Hillcrest alum Jerel McNeal signs with Utah Jazz
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2013 7:52PM
Jerel McNeal | AP photo
Updated: May 13, 2013 6:38AM
Jerel McNeal’s path to the NBA wasn’t a conventional one.
However, after four years of toiling in the NBA Development League and professionally overseas, McNeal, 25, finally earned an extended stay on an NBA roster.
The Utah Jazz announced the signing of McNeal, a 2005 Hillcrest graduate, for the rest of the season. McNeal’s signing comes after he had signed a 10-day contract March 27 with the Jazz.
He’s the first player from a talent-rich Hillcrest program to make it to the NBA.
“I’m so happy for him,” said former Hillcrest coach Tom Cappel, who coached McNeal for three years on the Hawks varsity. “It’s been his dream to play in the NBA. He always worked hard and gave it the best he could, in practice and in games. Jerel wouldn’t back down from anybody.”
McNeal, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 assists his senior year at Hillcrest, earning All-State recognition.
He went on to an enjoy a star-studded career at Marquette, where he remains the all-time leader in scoring (1,985 points) and steals (287). He averaged 20.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists his senior season, earning All-Big East and second team All-America honors by The Associated Press and Sporting News.
Still, McNeal was bypassed in the 2009 NBA draft. He signed with the Los Angeles Clippers as an undrafted free agent, but was waived before the 2009-10 season.
McNeal continued to pursue his dream of an NBA career, with stops along the way the past four years in the D-League and overseas in Belgium.
He eventually earned a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets in 2011, but never played in a game.
In 2012, McNeal signed with the Toronto Raptors during the preseason but failed to make their roster.
McNeal was playing for the Bakersfield Jam of the D-League this season, averaging 18.1 points and 5.5 assists in 44 games, before signing with the Jazz.
He returned to Hillcrest over the summer to work out and provide some instruction to current players.
“We’re so proud of him,” said Hillcrest coach Don Houston, who coached McNeal as a freshman on the sophomore team and as an assistant on the varsity. “A kid like Jerel, who we saw come up through grammar school and to see where he’s at now, it’s a great feeling.
“If he had the gift of being a little taller, he would have been in the NBA a little earlier. He can score many different ways. He’s tough to defend. He can do it all. What set him apart was his toughness, which is why he’s where he’s at today.”