Video: Shareef O'Neal Ultimate Highlights
Senior power forward has Crossroads in state title game.
Coaching Shareef O'Neal
A dream, said first-year Crossroads (Santa Monica, Calif.)
coach Anthony Davis. Sheer joy. A blessing.
Coaching while O'Neal's dad, Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal, is around?
A nightmare. Distracting. Embarrassing.
Before one gets the idea Shaq is some sort of overbearing, browbeating, helicopter dad, nothing is further from the truth.
He stays out of Davis' way, contributes positively to the team and supports his son in a totally upbeat way.
So what's the problem?
"I've been a big Lakers' fan and bigger Shaq fan my whole life," Davis said. "It's hard not to look at him like some sort of superhero."
Davis can laugh about and admit it now. The 34-year-old almost has a season under his belt. And what a season it has been.
The former Inglewood High School star, who once played in the NCAA Tournament for Austin Peay and later professionally overseas, has Crossroads in the state Division 2 finals.
The Roadrunners (24-9) meet Northern California champ Alameda
(28-5) at 4 p.m. Friday. Sacramento's Golden 1 Arena serves as the site.
But when the season started, Davis needed to establish respect and strength among the team and Crossroads community. Picking brains, fetching water
Davis spent seven seasons as a Crossroads assistant but was passed over a couple times when the head coaching job opened. When Shaq came around, he couldn't look like a weak-kneed, gushing, starry-eyed fan, which he was on the inside.
"I had to keep my poise," he said.
He did and soon after the butterflies passed, he used one of the most dominating big men in NBA history as a mentor and sounding board. Never once has Shaq tried to mettle in Davis' business.
He estimated that Shaq had been to about 10 games and three practices.
"He's never stepped on my toes," Davis said. "He's just let me coach and let me be me, and that means a lot.
"I have tried to pick his brain when it comes to little things. Who wouldn't? If you have access to get information from a Hall of Famer, you take it and pass it on to the kids."
Certainly, Shareef has already heard it, but Davis said his 6-foot-10, 215-pound power forward is always attentive.
There's not a hint of entitlement from the UCLA commit, regarded as a Top 50 senior prospect in the country by 247Sports
According to Davis, Shareef has almost doubled his junior-season averages by going for 27.6 points, 17.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 3.7 blocks per game.
As gaudy as those numbers are, they skim the surface of what Shareef has done for the team and a first-year coach.
"It's been a surreal experience coaching Shareef," Davis said. "I can't imagine having a better experience as a coach and this is my very first year.
"He's more than a humble kid. Very coachable. He doesn't have an ego. He leads the team by asking questions, being engaged. It's been a true blessing."
Davis got an idea of Shareef's character and leadership ability while he sat out five games early in the season due to a concussion.
The Roadrunners opened the season with four straight wins in their own tournament and played Taft (Woodland Hills) in the championship game.
"It killed him that he couldn't play," Davis said. "But instead of sulking, he was up cheering on the guys, getting them water, giving input during timeouts. That told me a lot about the young man." Getting chippy
Clearly, Shareef is all about making his own name. After scoring a game-high 18 points in the regional final Saturday — a 54-50 win over Birmingham (Lake Balboa) — a Los Angeles Times
reporter asked him about playing with his dad sitting in the front row.
"It's a regular game, nothing different," Shareef said. "He's at a lot of my games, but this is big for my team."
After losing their top two scorers from last season, Ira Lee (now at Arizona) and Jacob Ray (transferred to IMG Academy), Crossroads wasn't expected to make a big state-title push.
Especially after starting the season 7-7, which included a five-game losing streak.
But behind the play of Shareef, 6-2 senior guard Darrel Houston
(19.7 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), 6-3 senior Benjamin Terry
(12.2, 7.1), 6-7 senior forward Jayvier Davis
(10.4, 9.1) and 6-3 sophomore Miles Ceballos
(9.8, 5.3) — son of former NBA player Cedric Ceballos — the Roadrunners have won 14 of 15 since a 75-69 loss to Southern California Open Division champion Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth).
"We struggled early, but we played in some tough tournaments," Davis said. "It took a while to adjust to the new coaching style. But we're battle-tested. And we play with a chip on our shoulder. I'm a young coach who was passed over several times so I coach with a chip on my shoulder. We've been overlooked and doubted so much, I tell the team constantly that we simply have to believe in one another. We do and look where we are."