Nick Neal´s Neverending Hard Work Has Paid Off As He Has Gone From The NAIA To The Croatian Premijer League MVP

Nick Neal is a 31 year old 185cm guard that recently completed his 7th professional season and first with KK Alkar Sinj (Croatia-Premijer Liga) playing 20 games: Score-2 (18.4ppg), 3.8rpg, Assists-2 (5.5apg), Steals-1 (2.1spg), FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 36.9%, FT: 88.1%. In 2018-2019 he played with BC Cactus Tbilisi (Georgia-Superleague) playing 18 game averaging 16.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 4.4apg, Steals-4 (2.4spg), FGP: 48.6%, 3PT: 40.8%, FT: 79.3%. In2017-2018 he balled with DELTA (Georgia-Superleague) playing 32 games averaging 17.0ppg, 2.5rpg, Assists-2 (5.1apg), 1.5spg, FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 33.8%, FT: 85.4%. He played his first 4 professional seasons with Sunshine BK Team Vieste (Italy-Serie C Silver) and never averaged lower than 24,4ppg. He began his basketball career at Purdue University North Central (NAIA): ScoreConf-1 (20.3ppg), 1.8spg, FT: 81%; He was the first player in school history to score over 1,000 points (1,121 in less than 2 years). He spoke with during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Hi Nick where are you at the moment and how is your current mood despite the world turmoil at the moment because of the out break of the Corona Virus? 

Hi Miles, I’m back home in the US in Detroit. My mood is positive, I just want everyone to be safe. 

When you first heard about the Corona Virus did you ever think that it could have such an effect on the world? 

Honestly no, I just thought it was only in Asia.

How did you experience the day to day life in Coratia during the early Corona Virus outbreak? Did you see that corona effect on the culture there or was it not so much different happening in your day to day dealings? 

Well, in Croatia at that time let’s say it was safe there, it wasn’t any cases there. So we lived normally at the beginning just washing our hands , then it became worse before I left where people were wearing the masks and gloves 

Did you become more aware about how you handle yourself in public in terms of shaking hands and not being in the line of fire with somebody coughing.

Definitely, we started to do fist bump and were told the guidelines to follow to be safe.

Basketball leagues have shut down all over Europe. How disappointed were you about this and not being able to finish the season?

I was a little disappointed because we were having a good season, we were growing as a team. We were the youngest team in the league and were picked for last place in pre season, but before the season ended we were in the playoff race! And we beat Kk Zadar, a team that beat Red Star (Euroleague) this season .I was also disappointed because I was having a good season personally and I wasn’t finished proving myself!

Before leagues were shut down there was a BCL game in Bonn against AEK Athens and a Fiba Europe Cup game in Bayreuth without spectators in Germany. What is your overall opinion of playing a game without fans? 

It’s hard to play without fans but if a team is paying me to do my job I must play, that’s what being a professional is all about. 

What have you learned about these tough times that has made you stronger as a person?

Just that the little things in life is what really matters, appreciate life. Don’t take life for granted, and to increase my faith in God. Never give up on your dreams Slow down and just enjoy life . 

Will it be a big adjustment having to start 3 months earlier with workouts and basketball skill development? What will be the advantages and disadvantages of this?

I think it’s an advantage because you can work on small details of your basketball game . But a disadvantage is since we are on lockdown all the basketball gyms are closed. 

The whole world economy is going to be affected including basketball. How worried are you about the future of professional basketball. The next season will have many changes. How are you handling this mentally now not knowing what to expect?

Well just trying to stay positive about everything, I don’t want to stress over nothing I can’t control. I know things will change economically. Whatever happens I will be ready mentally. 

How have you experienced the day to day life back home ? How has the Coronavirus affected your daily life? How have you been keeping in shape inside your home. Talk about the type of exercises and work out you have been able to perform inside your own 4 walls. 

I take it day by day. I’m spending more time with my family which I’m happy for this. As far as working out , I’m doing something everyday from working with mini bands for flexibility/stability /to dribbling the ball outside/Doing yoga/watching film . Basically, doing whatever to keep my body and mind fresh and ready.

If you had to name another player besides guys from your team that you have been in most contact via Social Media who would it be? 

Um Me and Bryon Allen from Kk Zadar we talk sometimes, he wishes me luck and we talk about life . 

Nick I checked your profile and your another one of many Americaan guards on earth that has had to pay dues for a long time. You played in the NAIA and then grinded 4 years in Italy in the 4th and 3rd leagues before finally getting more of an opportunity in higher leagues in Georgia and Croatia. When you look back at your career now can you say that all the hard work has finally paid off/and did you ever think about quiting?

Without a doubt Miles the hard work has paid off and will continue to play off ,it’s been an honor to play this game of basketball for so long. My whole life ,my whole career I have been a hard worker that’s all I know. So when you are grinding for so long and then you finally see results that’s the best feeling ever . I always felt like if you put in the work the results will come , maybe not when you want them to but they will come. Never thought about quitting. I have been frustrated many times but quitting, no. I’m a dreamer Miles . And my dreams I must chase . 

How big has that chip been on your shoulder over the last years? Especially when you played 3 years for Sunshine BK Team Vieste where you put up huge stats. Why do you think it took so long for team s to finally give you a chance to perform at a higher level? 

I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder even before I came to Europe because I knew I had to prove myself to work my way up to better leagues. I think it took so long because not a lot of people know about NAIA college division in Europe . But my chip on my shoulder has always been big. My whole career I have been the underdog. 

Just for people who don t know your game, please describe it a bit and if you had to compare your game to a NBA player who would best fit the description? 

I would say extremely dynamic complete point guard.. Extremely excellent off the Pick and Roll.experienced SUPREME QUICKNESS AND SPEED IN THE OPEN COURT. EXCELLENT COURT AWARENESS. ELITE BALL HANDLING SKILLS. ROUTINELY BEATS DEFENDERS OFF THE DRIBBLE . GREAT COURT VISION AND EXCEPTIONAL STRENGTH. I would compare myself to Chris Paul with a little Steve Nash and Derrick Rose 

You began your basketball career at Purdue University North Central (NAIA). You made the CCAC All-Tournament Team in your last 2 seasons. Talk a little about your basketball experience there. Playing in the NAIA seldom promises a player a professional career. How important was this time for you in developing that never give up mentality which you continued to have in your professional career? 

It was very important to me because I always dreamed of playing professionally. My mentality and focus has always been this. I had a great career at PNC, so many good memories. When I was playing there I was so focus locked in . I wanted to be the best in that league and I was. History was made there and I will be forever remembered there.! 

Talk a little about your time at Purdue University North Central (NAIA). What were some of your fondest memories on and off the court? 

Purdue North Central was in a small town but I met so many nice people. It was a little easier to focus on school and basketball. Our basketball team was really close like a family. Some of my best memories were on the court playing so well there. But I did have good memories off the court too. Being away from home in a small town , all you really have is your friends and basketball. And we had fun 

You are only one of 3 player and first player in school history to score over 1,000 points (1,121 in less than 2 years). Talk a bout some of your biggest games there and if you still can remember some despite it being such a long time ago? 

Wow so many memories that season. That was a great season for me . I think some of my best games was late in the season and 3 road wins and I won player of the week 3 times in a row. My career high was 32 points that season with 16/16 at the free throw line. Lifetime memories! 

In 2016 you were indicted into the Purdue University North Central (NAIA) Hall of fame. What does that accomplishment mean to you and does that give you more desire to be that role model in all that you do? 

That meant the world to me. I thank God for allowing me to have a great career there. I worked so hard in my career up until that point. So to be inducted into the hall of fame was one of the most memorable memories in my life. For someone to recognize your talents, that’s always great. I always wanted to be a role model for the kids that are underrated and must prove themselves. To show that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.

How did your head coach Chris Shultz. at Purdue University North Central (NAIA) groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career? 

He was in the military so everything we did was military style. 5am morning practices , practice 2 times a day . We were a disciplined team . Everything we did on and off the court we took very seriously. So that helped me stay disciplined and focus for the future. 

How tough was that whole process of finding that first professional team? I believe that in 2012-2013 you didn ‘t play yet. How tough was it mentally seeing just how tough it is coming from an NAIA school to go pro? 

Well, actually I played ABA league Semi Pro in America for one year after College. The team name was the Atlanta wildcats and I won MVP there also. It was a really tough process., I wrote agents every day with my profile. I would guess that I wrote about 200 agents and teams after my college career and that’s how I eventually got my first Italian agent . Also it was mentally hard because I did have a good college career in college and I thought after I would go play immediately overseas . But I didn’t get that opportunity. But it made me tougher and stronger. All these hard times were building me for now and what’s to come next .

You finally landed with Sunshine BK Team Vieste (Italy-D Regional): Score-1 (29.8ppg) where you led the league in scoring and helped the team move up to the Italy-Serie C Silver) What was your wake up call to being rookie in Europe where you knew that you were very far away from home? 

First of all seeing all the beautiful water in Italy! And when I tried to go to the supermarket at lunch time they were all closed haha. 

You would stay 3 more years with Sunshine BK Team Vieste (Italy-Serie C Silver) averaging 24.4ppg, 25.7ppgand 24.8ppg. Didn t clubs especially in Italy in the higher leagues become aware of you? Or at least give you tryouts? 

To be honest, In that time in my career I had poor management and didn’t really have anyone to help me to get a look for the bigger teams there. I think they were aware of me but nothing really happened. I was supposed to have some tryouts but it didn’t happen.. But I loved playing in Italy for Vieste some of the best times of my life. 

How do you feel did your game mature in Italy that helped you make the next step in Georgia? 

Playing in Italy helped me a lot . Coming out of college my basketball game was not very mature for the European game . I was making travel violations sometimes and thought I could just run past everyone with the ball and score . But in Italy I learned how to be a smarter playmaker and read plays before it happened. So when I arrived in Georgia I was more prepared for the European style play. 

In 2017-2018 you finally got your first real break with DELTA (Georgia-Superleague) playing 32 games averaging 17.0ppg, 2.5rpg, Assists-2 (5.1apg), 1.5spg, FGP: 55.4%, 3PT: 33.8%, FT: 85.4%. You really showed that you could perform consistently at a higher level. How did you grow as a player at a higher level there? 

Well I grew a lot in Georgia because in My first years in Italy I was asked to just score the ball. But In Georgia I had to change my game back to be an all around point guard which is easy for me. The game pace was much faster in Georgia. I also learned how to adapt to a different situation quickly.

You had many great games that season, but was your 35 point explosion against Cactus Tibilisi your most memorable? 

Yes absolutely, for one because we won that game and doing that stretch of the season I was really playing good basketball. They had 4 Americans and we had just 2 so that was a fun game . After that game , my confidence for the rest of the season was high . I worked so hard that season. And I was growing as a player . 

How vital was American Deondre Ray for your first season at a higher level? He like you also had to work himself up the basketball ladder having played JUCO and in the NCAA2? Did you guys have a special bond that season. 

That’s another player that was fun to play with . He knew where to be at the right times on the court, very talented and athletic humble player. Everything I taught him he used later after Georgia so I’m happy for him and his success . We will always have a special bond because during that season we went through a lot of adversity and stayed strong . 

In your second season with BC Cactus Tbilisi (Georgia-Superleague) you averaged 16.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 4.4apg, Steals-4 (2.4spg), FGP: 48.6%, 3PT: 40.8%, FT: 79.3% and continued to put up big stats. How vital was it remaining a second season there in your continued basketball development? 

After my first year in Georgia , I felt like I was ready to move on to a better league. But I believe everything happens for a reason . So ,going back to Georgia my second year I had to learn different ways to affect the game because everyone knew me from the year before. My second year there was when I got my opportunity to meet Coach Damir Milacic he discovered me there .

How key was it being able to play with 2 high level players like Dominique Elliot and Delano Spencer? How do you feel did your game profit from their presence? 

It was a fun time I learned from both of them. With Dominique we were good in the pick and roll game . With Delano we were basically unstoppable . We both were feeding off each other’s game. 

This season you played with KK Alkar Sinj (Croatia-Premijer Liga) being the second best scorer in the league at – (18.4ppg), 3.8rpg, Assists-2 (5.5apg), Steals-1 (2.1spg), FGP: 49.5%, 3PT: 36.9%, FT: 88.1%. Was the Croatian a league another step above the Georgian league in skill and talent level? 

Yes, for sure Croatia is a much stronger league. The domestic players are better. They play more of a European style basketball. Also, they pay more attention to details about the game. Very physical High intense , fast paced games . We had the best crowd in the league and in Georgia there were basically no fans . So that was a big step up too 

How do you feel did your game match up against high level American guards Byron Allen and Shane Gibson 2 guys who have played in the German BBL with EWE Baskets and Telekom Baskets? How did you play against them and do you feel like future GM s of teams will see as a worthy player of skill like they are?

Well we all have different styles of game . They’re scoring 2 guards and I’m a pass first point guard that can score. It was fun playing against them because we played hard against each other. But I feel my game matches up well with theirs. And I believe after playing against both of them that they respect my game. Allen was the tougher match-up though . I feel GMs should take in consideration that whoever I played against this past season they had much respect for me and how I approached the game . And I can play at a high level 

Were you able to transport your role model qualities and expertise to rookie Emmanauel Wembi who came from Lenoir-Rhyne College (NCAA2)? How much of a talent is this athletic player? 

loved playing with that kid . He is very talented and a smart player especially on defense pick and roll. He loves to learn , so I taught him a lot about taking care of his body , and the in and outs of the business on and off the court . One thing we had in common was that no matter how hard it was we were going to keep pushing to get better ! I wish him nothing but success . 

What is the next step for you? You have made your break through and should get good offers from the type of leagues or even higher ones. Would you like to explore playing in Germany?

The next step for me is to continue to prove myself in whichever league I play in next year and continue to trust the process. Continue to work even harder in the off season .I would love to play in Germany, I see myself doing great there. If a high level team gave me a chance they wouldn’t be disappointed.!

Who was the toughest player that you ever faced that reached the NBA? 

Chris -Douglas Roberts 

Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time?Giuseppe Devita, Michele Lauriola , Borna Jurela , Ivan Jurela , Darrin Williams 

Please produce your own personal NBA Mount Rushmore with 4 heads past or present? 

Jordan , LeBron , Kobe , Magic Johnson 

Where were you when you heard about the passing of Kobe Bryant? How much of an affect did he have on your basketball life? 

Actually , I was at my Coach Damir house, we were watching an ABA Liga game .. Kobe affected me tremendously because he was a hard worker and gave everything to the game of basketball! Mind ,body and soul . Just like I do, he was a role model for me . 

What is your general opinion with the debate between who is greater Michael Jordan or Lebron James? 

Jordan is the goat, the greatest ever and LeBron is the King for my generation. 

What was the last movie that you saw? 

Love and basketball Thanks Miles for the interview. Great questions , I really appreciate you reaching out to me recognizing my hard work and talents. Also , I must give thanks to my Ex coach Damir Milacic. He discovered me in Georgia and gave me the opportunity to showcase my talents in Croatia . I learned so much from him . He is one of the main reasons why I can run the Pick and roll so well . So thanks to Him and my former team KK Alkar .

Thanks Nick for the chat.

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