By UTA Public Relations Student, Karina Cervantes
"My biggest inspiration has been and will continue to be my mom." -- Erick Neal.
UTA senior point guard Erick Neal found his love for basketball at the early age of five. He developed a connection with the sport ever since his mother first threw him a basketball. Although he excelled at both football and basketball in high school, he knew he wanted basketball to be his future.
"Football was cool, but it's just different," Neal said. "With basketball you get that feeling, you get that atmosphere around you. You get in this jam, like when I hit a three or make a nice move there's just something about that that just drew me to it. I fell in love with that feeling."
Neal's entire life has and continues to revolve around sports. Although basketball remains his passion, it also doubled as a distraction from some of the negative things taking place around his neighborhood while growing up.
"Growing up where I lived was rough," Neal said. "So many things were going on. People were getting killed left and right and you had to always be on alert because anything could happen at any time."
Neal grew up in a neighborhood near Lincoln High School in Dallas with his five brothers and mother. He didn't have a father figure in his life. His family struggled with financial hardships in a dangerous atmosphere. Everything was a struggle at home, Neal said. The only thing that kept his mind clear of his family's hardships was his love for sports.
"My way of keeping my mind off the things that we were going through was to go to the gym and shoot around," Neal said. "I used basketball to keep me from doing things I didn't need to do."
Neal saw his passion for basketball as a way out of his living situation. He worked that much harder in hopes that his talent would lead him into a career of basketball. Neal committed to UTA in 2014 and quickly became one of the top players and leaders on the team.
Neal's mother continues to live in the same home he grew up in.
"The goal I still have is to be able to provide for my mom, and get her out of the bad neighborhood she's in," Neal said. "That was one of my goals way before I started playing college ball and it continues to be now."
Neal is in the top 10 in the nation for most assists in NCAA Division I basketball. He is the program's all-time leader in career assists and has led the team in steals for four straight seasons. Neal's primary future ambitions include playing professional basketball. But, he always has a backup plan.
"Hopefully (I can play in the ) NBA or somewhere professionally. If not, I think I'd be interested in coaching somewhere," Neal said. "I don't know where I would like to coach yet, but I always want to have basketball in my life."
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