My Amazing Journey -- Jermaine O'Neal

Getting to the NBA is not easy. Of the millions of kids playing basketball around the world today, only a very small percentage will make it to the Association. Along the way, there will be highs and lows, ups and downs.

As they prepare for the 2007-08 season, 30 current players reflect back on their journey to the NBA and some of the things they went through to fulfill their dream of playing basketball for a living.


What was the biggest obstacle you overcame to reach the NBA?
Jermaine O'Neal:
I think it had to be not just the physical aspect, because obviously coming from high school, the NBA is a big adjustment. But just the mental aspect is probably the toughest obstacle I had to get through, being thousands of miles away from home. The environment was much much different. The lifestyle was much much different. Coming from a situation in high school where you are playing every minute of every game, every All-Star game, to come into a situation where you are the fourth best player at your position ... that was a huge adjustment. It was a reality check for me. That was one of the things I had to deal with.

Finish this sentence: Growing up, the basketball court was my...
JO:
It was my tool because it was able to help me achieve a lot of things. It helped me understand what I could do in life. Obviously, when you live in certain areas, when you grow up in certain areas, you don't have many opportunities to do many things and get out of the area that you are from. Basketball was not only a tool to create a better life for myself, but for my family and also an opportunity to do some of the better things in life.

To what lengths would you go for a chance to play basketball, even if it were to just to shoot around?
JO:
Here is the funniest thing: I only really played when basketball season was in play. I was really into football. I played football, Pop Warner growing up and everything seasonal. When baseball was in, we played baseball. When basketball was in, we played basketball ... and football. There were times when we would play until we couldn't see at night. We didn't have any night lights. And sometimes when we wanted to play at night, we would go to the recreational park and we could play until like 2:00 a.m.

Who was your basketball hero and why?
JO:
I really didn't have a hero. Isiah Thomas has always been one of my favorite players. Scottie Pippen was one of my favorites. I always liked some of the great players ... Michael Jordan. But everyone liked Michael Jordan, so I wanted to like somebody else. Magic Johnson also, but the two that I liked the most were Isiah Thomas and Scottie Pippen and mainly Scottie Pippen because he was able to do so much at 6-8, 6-9.

What is your favorite childhood basketball memory?
JO:
It had to be the first summer league championship. That had to be my very first and best memory growing up as a child. Also watching the Jordan-Magic playoffs and Dominique and Larry Bird's shootout, I don't know if it was playoff game or regular season game, but both of them put up huge numbers.

How old were you when you received your first basketball and what did it feel like to have your very own?
JO:
I may have had it at 12. I just got a basketball court in my backyard. I was always into football. I didn't even consider playing organized basketball, like high school. I played recreation but it wasn't really organized. They kind of gave us the ball and we'd run around. That was like my sixth, seventh grade. It had to be my eighth grade year going into my ninth grade year my mother finally put a basketball court in the backyard and me and my brother went out there. He helped me learn how to shoot the ball.

When did you realize you had serious game?
JO:
You know what, it all kind of happened. I started playing organized basketball. I stopped playing football. I started concentrating more on basketball. My junior year I got invited to the Nike All-American camp in Chicago. It had guys like Kevin Garnett and Ron Mercer. It had a lot of guys that were really good. I got the opportunity to play against those guys and I did very well. So I went from not being ranked in the state to coming in and, depending what article you read, number one or number two junior in the country. That idea of me being really good at basketball just kind of jumped on me my junior year, then obviously my senior year, I was ranked at the top of the class. Those two years had to be the most evident that I could be considered really good at basketball.

Did it ever strike you in preseason, "Man, I can't believe I'm here..."
JO:
I think the first few years you are kind of wild about it. But at this point in my career it is about what can you do to improve yourself. That is where I am at right now. When you step into arena its all about business, what you need to do to outplay your opponent and get your team to win.

How proud is your family that you made it to the NBA?
JO:
Very proud. It's funny because my cousin was getting married this summer, and I had the opportunity to meet and see a lot of my cousins and some of my older cousins that I grew up with. You really don't feel that love and that pride until you get around them. They just really are kind of awed by being in your family. They talk about you a lot. I gave my cell phone and everything and told them to call me anytime, even ones that I wasn't very familiar with that are younger and in middle school or high school now. But you feel proud and you feel like you achieved a lot when your family is kind of wild about you.

"It helped me understand what I could do in life."
"It helped me understand what I could do in life."