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Unclebuck
05-08-2004, 10:55 AM
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/sports/content/auto/epaper/editions/saturday/sports_04c98560371de0310046.html


Pacers' O'Neal a strong foundation

By Greg Stoda, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 8, 2004



INDIANAPOLIS -- Jermaine O'Neal is the good stuff.

In fact, he's maybe as good as stuff gets in the NBA these days when the study is an examination of personality and performance.

O'Neal is 6-11 and 242 pounds worth of power forward for the Indiana Pacers and already through seven professional seasons as a 25-year-old who came to the bigs straight out of Eau Claire High School in Columbia, S.C., after Portland made him a first-round pick in the 1996 NBA Draft (the 17th selection overall) but then mostly ignored him for four years.

Know what he is now?

He's someone to build a team around, which is exactly what the Pacers have done. And it doesn't hurt that he's someone a marketing director can build an advertising campaign around, which is something else the Pacers frequently do.

If there's a better poster child than O'Neal for how NBA bigwigs want their league to be perceived, well, maybe -- and these are only maybes -- there's Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and perhaps there's Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

The other O'Neal? The one named Shaquille? Please.

The rookie babies LeBron and Carmelo? Nope. Not yet.

Try this story on for size:

Last month, an outgoing senior basketball star named Janese Banks at Indianapolis Ben Davis High School was in attendance at a function in connection with a Jermaine O'Neal Super Shootout game. She asked him to take her to her prom, and he did... on the Saturday night of the Saturday afternoon Indiana roasted Boston in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs.

"I got a cut in that game, and the first person I thought of was Janese," said O'Neal, who is engaged (yes, he got his fiancée's permission). "I never went to a prom when I was in high school. The only problem I had was with the flower. I didn't know how to pin it on. I let her mom do it."

Yeah, good stuff.

Not that Heat center Brian Grant is surprised by any of it.

Grant played in Portland for three years while O'Neal, too, was on the team. Grant was one of the reasons the teenaged O'Neal couldn't get significant playing time back then.

Now, they're tangling -- frequently head-to-head -- in an Eastern Conference best-of-seven semifinal series in which Indiana won the opening contest Thursday night with Game 2 scheduled tonight in Conseco Fieldhouse.

"It wasn't hard to play a mentoring role," Grant said after Friday afternoon's practice just a couple of hours after O'Neal had left the same court. "He was always looking to learn something.

"He always treated people with respect. He was always very courteous."

Asked when he first noticed O'Neal's potential, Grant said it was "probably from the moment I met him."

O'Neal, who finished third in this season's MVP voting, recalled practice sessions in Portland involving Grant and Rasheed Wallace (now of Detroit) as his proving ground.

"I was always very competitive. I knew if you could play against them, you had a bright future."

Indiana's immediate future seems brighter than Miami's at the moment. That's due in no small part to O'Neal's inside strength against Grant, who is dealing with sore knees and a sore lower back.

"I have tons and tons of respect for Brian," O'Neal said. "I know he's hurting, and I'm banging him a little bit."

More than a little bit.

"He's aware of it," Grant said with a smile and a twinge while wrapped in ice and seated in a chair, "but he's got to do it. That's his job."

O'Neal, who lives in Miami during the summer, his fiancée, Grant and Grant's wife had dinner plans Friday night. At first O'Neal said they'd flip for the tab before relenting and saying he'd pick it up in the host city.

"If he's buying," Grant said, "I'm ordering everything on the menu."

Not a bad idea to bulk up given the return engagement coming tonight.

Anyway, here's O'Neal at or near the top of the NBA food chain. He grew 6 inches between his freshman and sophomore years in high school, which for one season made him a 6-10 quarterback before he gave up football.

"We were sorry," O'Neal said. "I just threw it where they were supposed to be."

A growth spurt isn't something anybody can figure out, and O'Neal couldn't, either.

"Peanut butter," he remembered thinking fondly of his craving for it.

Something else O'Neal remembers was that he'd break out in a heat rash during the most miserable steamy days of South Carolina summertimes, so he spent a lot of the daylight hours inside sleeping.

He was 17 years old when he went trekking off to Portland where he soon enough met Grant, who, much like an older brother by 6 1/2 years, helped O'Neal stay out of trouble and do some growing up.

"I'm happy," Grant said, "to see him achieve so much."

And this is the thanks he gets.

ROCislandWarrior
05-08-2004, 11:06 AM
I like that article, student vs. teacher :)


She asked him to take her to her prom, and he did... on the Saturday night of the Saturday afternoon Indiana roasted Boston in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Wow, that is even more impressive.