O’Neal a Quick Study on New Team

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital
By Jerry Brown
Feb. 8, 2008

As he sat in a suite Wednesday night and watched his new Phoenix Suns teammates run-and-gun their way through a double-overtime marathon, Shaquille O’Neal was taking mental notes at almost the same pace.

“Good team. Very unselfish. They moved the ball. Great shooters,” O’Neal said, going down the checklist. “I was looking at what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.

“For a big man who draws a lot of attention, it’ll be nice to have some shooters around. I will be looking for them and they will be looking for me.”

It wasn’t hard to find O’Neal Thursday, wearing a purple shirt and tie for an introductory news conference at US Airways Center where he vowed to make critics who claim he is washed up “eat their words” and add to his already impressive collection of four NBA championship rings.

As soon as rumors surfaced of the trade that brought O’Neal back to the Western Conference and Pacific Division for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks, so did critics who panned the Suns for making a panic move for a past-his-prime superstar.

“It’s all motivation,” he said. “I’m very upset ... and when I’m upset, I’m known to do certain things, like win championships.

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“I have cable. I watch ESPN. I see what people are saying. Just keep watching.”

The 14-time All-Star was talking about multiple titles in his and Phoenix’s future and proving that he won’t be an albatross holding back the Suns’ preferred pace.

“I hear a lot of ‘he can’t run, he can’t do this,’ but you’re going to be very surprised,” said O’Neal. “When a team runs a lot there has always been somebody to ignite the break. When I get the rebound, I’m going to be igniting that break.”

Exactly when the fuse will be lit isn’t known. O’Neal returned to Florida today to pack and won’t return until Sunday. He said he felt he would be ready to play before the All-Star break meaning next Wednesday’s game at Golden State or the home game with Dallas Thursday are the first possibilities.

But it is also likely, team trainers and coaches will decide to err on the side of caution and wait until Feb. 20 for the Shaq era to begin in Phoenix. The opponent that night is a familiar one: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

O’Neal has seen the Suns bump their heads against the championship ceiling over the years and needed only two words to describe what’s been missing: Big man.

“This team has always been there in the Western Conference but they just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” said O’Neal, quickly appointing himself the assistant/vice general manager of the team. “I think with my experience and on-the-court and off-the-court leadership, I think we can get over the hump. I’ve always matched up well with (San Antonio center) Tim (Duncan) and (Houston’s) Yao (Ming) and all the big guys. When it comes time for playoff basketball and you have to slow it down a little bit, you go to the big man.”

Dubbing it “The Amaré Stoudemire Project,” O’Neal said he will take special interest in helping the happily deposed center become the best power forward in the NBA.

“I’ve been a fan of Amaré’s ever since I saw him as a young boy in Orlando. I used to tell my friends, he’s going to be ‘The Next.’ So now to be able to be his big brother right here with him, and play with him, and watch him, tell him about certain things and help him get to that next level, it’s going to be exciting. I know for a fact that I’m going to make Amaré better. I look forward to giving Raja Bell some extra room to shoot that beautiful shot he has. It’s kind to hard to make (Steve) Nash better.”

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