Stevens: Tony Snell Decides to Leave UNM in Favor of the NBA Draft

April 9, 2013

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In five words, New Mexico Coach Craig Neal pretty much summed up Tony Snell's decision to test the talent-infested waters of the NBA.

"He wants to do it," said Neal.

The lure of the NBA is not something a top notch collegiate player can easily ignore. It is the pinnacle level of the sport. It offers glory and big bucks. Hey, who wouldn't want to run the floor with Kobe and LeBron?

And get paid well to do it.

But there is a gamble in leaving college too soon. Is your game ready? Is your body ready? Would you have a better chance at the first round of the NBA after your senior year?

Or would your game and your body better develop in a full-time basketball environment that doesn't include classrooms and homework?

Not an easy decision to make and Snell, who would have been a senior in the season of 2013-14, said it was not an easy decision for him to leave his teammates, The Pit and New Mexico's fans.

"In my heart, I felt like it is good for me to leave," said Snell. "I think I'm good enough to play at the next level."

There are parts of Snell's game that are good enough to compete at the NBA level. There also are parts of his game - and his body - that need work. Snell has an "up" side. Snell has room to improve.

Snell has a long, 6-foot-7 athletic body. He can score from the edge and he can finish at the rim. His defensive skills are good. He needs to add some weight and muscle. He needs to work more on scoring off the dribble.

He also needs to play at a higher level of urgency because the other players chasing the NBA bucks will be fierce and motivated.

Neal, who took over the New Mexico program last week from UCLA-bound Steve Alford, has been an NBA scout. He knows what NBA coaches and general manager want to see. He also knows what they don't like.

"He's going to have a chance," said Neal of Snell. "He's not going to look back."

What Snell leaves behind is a Lobo team that was Top 25 most of last season and would have returned five starters, if Snell had returned to the UNM lineup.

It is a team likely to be favored to repeat at Mountain West champions. It is a team that should receive a lot of national attention and a lot of looks from NBA scouts.

It is a team that would have highlighted Snell's skills and potential. But not anymore.

"I'm willing to take that risk," said Snell of leaving UNM behind in favor of entering the 2013 draft.

Neal said he helped Snell and his family test the waters of the NBA to see how many teams thought Snell would make a splash. "He's heard the good. He's heard the bad," said Neal of the NBA feedback. "A lot of the information we got back wasn't all positive. It's going to be a challenge for him."

Snell said he will find an agent, enter the NBA draft and work hard to improve. "Never be satisfied with my game," he said.

Snell, 21, had been contemplating for several weeks whether he would return to UNM for his senior year or take a shot at the NBA. On Monday, he and Neal held a press conference in the Rudy Davalos Center and Snell announced his decision to turn pro. He let Neal know on Friday via a phone call.

"It wasn't a fun call," said Neal. "We want Tony back."

Snell will enter the NBA draft looking to be selected in the first round, the only round that guarantees an NBA contract and a paycheck. If a player does not get drafted, he can attempt to make an NBA team as a free agent - a dog-eat-dog backdoor to a spot on a roster.

If free agency does not open any NBA doors, a player can play ball overseas or in the NBA Developmental League.

What a player cannot do is return to college ball.

Snell averaged 12.5 points for Alford's Lobos in 2012-13 and was a vital cog in UNM's surge to the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles. He was the MW Tournament MVP in Las Vegas.

Snell got a lot of attention as a Lobo this past season, but will not benefit from any UNM success in 2013-14. What Snell can do is return to UNM to complete his degree and the ex-Lobo says he plans to eventually be a UNM graduate.