December 16, 2006

Underrated McNeal just fine without spotlight

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Ask an average college basketball fan to name two players on Marquette's team, and most will quickly blurt out Dominic James' name. After that, prepare for silence.

James has emerged as a household name and the face of the No. 20 Golden Eagles (9-2).

However, one of James' teammates deserves some national attention, too.

Sophomore guard Jerel McNeal can make a case for being the nation's most underrated player. That's largely because he can make a case for being its most versatile, too.

McNeal is averaging 14.1 points (second on the team behind James' 17.2 average), 4.6 rebounds (third on the team) and 3.5 assists (second on the team) a game.

But, that doesn't even cover his biggest strength. A tremendous defender, McNeal's averaging a remarkable 3.6 steals a game - the fourth-highest total in the nation. He made six steals in the Golden Eagles' 73-62 win over No. 6 Duke last month and had at least three in six of their first seven games.

"It's not like I go out every night trying to get a certain number of steals, but I pride my game on solid defense," McNeal told "I'm a very competitive person and man-to-man defense brings that out in me. I never want the guy I'm matched up with to score.

"A lot of the steals I get are from anticipation and quickness. I'm trying to jump into passing lanes, getting ready for the crossover move. A lot of it is about timing."

But what about the lack of publicity? Does McNeal ever get bothered by James hogging the spotlight?

Not at all. McNeal has come to expect it. In fact, he almost invites it.

Most Big Ten and Big East programs overlooked the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder coming out of Hillcrest High in the Chicago suburbs. He wound up choosing Marquette over Dayton and Purdue.

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James and Marquette's other starting guard Wesley Matthews can relate.

"I think all three of us felt we were underrated when we first got to Marquette," McNeal said. "We felt we should have been rated higher and I think it's part of the reason we are so close-knit. Not getting that individual attention has only provided more and more motivation to keep working hard. We like being underestimated."

There isn't much of a chance of that with James, a first-team preseason All-American. He is grabbing more and more attention from NBA scouts.

McNeal will be just fine if it remains that way. He believes his flashy backcourt mate deserves all the accolades and attention he receives.

"It's become funny to me to see the reactions when Dominic makes a great move or hits a big shot," McNeal said. "But it's just all just normal to me. Nothing really surprises me after watching him play for so long. He's an unbelievable player and I've known that for a while."

Hopefully other people will soon start realizing that McNeal's a special player, too.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for He files his national notebook every Thursday and answers your questions every Friday in his Mailbag feature. Click here to send him a question. is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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