Jermaine O'Neal Jr. discusses life lessons learned from father, names schools he wants to visit in fall | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / July 14.
  • Jermaine O’Neal Jr. discusses life lessons learned from father, names schools he wants to visit in fall

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    By SAM LANCE

    KANSAS CITY — Four-star forward Jermaine O’Neal Jr. didn’t really play basketball when he was younger. In fact, he just started taking it serious when Covid hit. Still, he remembers what it was like to be around his dad growing up — six-time NBA All-Star and legendary Indiana Pacer Jermaine O’Neal.

    “He’d always come home, always have game ready ice on him,” O’Neal Jr. recalled. “But he always just had like a locked-in mentality. Going to games and all the NBA players I’ve been around, it’s kind of different, a different locked in. His aura around him almost.”

    “Living in my house, you only know one thing,” O’Neal Sr. said. “That’s hard work. Right? Nothing given, everything earned.”

    That work ethic and locked-in mentality is something that O’Neal Jr. — the 6-foot-6, 175-pound forward from Dynamic Prep (TX) — has added to his own game. He also believes his father has taught him several concepts that will translate to the next level. O’Neal Sr. is his AAU coach at Drive Nation and his high school coach.

    “I believe I’ll be able to go to a campus and impact winning there just by knowing small detail things like switching, hedging, different playstyles, being able to read offenses and knowing when people should cut,” O’Neal Jr. said. “Just small things like that. So I believe my IQ is higher that a lot of my peers.”

    Basketball and life are synonymous in the O’Neal family. Many of the life lessons learned by O’Neal Jr. from his father relate to the court as well.

    “Just playing hard,” O’Neal Jr. said. “You’re always kind of one foot in one foot out. College coaches aren’t waiting on you. If you make it to the league they aren’t waiting on you. There’s a new class coming in every year in college and high school. And that’s how it is in the real world if you have a job. There’s always someone else coming in to try to take your job, stuff like that.”

    As for O’Neal Jr.’s recruitment, he told ZAGSBLOG.com he is hearing mainly from four schools.

    “SMU is pretty heavy,” O’Neal Jr. said. “Texas talks to me. Tennessee. USC. There’s some others.”

    Here is O’Neal Jr.’s breakdown of the four main schools recruiting him:

    SMU: “They just got a new coach, the whole coaching staff from USC I believe came over. So I’m getting familiar with their playstyles and everything. But I love how the coach kind of just lets people play their role. If they play hard, do what they’re supposed to do, he kind of lets them play a little bit more free, from the bigs to wings to guards.” Hearing mainly from the head coach Andy Enfield.

    Tennessee: “They’re just kind of a more rugged, strong team. Defense based. Rick Barnes really pushes them. They had a great run in the tournament this past year. And they just produce great strong wings. Dalton Knecht. They had another wing a year or two ago go to the league, but I just like how hard they play.”

    On Barnes: “One he recruited my dad in high school to Clemson. But he’s just kind of a hard-nosed coach. I heard he isn’t too crazy, but he just brings a great balance of things and really focuses on defense.”

    Texas: “Coach [Rodney] Terry, there’s a lot of love there. Partly because it’s home. But they play kind of more free. Great energy, great family feeling around there. And it’s just close to home, so I like that a lot.”

    USC: “That’s coach [Eric] Musselman. He was recruiting me when he was at Arkansas. He’s a tough coach to play for too. He loves his guards, being able to fly around, defend. He just holds you to such a high standard and I believe I thrive the best in that.”

    O’Neal Jr. has taken unofficial visits to South Carolina, Texas and SMU, but no officials yet. He plans on taking those after Peach Jam in the fall during football season.

    When asked which schools he wanted to visit, O’Neal Jr. said: “I love Tennessee. I like how they play. Texas of course. Really any school that just believes in me. I’m not really too worried about where I end up because I know I can fit into any system.”

    During the Kansas City session, O’Neal Jr. posted 9.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 22 minutes per contest. He shot 47.2% from the field and 42.1% from three with and had just two turnovers in his 110 minutes. O’Neal Jr.’s best game of the weekend came against one of the best teams in the circuit, 14-1 Nightrydas Elite. In that game he had 18 points and hit 4-of-6 shots from deep.

    O’Neal Jr. is the No. 91 overall prospect in the 2025 class per 247Sports and the No. 11 player in the state of Texas. He describes himself as a two-way player.

    “My dad taught me to focus on defense first,” O’Neal Jr. said. “I play a lot in the mid range. I can shoot the three ball at a high level but I love to play in the mid range game and defend all five really. With my size at 6-foot-6, I can go on a bigger 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 kid and push him off the box, guard the 3-point line. I can do really just whatever you need me to do.”

    The forward is coming off an MVP and state championship winning high school season. O’Neal Sr. said he’s been a bit rusty to start the AAU season because he had a little fiber tearing in his knee and had to get some platelet-rich plasma prior to the first session.

    “He’s starting to get his feet up under him,” O’Neal Sr. said. “The biggest thing for him is just consistency. I love him off the dribble pull up I think he elevates really high on that. He can shoot the three, but I don’t like him to just sit on the 3-point line. But he can guard. Earlier this morning, he was guarding Cameron Boozer. Then he’ll guard the point guard on the switch. He has versatility. He’s still a really raw player that’s still learning. He’s only been playing for four years. So I love late bloomers who like to work.”

    O’Neal Jr.’s favorite NBA player is Steph Curry. He said what makes him unique is his memory and working hard in the classroom.

    “I’m really good when it comes to math,” O’Neal Jr. said. “As soon as I see it, I just remember it forever basically.”

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