Talk about a big guest of honor at the Sam Mitchell basketball camp.
Former NBA superstar and future Hall-of-Famer Shaquille O’Neal — all 7 feet, 2 inches of him — made appearances at Carver and Spencer High Schools on Wednesday for the camp, which is put on by former Columbus and NBA star Sam Mitchell.
He spoke briefly with camp attendees, answering questions and even offering a prize in the form of $100 if one of the younger campers could make a long jump shot.
O’Neal said that attending these events are important to him because of the impact it can have on young kids.
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“Talking to children, I think kids relate to me,” he said. “I’m the guy for some reason that is a portal to being that regular guy that gets to superstardom. When I was growing up, the superstar was a reach. But I’m the guy that they can see has been through the same things they have.”
Speaking to the kids, O’Neal noted the importance to dream big, set goals and realize that all goals are within reach.
“When I was your age, the one thing I always had was dreams,” he said. “I was 6-9, 13 (years old), couldn’t dunk, couldn’t play. I had people tell me I would never make it.
“Whatever your dreams are, go for them. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter where you wake up or whether you have expensive stuff. None of that matters. If you go toward your dreams, anything is possible. Somebody out of this crowd is going to do big things. I don’t know who it is, but I believe somebody out of this crowd is going to do big things.”
O’Neal, who has a doctorate in organizational leadership and is planning to attend law school, also stressed the importance of education. Answering a coach’s question, he said players need education even if they make a lot of money in athletics.
“When you make it big time and you get that $20 million contract, you need your education because it isn’t about how much money you make,” he said. “It’s about how much money you keep. The ones that have the better education are the ones that will do that.”
Speaking on his playing days, O’Neal noted the great experience he had playing alongside some of the game’s best players. Answer one camp attendee’s question, he said it was a dream playing with all-time greats like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
O’Neal got involved with the camp through his relationship with Mitchell. The two work together at TNT, and Mitchell asked O’Neal to be a part of this year’s camp. O’Neal flew in from California on Tuesday and left after the camp on Wednesday.
In 19 professional seasons, O'Neal played for six teams and averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, winning four NBA championships and three NBA Finals MVPs. He is sixth all-time in points scored.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.