Suns News

A Look Back at Shaq

Over the years, Suns center Shaquille O'Neal has smoothly made the transition from high school to the NBA.
(NBAE Photos)
By Scott Bordow
East Valley Tribune
April 22, 2008

So, what was the Suns center like when he lived in San Antonio, where he played high school basketball and where he is now playing the Spurs in the NBA playoffs? “The same way I am now,” he says. “A juvenile delinquent.”

You turn left onto Winans Road and drive slowly to the guard shack about 200 yards ahead.

To the left are tanks and a barbedwire fence. To the right is the secondlargest military cemetery in the United States, with 95,000 soldiers buried beneath the lush green grass.

You’re here, at Fort Sam Houston, for a history lesson.

This is where Shaquille O’Neal spent his junior and senior years of high school, playing basketball at Robert G. Cole High School.

O’Neal was a military kid, following his stepfather, Phillip Harrison, from New Jersey to Georgia to Germany and, in 1987, to San Antonio.

You tell O’Neal the day before you’re going to see his old school and talk to his former coach. You wonder what he was like as a 16-year-old.

He smiles and his eyes widen. “The same way I am now,” he says. “A juvenile delinquent.”

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There are only a few mementos from O’Neal’s days at Cole. The 1988-89 3A state championship banner — the Cougars went 36-0 in O’Neal’s senior year — hangs on a wall in the old gym. The championship trophy is tucked away in the trophy case.

There’s the team picture — that’s Shaq, wearing No. 33, in the middle of the back row — the senior yearbook photo in which he’s wearing a black tuxedo and bow tie and, wait a minute, what’s this?

Is that really Shaq with a green letterman’s jacket on and a big clock hanging from his neck?

“That was when Flavor Flav and Public Enemy were cool,” O’Neal’s high school teammate Joe Cavallero says. “He would wear his clock and a Gucci cap that he pushed to a point so it looked like he was 7-foot-8.

“That’s the way he was, his personality and sense of humor. I remember us going to the flea market, and we’d get these big, fat 3-inch plastic gold chains with the Mercedes-Benz. You had to look good.”

O’Neal was the class clown in high school. He would try to crack his friends up by passing gas in class. That earned him more than a few trips to detention or the principal’s office.

The sense of humor helped O’Neal make friends and adapt to his ever-changing environment.

“I think it shaped who I am as far as dealing with people,” O’Neal said. “Somebody asked me if the trade from Miami was hard. I told them, ‘No, I’ve been moving every four years since I was 11 years old.’ ”

Cole basketball coach Herb More, then an assistant to Dave Madura and O’Neal’s geometry coach, could recall only a couple of times he saw the big man become angry.

During a practice his senior year, O’Neal was late returning to the court after a break. Madura lit into O’Neal, saying, “You might be the superstar of the world, but we don’t have room for prima donnas.”

O’Neal didn’t say a word. A few minutes later Madura positioned himself under the basket during a drill. O’Neal dunked the ball so forcefully, More said, that “it bounced and landed between Madura’s legs and he had to jump out of the way to keep from getting injured.”

Then there was the time Cole played Southside High School in the district playoffs. As the teams were warming up, More and Madura noticed that the game officials were laughing among themselves.

Apparently, the Southside coach had told them, “You’re going to be part of basketball history tonight. You’re going to see the biggest upset in Texas.”

Madura informed O’Neal what the opposing coach had said, and O’Neal shook his head.

His response would come during the game.

The first three times O’Neal got the ball he dunked it, each slam bending the rim.

“By the third dunk the rim looked like a roller coaster,” More said.

Needless to say, Cole’s opponents were a bit intimidated by O’Neal. Cavallero remembered one newspaper photo in which O’Neal is dunking the ball and three defenders are cowering underneath him.

“He’d walk in and duck his head under the door, and you should have seen the look on the other guys’ faces,” Cavallero said. O’Neal was 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds when he arrived at Cole, and More swears he was the best 3-point shooter on the team. He was 7 feet and 275 pounds when he left school, and every major university wanted him. “Except Harvard,” O’Neal said. “They saw my SAT scores and felt I wasn’t qualified.”

O’Neal hasn’t forgotten Cole or his teammates. He leaves tickets for More whenever he plays in San Antonio, and Cavallero is his personal manager. He also buys shoes for the basketball team every year.

“He takes care of us,” More said.

O’Neal figures it’s the least he can do.

“I spent 700 days there,” O’Neal said. “I got to meet a lot of people, learn a lot about the city. I made some friends and I made some enemies. That was a fun place for me.”

And the clock around his neck? O’Neal just smiles. There are some things even a 36-year-old juvenile delinquent can’t explain.

Shaq in school

Information from Shaquille O’Neal’s high school yearbook (shown below):

Shaquille’s pet peeve: Missing layups

Favorite food: Chicken Ambition: Make it to the NBA

Best achievement: Becoming best high school basketball player in the nation

Best friends: Doug, Rob, Ail, Don and Joe

Home country or state: Newark, N.J. Favorite moment: Scoring 40 points on a 7-foot-2-inch guy Wears: Gucci hat and clock I hate it when: Girls say I’m conceited Nickname: Shaquille the Deal for Real

Favorite song: ”Ain’t No Half Steppin’ “

Favorite school lunch: Cheeseburger and fries F

Favorite class: Lunch

Favorite movie: ”Fatal Attraction”

COPYRIGHT 2008, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.