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Postseason Evaluations: Dave Neal

This week, Terrapins Insider is taking a look back at the Maryland season that concluded last weekend. Each day will feature posts on the performances of specific players and Coach Gary Williams.

The area around his eyes was red and a little puffy, but, as always, Dave Neal answered every last question thrown his way. He sat in a locker room at Sprint Center in Kansas City on Saturday afternoon with a towel draped over his shoulders and looked directly at each inquisitor. His responses were frank and lengthy. His baritone voice never wavered.

“As I said earlier, only one team ends the season on a good note and that’s the national champion,” Neal said. “We had a great year overall. If you look back at some of the wins we’ve had this year against Wake Forest, North Carolina, Michigan State, I mean, coming into this season people didn’t think we had a chance of being a great team, and I think we proved to a lot of people that we were a great team the way we finished the season and going back to the NCAA tournament and winning one game in the tournament.

“I’m going to miss this team a lot. This team has huge heart, and we fought day in and day out in practice and in games. Today, we didn’t quit for 40 minutes. We went until the buzzer went off in the second half.”

In many respects, Neal’s performance this season was emblematic of the one put forth by the entire team. He was many things most observers figured he would not be during his senior campaign -- a full-time starter, a key contributor, a capable post player who could find ways to hold his own in the paint on most nights, a team spokesman.

At the outset, Neal simply was the token senior. He was named one of the team’s three captains, presumably by default. The thinking went that Neal would play his 10 to 15 minutes per game off the bench, be an enthusiastic sideline cheerleader and then receive an obligatory salute on senior night.

But Neal’s work ethic befitted a player who understood the good fortune of his circumstance. A short while after being inserted into the starting lineup seven games into the season, Neal acknowledged he never imagined he would be a starter at Maryland. And he competed like someone who embraced such an opportunity.

Neal often was outmatched, especially once ACC play began. The players he was assigned to guard typically were at least three inches taller and possessed more conventional post moves. Neal adapted. He nudged. He prodded. He sidestepped. If he was going to be effective, he knew he had to outmaneuver his opponent on both ends of the court.

He also knew he was going to take a beating. After each of the first few ACC games, Neal half-jokingly would complain about his “sore ribs.” Certainly, he was no all-conference defender. His physical limitations were too severe. But he was not a liability, either. And given the size and experience of Maryland’s other interior parts, “not a liability” worked just fine.

Neal proved to be even more of a pleasant surprise on offense, where his range allowed him to stretch opposing defenses and thus open up driving lanes and rebounding opportunities for his teammates. Neal was just accurate enough from three-point range (he shot 38.5 percent for the season) that opposing teams had to respect his ability.

By the end of the year, opposing teams actually were game-planning specifically to shut Neal down. This fact took even Neal by surprise.

But his play had earned such recognition. On senior night, Neal was given the salute everyone thought he would receive, though by that point it was anything but obligatory. The Comcast Center crowd was delirious as Neal tallied 19 points and nearly led Maryland to an upset win over Wake Forest. In the loss, Neal shot 5 of 6 from three-point range and also grabbed six rebounds.

Until the very end of that game, a sheepish grin was plastered on Neal’s face. It was the same grin he adorned at some point during almost every game this season. It was the same grin that popped up when discussing his bracketology expertise and how he wouldn’t mind advising President Obama on his future NCAA tournament picks.

Neal was well aware of his shortcomings, but he always seemed to appreciate the chance to address them, game after game. Perhaps no other Terrapin this season surpassed individual expectations like Neal did, and nearly every other Terrapin credited Neal’s leadership as a contributing factor to the team’s late-season push.

Next year, taller players will be added to Maryland’s roster, and one of them likely will fill the vacancy left in the starting lineup by Neal’s graduation. Neal, meantime, will try to earn a spot on a roster overseas.

What did you all think of Neal’s season? How would you evaluate his performance? Who do you think will fill the leadership void left by Neal’s departure?

By Steve Yanda  |  March 25, 2009; 7:16 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: Postseason Evaluations: Landon Milbourne


The only possible criticism of Dave Neal this year is really a criticism of Gary, in that he had nobody better to play. I can't think of a player in recent Maryland history who more exceeded expectations and played better than his abilities would suggest. He really understands the game and does a great job of applying it on the floor.

I think he'd make a great coach (as would some others, such as Osby, Dixon, Blake, and Mouton) when he's ready to move on.

Posted by: ICBomber | March 25, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

What ICbomber said. Neal had a terrific season. Might have gone on a bit longer if he hadn't run into Memphis, a team designed to exploit his weaknesses. Still, he's a real inspiration to football tackles who dream of playing basketball instead.

Posted by: Samson151 | March 25, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Dave Neal should not be a starting center in the ACC. Nevertheless he played to his strengths and provided leadership and consistency. He showed up every game and did his job. I rather have someone consistent and not spectacular than say James Gist. The guy could look like Shawn Kemp one game...then disappear for 5 straight.

Posted by: | March 25, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Hey Steve. Any chance Gary will go after Seth Curry from Liberty now that he's indicated he wants to transfer to an ACC team? The kids a great shooter. I live in Lynchburg and have seen several of his games here. He belongs in a Terp uniform.

Posted by: terpin | March 25, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

as others have said, Dave Neal defied all expectations placed on him. Congrats to him. He overcame a lot of odds to become a starter on a NCAA bound team in the hard fought ACC. He's earned a lot of respect. I wish him well in whatever he chooses to do, although I too think he has a future in coaching.

As for Seth curry, YES please!!! He'd still have 2 good years after a transfer. Well worth it.

Posted by: doh1 | March 25, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Dave showed what he was all about in the Virginia game at College Park when he took an elbow above his eye, bled profusely, went into the locker room to get 15 stitches, and then came back late in the second half and immediately hit a three-pointer to turn the momentum around. That was great senior leadership by example. What a great asset he turned out to be. He will be missed by all in the Comcast Center.

Posted by: weaselman | March 25, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Whose scholarshihp would be given to Curry? Stevenson?

I wouldn't expect either of those two to come to UMD for exactly that reason.

Posted by: fushezzi | March 25, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

DN had a great senior season. Makes you wonder if it wasn't all those injuries holding him back earlier in his career. Never thought I would say this, but we are going to miss him next year.

Posted by: restonhoops | March 25, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Neal is a basketball player. Not a center, or a "5", but a basketball player who understands the role of a "pivot" for a basketball team on offense, the advantage gained by manipulating momentum, and the dynamics of a well executed two-handed chess pass.

The first two permit a player to play with anyone, Bob Gross from the Portland Championship team, Mike Reardon. You create in a thousand different little ways greater opportunities for your teammates on offense, are always in the way in help defense on defense, taking hard earned advantage away as an off-the-ball obstacle, and make the guy you are guarding break with his pattern, at a minimum, which is as good a way to alter a shot as there is.

Now the chest past. If properly understood, and you don't play in Catholic league in DC or probably anywhere, and refined, the art of the two-handed chest pass gives you all the skills, all the awarenesses, all the in sync awarenesses you need to be an upper-end dribbler and shooter. Encompassed in the chest pass, well done and repeated over years of playful exploration, and you understand how to make a basketball move.

Dave Neal is much more of a basketball player than most guys who can jump higher and run faster could ever hope to be.

In the specialized world of today's game, in which coaches tell players what to do each time down the court and then change their minds and what everybody needs to be thinking and doing in the midst of even one trip, players like David are perhaps less valuable. On this team, this year, that was not the case. I think that that was a good thing.

Posted by: cohenra | March 25, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Let me guess. Yanda and Prisbell had nothing to do with this recruiting story. It's funny to me. What a joke these guys are.

Posted by: unkonchus | March 25, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Uconn b-ball recruiting violations?

Posted by: Realness1 | March 25, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

The cornerstone of duke defense....

Posted by: Realness1 | March 25, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm not understanding the point unkonchus is making but, whatever.

Calhoun is shady and I'm sure if the NCAA would actually lift up the rug they would find all kinds of dirt on him.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 25, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Whose scholarshihp would be given to Curry? Stevenson?I wouldn't expect either of those two to come to UMD for exactly that reason.

Posted by: fushezzi | March 25, 2009 10:32 AM

Can't speak for Stephenson (I would hope we let Kim out of his scholarship to create space if Lance decided to come here), but as for Curry I think we wouldn't need to create a spot since he wouldn't be an active player this next season due to transfer rules. I could be wrong about this, but my understanding is he doesn't count as one of our scholarships until after one year is up. And by then, Hayes, Milbourne, and Vasquez (if he stays) will all be gone and thus, enough room for Curry AND a need for another scoring guard.

Posted by: Barno1 | March 25, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

what about david pearmans schollarship?

i mean he is a great story but if he isnt actually going to play and contribute, we should use it on someone that will... i still have hope will develop. Someone give him a valume and relax him out there a bit...and put some weight on the kid...apparently he is the best shooter on the team in practice...

Posted by: deadskin | March 25, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

dave neal's success this year is living proof that hard work and great fundamentals can still carry you pretty far in this game. i think he's got a future in basketball, maybe he could take over for gary in a few years. :)

and he sets an awesome backcourt pick....

Posted by: rm0659 | March 25, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Pearman already agreed to give up his scholarship after this season. He was just "borrowing" it this year since its intended recipient ended up going to another school. With Neal graduating and Pearman voluntarily giving up his scholarship, that creates the room for Jordan Willians and James Padgett to get scholarships next year. Someone else has to give up their scholarship for Maryland to get Stephenson (or anyone else).

Posted by: mikeinrockville | March 25, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Dave Neal if you are reading this I have one thing to say. You balled your 455 off this year. All this BS up here about "given his limitations" and whatever. Garbage. Your +/- was damn near the tops on the team. In the UNC game your rendered Tyler Hansborough useless. Lots of big threes and elbow jumpers down the strech. You are the Mayor of College Park and it's well deserved. Not go get that tx free Europe BBall money and be the Mayor of Athens. You are Terp and it makes me proud to be one myself.

Posted by: Lee26 | March 25, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

What Lee26 said. Tremendous character! The type of player that makes for winners.

Posted by: mwr68 | March 25, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

If someone needs to transfer and/or give up their scholarship, the first in line has got to be Braxton Dupree. He has showed nothing the first two years here except, that he appears content to sent on the bench and get his arse chewed out by Gary.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 25, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I haven't given up hope on Dupree. Great body, some skill, usually that's enough for Gary to mold into a player. He needs minutes, more than anything else.

Posted by: Barno1 | March 25, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

oh my point was that these WaPa "insiders" did a 3 part story on MD and recruiting that a lot of folks took as the 13th Gospel but they really couldn't dig up up any dirt if they investigated Pig Pen's house... Thought it was funny that it didn't take a 3 part story to uncover a real recruiting issue at a major university. Maybe instead of asking why certain kids don't go to Maryland, the better question would be why do they go elsewhere. Just me. I thought it was grand standing and completely uninformed that the uninformed public ate up...

Posted by: unkonchus | March 25, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I still haven't given up on Dupree either for what it's worth. I like Burney's attitude and athleticism better, but he's always hurt. For Braxton I just always go back to that game at Illinois last year. Such soft hands, such nice low post moves. If he could just bottle that up and play that way every game...

Posted by: Lee26 | March 25, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Dave, outstanding year! As you've said the memories of this season will not be soon forgotten, let me add not only by you. Hard work, determination and being fundamentally sound still and always will be a winning formula - and a GW trademark. Congrats, mayor of CP. Your play was inspiring this year despite the uphill battle you and your teammates faced. Well earned memories of a lifetime. I hope you have many more for , with your attitude you surely will. Success can be measured in many ways, none more important than how you judge yourself on your own effort - and yours was inspiring. Good luck Dave!

Posted by: terpinNC | March 26, 2009 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Only A+ player on the team. I think people underestimated Neal because they hadn't seen him play much. If he hadn't been injured last year we would have made the tournament then too be cause he does all the dirty work that laast years team wouldn't do. Thank you Dave and A++++. Good luck next year when you
go pro in something other than sports"

Posted by: dbrine1261 | March 27, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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