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Son of Shaq: Shareef O’Neal creates own path

The figurative shoe is much larger than the purple and yellow, size 22 his father wore for the better part of his 19-year professional basketball career.

Indeed, filling that shoe with the iconic dunking silhouette would be easier than stepping into the world of perhaps the greatest big man in NBA history who also owns a larger-than-life personality.

But this story is not about Shaquille O’Neal. It’s not about the Diesel, the Big Aristotle, Superman or Kazaam.

It’s about Shareef O’Neal, the No. 18 overall recruit in the country from the class of 2018 — an Arizona commit — who with any other last name would be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

But he knows this isn’t traditional territory.

“They’re always going to say I’m not as good as him,” Shareef said.

He’s a 6-foot-8-inch forward from Santa Monica, California, who didn’t want to play basketball growing up. A 17 year old who discovered a passion for the game on his own — on his terms — and has become a separate entity from his famous father.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t so good,” Shareef said. “I didn’t really want to play the sport at all. I used to skateboard and do all kinds of stuff kids do. And then I played one day at a big AAU game in middle school and people were like, ‘Oh, that’s Shaq’s son. He’s a bust.’ …

“That was the first time I really heard it and I kind of snapped after that and was like, ‘Alright, I’m dropping everything. I want to prove everybody wrong.’”

And he’s done that while tailoring his game for today’s NBA — an era of basketball so different than his old man’s.

“We always told him that he never had to dribble a ball if he didn’t want to,” said his mother, Shaunie. “He didn’t have to play basketball. We never put that pressure on our kids. So I kind of let him decide.”

So far, so good.

‘Way Better’

Growing up in a situation that kids only with the last name Jordan or James might understand, Shareef has become a household name in basketball circles in recent years.

He’s a five-star prospect who creates for himself, plays the perimeter, soars over defenders, and yes … knocks down free throws.

Better than dad at 17?

“Way better,” Shaq said. “It ain’t what I think; it’s what I know. … We’re products of our environment. When I was watching guys play, everybody played inside. Guys are playing outside now.”

Shaunie said a future in basketball for Shareef started to develop “around 13-ish.”

That’s when he sprouted up, began dunking and formed a new mindset. The early-morning runs, the extra practice and the picking of certain NBA stars’ brains, including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Durant, also started around that time (and it hasn’t stopped).

He also has trained with a few.

“I just soak it all in,” Shareef said. “(My dad) gives me certain players to watch and tells me to steal their best moves. It’s a new NBA.”

And Shareef is the perfect fit for basketball in 2017.

Over the last few days, Shareef has given the valley glimpses of his athleticism while he competes in the Las Vegas Classic during the final AAU live period of his high school career.

“He has all the potential to be an NBA All-Star (in 5-10 years),” Cal Supreme AAU coach Gary Franklin said. “Coming up in the shadows of dad is probably tough. But he’s been able to create his own way.”

Shareef also has had a fair share of tutors this summer. After playing under Crossroads High School (California) coach Chad Beeten last season, Shareef currently is learning from former NBA All-Star Kenyon Martin and New Orleans Pelicans wing Solomon Hill, who are volunteering alongside Franklin and Shaq at Cal Supreme practices.

On Wednesday, they all conducted a private practice at Clark High School. Before the team arrived, the elder O’Neal worked on post moves with Shareef and, jokingly, fired up some 3-pointers in front of the rest of the O’Neal family sitting in the bleachers.

Shareef’s shots fell. Shaq — well, not from long distance.

Shaq and Shareef: birds of a feather, but two very different players.

“I don’t really worry about people calling me a bust because that’s going to happen,” Shareef said. “I just want people to be like, ‘Shareef actually earned his position.’”

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at aferguson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430. Follow @af_ferguson on Twitter.

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