Leon Neal will enter his 19th year as the head coach of Evangelís womenís basketball team in 2012-13. Neal was inducted into the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Neal has been named Heart of America conference Coach of the Year six times in his career and brings a career record of 380-208 (.646) into this season. Neal has guided the Evangel women’s program to seven conference championships, nine NAIA national tournament appearances and two NAIA Final Fours.
As a player, Neal was Evangel’s first NAIA All-American and was an All-District selection for the Crusaders from 1976-78. His 782 points scored during the 1977-78 season still ranks as the second highest point total scored in a single season in Evangel men’s basketball history. He started his collegiate career at Cuesta Junior College in San Luis Obispo, California, where he was a junior college All-American.
On Feb. 6, 2010, Neal had his jersey number #44 retired along with his daughter NaTasha, who also wore #44 during her four-year career with the women’s team from 2001-05. Neal coached his daughter to four HAAC Championships, four NAIA national tournament appearances, three national quarterfinals and a Final Four appearance in 2005.
Following his playing career for the Crusaders, Neal turned down NBA training camp offers to play for Athletes In Action, a touring Christian team, from 1978-79. He then put together a 7-year professional playing career in Portugal that saw him average at least 24 points per game each season and earn a playoff MVP award. Playing for Porto, his team won two national championships and played in the European Cup Championships twice. Neal won MVP honors for his 44-point game in one of the national championship finals. His Sangalhos team was the national runner up for two seasons. In addition, he coached the Sangalahos women’s basketball team for three years, accumulated a 77-6 record, and advanced to the national finals twice.
He returned to Evangel and completed his degree in 1989. Neal served as an assistant with the men’s basketball program in addition to being the women’s assistant coach. He served as the co-head coach of the women’s program with Lynn Bowen for five seasons starting in 1994-95. The duo combined for a 114-53 record during that span.
An excellent motivator and teacher with a great personal testimony, Neal is also active away from the Ashcroft Center. He has worked with the Springfield Police Department’s Gang Task Force, he speaks to several youth groups and various athletic groups on drug and alcohol abuse, gives private basketball lessons to area athletes, and coaches in several basketball camps during the summer. Neal has served as the head coach of an area AAU team that is comprised of sophomores and juniors. His teams have advanced to the national AAU tournament six times.
A native of Los Angeles, California (Crenshaw High School), Neal and his wife, (assistant coach) Dawn, have a daughter, NaTasha, who graduated from Evangel in the summer of 2005. Tasha (Neal) Moore lives in the Dallas, Texas area with her husband Anthony and their three sons.
Dawn Neal will be in her 14th consecutive year as assistant coach with the women’s basketball program in 2012-13. Coaching alongside her husband, she has been part of seven conference championships, eight NAIA national tournament appearances and nine 20-win seasons.
Coach Dawn was a member of the Evangel volleyball and basketball teams from 1978-80. Like her husband, she also had a professional playing career in Portugal and played for five seasons. She returned to Evangel and completed her degree in 1997 and earned a master’s degree from Drury University in 2005.
Neal has served as an interim head volleyball coach at Evangel in 1997 and was co-head coach of the program with Mary Whitehead in 2000. She was a student assistant coach with the women’s basketball team from 1995-97.
She and her husband Leon have one daughter, NaTasha (Neal) Moore, who also had a standout playing career for Evangel from 2001-05. Tasha and her husband Anthony reside in the Dallas area with their three sons.
Jason Gianapulis has been with the women’s basketball coaching staff since the 2009-10 season. Gianapulis has coached at Walnut Grove in 2001-02 and at New Covenant Academy in 2002-03. He started “Athletes as Servants” in 2009 in conjunction with his daughter’s basketball and softball team. The organization has done community service projects and events. Jason lives in Republic with his wife Pam and their two children, Jordyn and Trey.
Caitlin Russell will enter her second season on the Evangel coaching staff. Last year, she served as a student-assistant coach. Russell ended her playing career ranked 12th on Evangel’s all-time scoring list with 1,230 career points and third all-time in three-pointers made. She was a first team all-conference selection as a senior in 2011 and was an honorable mention NAIA-I All-American. Originally from Greenfield, Missouri, Russell was a standout at Hillcrest High School in Springfield and left the program as its all-time leading scorer.