Injured Neely, Little give UAlbany men’s basketball an emotional boost with their presence

UAlbany men’s basketball player Justin Neely during practice at UAlbany in Albany on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

UAlbany men’s basketball player Justin Neely during practice at UAlbany in Albany on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

ALBANY — Neither Justin Neely nor Ny’Mire Little will play another minute for UAlbany men’s basketball this season.

But, for a program that’s spent its 2022-23 season dealing with off-court turmoil, on-court struggles and an ever-growing list of injuries, Neely and Little simply being back with the team as a new semester started earlier this week was a reason to smile.

“It gives us a lot of spirit and hope,” Great Danes senior forward Gerald Drumgoole said Wednesday. “It just brings back a feeling from the beginning of the year, you know, how full our team was.”

Neely and Little, both sophomores, saw their seasons end due to injury before November was out, and both returned to campus this week after starting their recuperation in their respective hometowns.

The manner in which each player saw their sophomore season come to a premature end was vastly different.

Neely, the 2021-22 America East Rookie of the Year, had his year ended in an instant. After getting a late start to the season because of a nagging preseason shoulder injury, the 6-foot-6 forward from Miami suffered a torn left ACL just minutes after he came off the bench during the Nov. 12 Albany Cup game against Siena at MVP Arena.

Immediately, Neely knew this would be a long-term injury.

“You can just kind of feel those things,” he said. “But, it is what it is.”

Little, a 6-foot-4 guard from Chester, Pennsylvania, had dealt with hip pain since last summer. He played through it for most of November, moving into the starting lineup around Thanksgiving before the pain became too much to tolerate.

“I knew I should shut it down,” Little said. “It was about buying into my heart, talking to God and asking him whatever was best for me.” 

Those injuries were the start of an ever-expanding list for the limping Great Danes (1-5 America East, 6-15 overall).

Since both Little and Neely had their seasons ended, sophomore guard Will Amica had another flare-up of the hip issues that have plagued his UAlbany career and will be sidelined for “the foreseeable future,” according to Killings. Junior guard Malik Edmead missed several weeks with a finger injury before returning to the lineup for Thursday’s 65-54 loss to Binghamton, while senior forward Trey Hutcheson has missed back-to-back games with a back injury.

Things got so thin that, for last Saturday’s loss at NJIT, UAlbany had just seven players in uniform.

“We went into the season, I thought we had a chance to take a huge step,” head coach Dwayne Killings said. “And then, you know, your heart breaks when Justin goes down. Then you look at Ny’Mire, he’s trying to get his way through it, and your heart breaks again when you find out this kid’s been dealing with a lot of pain, but wanting to play and wanting to win.”

For Neely, back home in South Florida, it was particularly difficult to follow the team’s struggles from a distance.

“I’m locked in with all my guys,” he said, “texting them separately, individually, watching all the games, texting them after. . . . It’s extremely challenging, but that’s just how our season’s been.”

Neely and Little both said they’re optimistic about the early stages of their recovery process. 

Neely underwent surgery in early December and said Wednesday he’s been walking without crutches for “about a week-and-a-half.” Little, who is facing six to eight months of recovery, said he’s “walking a little better” recently, and his range of motion has improved.

Being back with the team has boosted both players’ spirits.

“It’s awesome,” Neely said. “It’s all smiles, as soon as I walked in. Super-excited to be back, I miss these guys. To be able to come back and be around them again is amazing.”

It’s a feeling that’s reciprocated by those who have been there this whole time.

“It gives you a jolt to see them, and it gives you a jolt to see the camaraderie they have with their teammates,” Killings said. “I mean, that’s what this whole thing is about. I’ve been really disappointed not to have them around, because I think it means a lot to the program, and to them.”

Though the Great Danes lost their first game after Neely and Little rejoined their comrades, there’s still hope any energy they can provide from the sidelines at practice, in the locker room and from the bench.

“My brothers welcomed me back, so I feel good,” Little said. “Hopefully, we can get some wins.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports, UAlbany

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