Love him or hate him, Cullen Neal was a polarizing figure in New Mexico, he was known for his on the court antics while leading Eldorado High School to a New Mexico State Championship.
He also rubbed a lot of parents and players the wrong way and in some regards they never got over it. Neal who was originally supposed to play at St. Mary's but decided to come to New Mexico after his dad Craig Neal was named the head coach.
This turned out to be a mistake for Neal because while at UNM everything from his facial expressions to where he sat on the bench was scrutinized.
During his three years in a Lobo uniform Neal had to endure harassment from a select minority of fans that would call his phone to the point where he changed his number multiple times this year.
Neal also removed all of his social media accounts due to the constant harassment. Neal who struggled this season looked out of place and was far from the confidant player that Lobo fans saw his freshman year and the first few games of the 2014-2015 season before his ankle injury. Neal who averaged 12.3 points in 30 minutes per game this year was often blamed for the Lobos struggles on the court.
The local papers, Sports Speak Up and the local radio shows were often filled with comments that detailed fans outrage with Cullen. Fans often stated that the former top 100 recruit was not a division one collegiate athlete and that he was just on scholarship because his dad was the coach.
The hate for Cullen seemed to grow as the year went on and the Lobos fell further out of first place. Cullen who tried to change the way he played just to avoid criticism was blamed for the Lobos loss last week against Nevada because he had a three point shot blocked at the end of the game, that shot would be Neal's last as a Lobo because ESPN'S Andy Katz reported last night that Neal would be leaving the University of New Mexico and would continue his playing career at another school.
Neal's transfer may be good news to some and while those fans who are giving each other high fives while they discuss the departure of the younger Neal they fail to realize the impact this transfer on the program.
This will leave a black eye on not only the Neal era but also New Mexico basketball as a whole. This will effect recruiting because when other coached are up against the Lobos they will use the fans treatment of Cullen as a tool showing them news stories, telling a recruit if you don't play well will the fans turn on you?
Local players will also think twice about staying home not wanting to get the Cullen Neal treatment and while local fans often ask why New Mexico's best players are in Cherry and Silver Cullen Neal is an example of the New Mexico fish bowl.
Neal will walk out of New Mexico with a degree this spring and he will take his 3.8 GPA to another school. He will go far away from Albuquerque but this story will follow him everywhere he goes. Every time Neal's new team is on TV they will mention the reason he transferred.
They will talk about the harassment he endured and Lobo fans will forever be known for running off a young man only because he has the same last name as his coach, a young man that showed up on campus three years ago ready to make his stamp on Lobo history.
Three years later he leaves the program and with him he leaves an example of how fans can cross the line and how the internet and social media can effect student athletes and the way fans interact with them.