By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Head coach Steve Payne announced the signing of New Mexico transfer Chris McNeal to the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team on Monday.
A 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard, McNeal joins the Golden Eagles after spending the previous season at the University of New Mexico. The Jackson, Tenn. native began his career at Western Kentucky and played his sophomore season at Indian Hills Community College before transferring to New Mexico for his junior campaign.
"Chris is a Tennessee guy," Payne said. "He played for Coach [DaMonn] Fuller at [Jackson] South Side High School, who is a fantastic coach and prepares his players well. We tried to convince Chris to come here out of high school. He's kind of taken a long route here, but he's finally realized this is the best place for him. The thing about Chris is – he has to sit a year, but we'll have him for next year – I just think he gives you an All-Conference caliber lead guard that has tremendous toughness and a desire to win that's very hard to match."
McNeal will sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules and have one year of eligibility remaining for 2019-2020.
"I chose Tennessee Tech because of my prior relationship with Coach Payne," McNeal explained about his decision to come to Cookeville. "Since I was in high school, he has made it very clear that he thinks very highly of me as a basketball player, and that trust that he has in me was key to my decision to come to Tech."
McNeal finished fifth in scoring on a New Mexico squad that won 19 games and finished 12-6 for a third-place finish in the Mountain West Conference, averaging 9.8 points per game. He made 18 starts while playing in all 33 games, averaging 24.6 minutes and dishing out 92 assists, the second most on the team. He shot 75.9 percent from the free throw line and knocked down over 50 3-point attempts
On Nov. 21, the guard scored a season-high 29 points against the Golden Eagles, sinking 7-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc and dishing out six dimes in 34 minutes of action. He opened his Lobo career with 24 points and 10 assists in just 23 minutes against Northern New Mexico on Nov. 11, draining 6-of-10 tries from downtown. McNeal dropped 21 points against Utah State on Jan. 31, finishing 8-for-15 from the field with three triples.
"We know he can play," Payne explained, "he had 29 against us when we went out and beat New Mexico this year. We couldn't stop him. He's taken a long route here, but he's finally home and we're excited about him. I think all the Golden Eagle fans will really appreciate his toughness, his smarts and his competitive spirit when he hits the floor next year."
A JUCO All-American at Indian Hils, McNeal helped lead the Warriors to a 29-5 record, Region XI regular season and postseason titles, a district title game appearance and appearance in the national tournament. He paced the team with 13.1 points per game with team-highs in field goals (135), 3-pointers (83), free throws (94), assists (179) and points (447).
As a freshman at Western Kentucky, the newest Golden Eagle set the program's freshman assists record, dishing out a team-high 134 on the year in 34 games and 29 starts. He averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game as well. While at Jackson South Side High School, McNeal was a two-time All-State selection and four-time All-District and All-Region selection. He led the school to the TSSAA Class AA state title in 2014.
"I will be able to contribute a skill set and competitiveness that will push my teammates to become better, while also being a consummate leader and teammate myself," McNeal said when asked about what he hopes to contribute to the team. "I am most excited to have the opportunity to do something special with my last year of college basketball in my home state."
Photos courtesy of New Mexcio Athletics Communications