Neal joins Towson, will practice today

College Basketball


One month after being acquitted of a rape charge by a Philadelphia jury and nearly 21 months after playing his last collegiate basketball at La Salle, junior guard Gary Neal is restarting his career as the newest member of Towson's men's team.

Neal will join the Tigers at practice today and is eligible to appear in his first game Dec. 21 against visiting VMI after being cleared to play by Dr. Robert Caret, the university president. Caret decided last week to approve a recommendation by an administrative committee that reviewed Neal's request to play for Towson.

Neal, who declined to comment yesterday, has been enrolled at Towson for the past two semesters, during which he has paid his own way. The former Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year who averaged 18.6 points over two seasons before legal problems ended his days at La Salle, Neal joins the Tigers as a walk-on. Upon re-evaluation, he could receive a scholarship after the season.

"I know there could be some awkward times ahead of [Neal]. Things are real sensitive," said Towson basketball coach Pat Kennedy, hinting at negative public reaction that could be forthcoming. "In all the years I've coached, with the legal side of it and the fact that this kid is a legitimate, unrecruited walk-on, this is undoubtedly the most unique situation I've ever had."

What makes it more unusual is the 6-foot-4 Neal, who played in pickup games last summer with members of the Tigers' squad, quickly should become the team's premier player. Kennedy said he envisions Neal coming off the bench initially. Towson starts freshmen Tim Crossin and Velmar Coleman in the backcourt.

Kennedy said Neal, a pure shooting guard, also could assume roles as the team's backup point guard and play some at small forward, depending on the game situation.

"He's a terrific shooter, and he can [create] his own shot. He plays extremely hard," Kennedy said. "I'm concerned about conditioning right now, but he looks to be in good shape. He's been tested. He's going to help us."

The Tigers, 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play, began the season severely depleted at guard. Late last summer, senior Cantrell Fletcher suffered a season-ending knee injury and former player Terrance Whiters, a transfer from Loyola-Chicago, withdrew from Towson after being charged with two, third-degree sex offenses and armed robbery in August.

Towson athletic director Wayne Edwards, who co-chaired the five-person committee that looked into Neal's background, said the Whiters matter and the school's image played limited parts in the decision concerning Neal.

"Will some people take issue with this [decision]? I'm sure they will," Edwards said. "This was not a spontaneous decision. Perception is one thing. Doing the right thing is the main thing. And I think we did that."

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