First day in NBA memorable for McNeal

Thursday, March 10, 2011
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

Less than 48 hours after getting a phone call informing him that he was being promoted to the NBA from the D-League, point guard Jerel McNeal stood with his brand-new teammates and witnessed one of the best late-game comebacks in Hornets franchise history. Since moving to New Orleans for the 2002-03 season, the Hornets had never previously come back to win a game after trailing by seven points or more with less than a minute to play. New Orleans’ 93-92 victory came after they were down 92-85 to Dallas as the clock ticked down under one minute.

McNeal, who had been playing for Rio Grande Valley of the D-League, took a flight from Texas to Louisiana on Tuesday, then joined the team and was in uniform for Wednesday’s game vs. Dallas, though he did not enter the action. Tuesday was an off day for the Hornets, so Thursday was the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder’s first NBA practice.

“I’m real excited about the opportunity,” the Marquette product said of coming to the Hornets. “After I found out, it’s been like a whirlwind. It’s been crazy. (Wednesday’s win) was a great way to start it off. It was an incredible game. It’s a credit to the guys in this locker room, that they kept fighting and pulled it out at the end.” Understandably, after the Hornets’ miraculous victory over the Mavericks, when McNeal was asked by a reporter what day he learned he was headed to the NBA, a grinning McNeal paused and said, “Wait, what day is this?”

The 23-year-old was averaging 19.5 points and 4.5 assists in the D-League this season. His 10-day contract with the Hornets extends through the March 16 game vs. Phoenix. At that point, the Hornets will have the option of re-signing McNeal to a second 10-day contract.