O'Neal: "We Should Be a No. 1 Seed'

by Conrad Brunner

May 3, 2002


JERMAINE O'NEAL INTERVIEW
May 3, 2002


"Right now, I'm a little upset about the situation. I'm really, really mad about the situation. After Game 1, to be outplayed, I feel like offensively no matter whether they were zoning up on me or guarding me with two or three different guys, I just wasn't as effective. But my answer to that is to be a better overall player. The thing I'm going to get better on over the summer is being able to step out and shoot, shoot the three, be able to be more of a perimeter player along with my post-up game. If you look at the really good fours in this league, all those guys can step out and shoot from long range. That's one thing I will be able to do when I come back next year."

"One thing that happened in the New Jersey series was they took away my post-up game and I wasn't very effective. I was the player to really help my team get over the hump. Reggie did all he could do to keep this team in the game and I just didn't come up for the team in the last four games."

(Is it time to raise the bar next season?) "It's time, and I think everybody knows it's time. We have a good team. We have Al back next year. We have a really good team. We should be a No. 1 seed. I think that's our goal: to be the best team in the East and to play for a championship. It's time to put all the excuses behind us. Everybody has to do their part, go have a good summer, come back and be focused. I think the guys are pretty focused about doing it right now. Myself, I'm extremely focused. I'm a guy who has a lot of pride and I have a huge ego about the way I play basketball. To end my season the way I ended the last four games won't really sit well with me. I don't have any doubt I'm going to come back with the long-range jump shot, with a perimeter game and with a better post-up game.

"I'm looking forward to next season already because I feel like I left off on a sour note. I've been told I can't do things my whole life and the only thing I can do as a person and a player is to do exactly what people say I can't do."

(What do you want to work on, physically?) "Just get stronger. I don't want to add any weight because that will take away from what I want to do next year. If I can come in able to play the three, four and five next year, that makes the team so much better. The really good fours in this league can play three positions. For me to be considered one of the best, if not the best next year, I have to be able to shoot the three, put the ball on the floor and just pound guys down low when given the opportunity."

(For the team to jump from No. 8 to No. 1 in the East, what does it need?) "Consistency. Hard work. Dedication. We need a Reggie Miller-type life: his hard work, his dedication, his consistency tells it all. I really, really had an opportunity to see that this series, let alone the whole year. He comes in and does everything in a timely basis. He lives his life as a leader not only on the court but off the court. I think everybody has to take in what he does to have this team really be good next year. One, two or three players can't do it. We need a team effort. We need everybody to come in and be better.

(What do you take away from Game 5?) "Everybody talks about how good the game was but the reality is we're going home for the summer. It doesn't matter how good the game was, how exciting everything was for the fans and the players. We're not playing for a championship. That's the tough part we've got to deal with every single day until they throw the ball up next year. I got Most Improved this year but my goal, if I can be the best possible player I can be next year, is for my team to be the No. 1 seed and I'm an MVP candidate."

(What's the image of this season that sticks out in your mind?) "What's going to stick in my mind until I'm able to lace 'em up and put on a Pacers jersey next year is (my) play and the elimination of my team."

(Do you want to be more of a leader next year, as well?) "I've got to be a better player, a better leader. I've learned a lot from Reggie. People don't really understand what he does. The way he deals with himself makes everybody else better. He's a superstar; he's one of the 50 greatest players of all-time to me; I feel like I'm short-changing not only myself, I'm short-changing my teammates, the city and my family. 19 and 10 is OK, but I'm capable of 15-plus rebounds and I'm capable of 25 or more points a game. I've just got to give more effort and become better. Every year I come back, I want to be better. Now, it's not just me wanting to be better, it's me wanting to be a champion. I think I'm a huge part of what my team does. And until I get to that level, we're going to be average and I can't have my team being average."