One-on-One with Jermaine O'Neal

by Eric Latzer

January 29, 2002

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Though still just 23 years old, Jermaine O'Neal has established himself as one of the best big men not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the league -- a status that was certified on Tuesday, Jan. 29, with his selection to the All-Star team.

The 6-11, 242-pound forward-center from Columbia, S.C., was drafted out of high school No. 17 overall by Portland in 1996, but didn't begin to blossom until the Pacers acquired him in a blockbuster trade for All-Star power forward Dale Davis prior to the 2000-01 season. O'Neal averaged 12.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and tied for the league lead with 228 blocked shots in his first season in Indiana and has continued his emergence this year with averages of 18.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.38 blocked shots (through Jan. 23).

O'Neal credits the experience of leading Team USA to a gold medal in the 2001 Goodwill Games with spurring his development, and he will continue to represent the country in international competition in the World Basketball Championship in Indianapolis this summer.

O'Neal chatted live on NBA.com and pacers.com on Tuesday, Jan. 29. See what he had to say!


Matt (Los Angeles): How do you feel about being a part of this year's All-Star game? Keep up the good work, you're the coolest player in the NBA.

Jermaine O'Neal: Thank you. I feel pretty good about it. I've been through a lot in my first couple years and to be considered one of the best in the league is truly an honor.


Clay Rickard Dallas: Jermaine First of all Congrats on your All-Star selection. And that is part of my question. What qualities make an All-Star, and do you think missing games should be a factor of an All-Star selection?

Jermaine O'Neal: If the guy misses half the games, then I think he shouldn't make it. But what makes an All-Star is hard work, dedication and the will to be the best.


Milwaukee: Looking back, would you go straight into the NBA, or would you go to college first? If you would have went to college, what schools were you interested in playing for?

Jermaine O'Neal: I would've probably made the same decision that I made in 96 because I didn't want to look back and say "what if". I had some hard times in Portland. If I had to choose a college it would've been Kentucky. Rick Pitino came to visit and I liked him a lot.


Adam (Washington): Hi Jermaine, what has helped you the most since making the jump from high school to to the pros?

Jermaine O'Neal: First of all, God's been with me. And my family, my high school coach and guys around the NBA have pushed me to get better. So it's been a mixture of a lot of different people.


chicago: where do you see yourself in five yrs,

Jermaine O'Neal: Hopefully, at the top of my game. I'd like to be the best forward/center in the game. I'd like to get better physically and mentally and hopefully in five years the plan will come together.


Jerome, Charleston: Hey Jermaine this Jerome I'm from SC too. Hey you should be starting for the East in the All Star game. Do you plan on dunking on the other O'Neal in the All Star game? Do you think you will lead the league in blocks this season? Show the NBA what DSCB is all about.

Jermaine O'Neal: I don't see the big difference between starting and just being there. We're all All-Stars. I've missed some games which pushed me down a little, but I think with a strong second half I can lead the league in blocks.


Jordan Davidson, Orangeville, Ontario: To what do you owe the Pacers' success this year?

Jermaine O'Neal: I think we're kind of behind now. We started off with one of the best starts in Pacers history, and then I got hurt. Then we put another streak together, and I got hurt. I think we'll put something together if we can avoid any other injuries.


Ryan (Indianapolis): Who is a better dunker, you or J. Bender???

Jermaine O'Neal: Jonathan is a more creative dunker. I'm more of a game dunker, dunking on people. He does some things in the open floor that are incredible though, so I'd have to say him.


Mike O: Hey Jermaine, do you feel more comfortable playing power forward or center?

Jermaine O'Neal: I don't think in the Eastern Conference, it's a big difference. Sometimes, the bigger centers wear me down. I like to play a power forward in the scheme we have now.


John Carmel: What's your favorite thing to do in Indianapolis?

Jermaine O'Neal: There's not a whole lot to do. I just come home and see my family. My daughter recently moved here, and I just like to play around with her.


Oakland: Jermaine, what's the biggest reason for your improvement as a player this year?

Jermaine O'Neal: Mark Aguirre is a great addition to the team. He's helped me a lot with my moves. And my high school coach has really helped me with my footwork and jumper. I have to give a lot of credit to those guys. And also my teammates to have confidence in me and give me the ball in key situations.


Ivo (utrecht, the Netherlands)): Jermaine, with all the trade rumours swimming around in the basketball world, how is this affecting the lockerroom? Are guys like Travis and Jalen getting frustrated with all this talk about them having to settle elsewhere?

Jermaine O'Neal: Everybody sees the game as just basketball, but we see it as a business. Those guys can't control what management is doing. All they can do is play hard. I haven't seen them show any animosity, they just come out and try to help the team win.


Yos (T.O): Jermaine, I'd like to know who is your favorite player of all time and who you think is the best this season? (P.S. Now that the tables are set, can't wait for you to knock 'em down.)

Jermaine O'Neal: I'm not going to say MJ, even though he's the best player of all time. I like two guys: Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. As far as this year, there's so many good players. I'd have to go with Tracy McGrady.


Alex Holznienkemper(mooresville, IN): Hi Jermaine! Do you believe that the Pacers will be able to keep all you guys together for the next few years? If so, I think you would really be a VERY serious candidate for taking home the trophies and rings. Another way of asking my question would be: do ya'll get along well with each other?

Jermaine O'Neal: Hopefully they do keep us together. We get along great. We're like brothers. When Al called me and told me about his ACL I got pretty emotional. We're like brothers.


Chris (TX): Everyone talks about the young athletes needing a support system, did you need one and who are they?

Jermaine O'Neal: I needed a lot of people. It ranges from your mother, to the city of Portland, to your teammates. These guys you trust and believe. My supporting cast was a ton of people.


Jon (Mississauga ON): i've heard that you couldnt dunk until you were like 16 years old, if that's true, what did you do to improve your hops and be such an explosive dunker?

Jermaine O'Neal: That is true. I did a lot of rim touches. Gradually I went from rim touches to dunking. I really couldn't dunk that well until about 11th grade.


Chelsea+Chloe(Edmonton: Will you wear the headbend for Al in the rest of this season?

Jermaine O'Neal: Yeah. I'll wear it in the All-Star game. I'll wear it the rest of the year just to let him know I'm thinking about him every time I'm on the court.


Noel (Manila, Philippines): You're the best Center in the East! Other than free throws, which aspect of your game are you focusing on improving? Are you still planning to add more bulk, perhaps become a 260-pounder? Thanks! Go Pacers, build that huge lead, get that winning streak going and never look back!

Jermaine O'Neal: I'm going to let my weight come with my age. I'm cool now with 245. I want to stay agile. 260 is too heavy for me. I want to get better every year. Free throws is something to work on, but I just want to improve my game every year.


Cyclone Country, Iowa: Congrats on the All-Star selection. What do you think of Jamaal Tinsley and what does he bring that the team has lacked in previous years?

Jermaine O'Neal: His ability to push the ball in transition and find guys. The difference between him and Travis is that Travis is a shooting point guard and sometimes he looks to shoot first. Jamaal likes to push it up and find the open guys at all times.


Pasquale (Philly): Jermaine, I know you just got over an injury. Tell us what the hardest part about being benched due to an injury was?

Jermaine O'Neal: The toughest part was that the team was 1-8 without me in the lineup, so it's tough to watch that. Sometimes you try to rush back. I'm about 75% now. I'm getting better every day. Hopefully after the break I'll be able to compete every day at 100%.


Paul from albany shulinet@yahoo.com: Jermaine, I'm a huge Pacer fan. I'm especially fond of the younger guys on the team and the growth you've all shown, and the potential yet to be realized. As you get into the second half of the season what are your goals as a team offensively and defensively, especially without Al Harrington? And who do you expect will step up to shoulder the burden?

Jermaine O'Neal: We're trying to find somebody to bring the energy that Al brought. This will be big for John Bender. He's got the talent to take over a game. The second half of the season we need to beat the teams we're supposed to beat. We need to concentrate more and finish games strong, and if we do I'll think we'll be on top te Eastern Conference when it's all said and done.

Jermaine O'Neal: I want to thank each and every one who supported me these last five years. I'm going to try to make you guys proud of me in the All-Star game and for years to come. I want to thank everyone who's supported me and believed in me and I'll continue to get better for the next 10 or 15 years.