At least the summer weather won’t come as a surprise to Shareef O’Neal when he settles in to begin his college basketball career a year from now at University of Arizona. The 6’9″ son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal remembers what it’s like to live in the heat of the Sonoran desert when his famous father played a couple of seasons with the Phoenix Suns.
OK, so that was a decade ago. But you don’t forget 112-degree heat.
So the desert heat shouldn’t be a factor as head coach Sean Miller and his staff work diligently to keep the big guy committed while he finishes his high school career next year at Crossroads School in Los Angeles. They’ll have to hope his verbal commit holds until they can get his signature on a National Letter of Intent next November.
The four-star power forward (or 5-star, depending on which recruiting service you follow) committed to the Wildcat program on Wednesday by announcing his decision via social media (Is there any other way nowadays?) But O’Neal’s AAU team used the team’s Twitter page to make an early-morning announcement and then Shareef followed that with more social media confirmation as the morning went on.
That club team, the California Supreme, has become a recruiting pipeline for the Arizona program. A couple of other recent recruits to the Wildcat program also played for the Supreme, DeAndre Ayton and Ira Lee. Ayton, a 7-footer from Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, was the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2017. Lee was a classmate at Crossroads, where he averaged 19 points a nine rebounds in his final prep season. So O’Neal will have a couple of friends waiting for him when he arrives in Tucson next year (assuming no early departures for the NBA).
O’Neal was probably the most high-profile recruit in the 2018 Class, simply by virtue of his name. But he’s considered one of the best juniors in the country right now and ranked No. 19 nationally by ESPN. Scout.com has him as the No. 36 prospect, while 247 Sports puts him at No. 31 overall and the No. 13 power forward.
He averaged 14 points and seven rebounds this past season, but has another summer of AAU ball and a senior year to continue building his resume. And maybe moving a little closer to that 7-foot mark he may have inherited from dad.
At 210 pounds, he doesn’t have the intimidating, overpowering size of his father – at least not yet – and his game needs some development. But that may be a blessing since it means he likely won’t be a one-and-done and should be around long enough to add some stability to the Arizona line-up as he grows into his role with the program.
But the height is one of the son’s few comparisons to his father, who ruled under the basket by sheer brute force and a deadly baby hook. Shareef’s game benefits from being able to use his athleticism and versatility to get his points facing the basket, more like a stretch four than a true center.
It’s unlikely that opposing teams will have to resort to the kind of fouling defense that was required to try to hold his dominating father in check when he posted up.
No “Hack-a-Shaq” rules for this kid. He’ll get his points in other ways, including the use of a nice shooting stroke from behind the arc.
There’s one other thing the youngster will add to the games at McKale Center…another famous face in the stands, a doting father who has been keeping a watchful eye on his son’s developing career.
Miller’s teams have no trouble filling McKale for home games, but a little extra ‘star power’ once in a while will be a welcome addition to the entertainment on the court.