former La Salle players were acquitted last November.  He was naturally relieved, describing it as "a burden off my back" and he was ready to move on with life.  Included in that was basketball, although that wasn't entirely in his hands.

 

A university committee reviewed his background to determine if he could play.  It is not uncommon for a school to do this.  They checked not only with La Salle, but also with Calvert Hall High School.  Towson held him out of practice until a decision came, and once the committee found out that he hardly has a checkered past - solid student, good family background and no disciplinary problems in his past - he was cleared.

 

He wasted no time making an impact, playing in his first game less than a week after he first practiced with the team.  In a win over Hofstra, he tied the school record with six three-pointers en route to 28 points.  Later, he broke that record with seven against Drexel and the same Hofstra team.  When it was all said and done, he had averaged 26.1 points per game in 17 games and made 40.5 percent of his three-pointers.

 

Kennedy has been known for recruiting top talent over his coaching career, but Neal basically fell right into his lap.  He had gained 20 pounds during approximately a year and a half without playing organized basketball, but he still made a huge impact on the Tigers.  Suddenly, the Tigers became a difficult team to beat and finished seventh in the CAA; their best season ever.

 

Now, the Tigers are a trendy pick to be the most improved team in the conference this season.  They have an excellent backcourt led by Neal and sophomore Tim Crossin, who was one of the conference's top freshmen last season and is the top returning assist man in the CAA.  Junior college transfer C.C. Williams, an aggressive guard, is also expected to make an impact, and sophomore Velmar Coleman will be a factor as well.  With four guards of that caliber and the importance of guard play in college basketball, those who believe Towson can make a jump in the standings this season certainly have their reasons.

 

"The biggest thing Gary wants to do now is win," Kennedy said, noting that Neal hasn't played on many winning teams in his career.

 

He appears ready to do that after an off-season where he went to work.  Kennedy said Neal has lost the weight he put on and is now at 205 pounds, and he now has a year in the team's system and unlike last season, will be practicing with the team right from the outset.

 

Perhaps best of all, he sounds like he's at a good place in life.  The basketball aspect is obvious, but he's also about to graduate and enroll in graduate school, is close to home and is quite happy at Towson.  It was his place at a tough time in his life, and it still is as he seems ready to hit the prime of his life.

 

"I've been accepted here at Towson from day one," said Neal, who would like to be a college coach when his playing days are over.  "It's a situation I'm comfortable with."

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