2013-14 Men's Basketball
Neals meet on opposite benches
Last month, Bluffton’s men’s basketball team traveled to Akron for a rare experience—the opportunity to compete against an NCAA Division I opponent, the University of Akron Zips. Head coach Guy Neal is no stranger to D-I athletics, but he, too, was experiencing something new—an opportunity to coach against his son, Tyler.
Tyler Neal, who graduated from Bluffton last May, was a member of his father’s basketball team all four years on campus. He is now a graduate assistant coach at Akron.
This was not the first time Guy Neal has coached against a former player, but coaching against his son for the first time helped generate plenty of personal excitement before the preseason exhibition game. “It was kind of a unique situation coaching against Tyler,” says Neal. “It was a special experience.”
It was odd to see his son on the opposite bench, he admits, but once the game started, it was back to business as usual. After the game, the emotions returned as he shook hands with his son.
Guy Neal and Akron head coach Keith Dambrot have a long-standing relationship and had been trying to schedule an exhibition game for five years. Tyler’s selection as an Akron graduate assistant this year was a coincidence that added to the anticipation of the matchup.
“It has become a trend of D-III schools playing mid-major D-I schools in preseason exhibition games,” Guy Neal says. “All D-III programs are trying to schedule one of these D-I games and, when you do have the opportunity to get one, you have to jump at the chance.”
This was not the first time Bluffton’s men’s team has competed against a D-I school, but it doesn’t happen often. The Beavers last met a D-I opponent in the regular season in 2004, when they played Bowling Green.
“All these players have dreamed about playing against D-I schools,” says Neal. “Not only did they gain basketball experience at Akron, but they also got to experience the atmosphere of the arena and the crowd.” The game gave Bluffton a chance to evaluate where it stood as a team at that point, and where improvements and adjustments could be made, he adds.
“It proved to be a good experience for the team and the program,” Neal notes. “They soaked up the experience, and I am proud of them.”