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Craig Neal named head coach at New Mexico

Craig Neal, interim head for the New Mexico Lobos and former associate head coach under former head coach Steve Alford was named head coach at UNM late Tuesday afternoon

USA TODAY -- Kyle Terada

Craig Neal, associate head for the New Mexico Lobos under former head coach Steve Alford for the past six years, has accepted the head coaching position at UNM the school announced by a brief press release later Tuesday afternoon.

The head coaching spot was left vacant by Alford's abrupt departure Saturday, when he was announced as the new head coach of the UCLA Bruins - replacing Ben Howland at the Los Angeles-based school. Coincidentally, Alford hed his first press conference as Bruins' head coach Tuesday.

Neal, who was named interim head coach by UNM athletic director Paul Krebs on Saturday, will be introduced as the Lobos' new head man at a press conference Wednesday afternoon at The Pit.

in reporting the news, Andy Katz of wrote:

Neal was the overwhelming choice by the players and Alford to succeed him. Neal said privately that he was confident the five starters would return if he were named head coach.

The Lobos return key players Tony Snell, Alex Kirk and Mountain West Conference player of the year Kendall Williams.

Neal, who also spent spent three season as an assistant under Alford with the Iowa Hawkeyes followed by a stint over the past six seasons at New Mexico and has been widely regarded as a co-architect of the Lobos' success in that time.

Neal was a finalist for the head coaching openings with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Colorado St. Rams last season before being passed over for those jobs. The position at UNM is his first as a Division I head coach.

Like Steve Alford, Neal was an All-State performer in high school in Indiana before playing his college ball at Georgia Tech. Neal was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988 in the third round and played eight seasons total in the NBA, Continental Basketball Association and in Europe. His pro career included stops with the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat.

Neal spent a season as the coach of the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA before joining the Toronto Raptors organization in 1997. He first served as a scout and later as an assistant coach under Lenny Wilkins.

He and his wife, Janet, have two sons, Cullen and Dalton. Cullen Neal, currently a senior at Eldorado high School in Albuquerque, signed a Letter of Intent to play with the St. Mary's, Calif. Gaels starting next season.