Southern's Neal breaks family's wrestling hold

January 10, 1995|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

She comes from a family known more for takedowns than layups, but Southern's Tyra Neal is looking to change that.

It won't be easy, though.

The winter months are synonymous with wrestling in the Neal household. One brother, Sherrard, is a former county champion who now competes at the Naval Academy. Another, Tyrone Jr., is a junior at Southern and a defending 1A-2A state titlist. The coach at Southern is their father, Tyrone Sr., a former two-time state champion.

"I want to get some of that recognition," Tyra said, laughing.

Until this year, she had been mostly a reserve on Southern's basketball teams, never averaging more than four or five points. The Bulldogs always had enough offensive weapons, so her role the past two seasons was to provide a spark off the bench.

That all changed this season after leading scorers Laekeka Wesley and Leketia Mullen graduated. Coach Linda Kilpatrick surveyed her remaining players and didn't see any candidates who could fill the void by themselves.

"I remember sitting in the gym talking to them at the beginning, and saying, 'I'm going to need scoring from everybody. I don't have anyone sitting here who will average 18 to 20 points. Tyra may, and if she does that would be great, but I don't anticipate she will.' That thought has come back to me because she's almost doing it now," Kilpatrick said.

With more playing time and the speed to get down the floor on fast breaks, which Kilpatrick is emphasizing, Neal has scored in double figures in four of seven games. She twice has gotten at least 20, with a high of 26 against Surrattsville last week, and registered 18 in another. But she also managed only two against St. Mary's and was shut out against Elizabeth Seton.

Southern lost both games by a combined margin of 100 points, and Neal, a senior, spent much of the time off the floor while Kilpatrick played everyone.

"We couldn't get our running game going against either of them. They ran against us," Kilpatrick said.

Neal is averaging nearly 14 points going into today's game against Arundel, and one factor has been her ability to rebound and score on put-backs, a skill not common among 5-foot-7 guards.

"She doesn't miss many layups, either," Kilpatrick said. "And Becky Archambo is doing a good job of getting her the ball."

Because Neal was more valuable coming in whenever the Bulldogs lagged, Kilpatrick resisted the urge to put her in the starting lineup.

"I always thought if I had a chance, I would be able to score, if needed," said Neal, who also plays soccer. "At first, this was kind of scary. Last year, we depended so much on Laekeka, and now I was being made to rise to the occasion. But I always accepted my role in the past and that helped me this year. I accepted this role."

Said Kilpatrick: "She's the type of person who will do whatever the team needs. You're not going to hear Tyra say much about it."

Neal isn't alone in the fight to shift the winter emphasis, at least slightly, away from wrestling. She has a younger sister, Tiffany, playing on Southern's junior varsity as a freshman.

"She's the same type of player Tyra is," Kilpatrick said.

"The Neal family is known for wrestling," Tyra said, "and we want to change that over to basketball."

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