Shareef O’Neal is a promising basketball player, but a heart problem forced him off the court and put his life in jeopardy. His father’s resources helped him get the best medical help possible. The recovery process is still a difficult road to travel, however. O’Neal has only recently gained the strength to walk again, and he took to social media to share.
Shareef O’Neal was a highly touted prospect in high school
Everything was set up for Shareef O’Neal to the latest child of a famous athlete to become a star in his own right. He’s a much different player to his dad – as his sister Amirah, who plays ball at LSU — but he caught the eyes of scouts in his native LA.
O’Neal’s combination of athleticism shooting ability made him one of the top prospects in the 2018 recruiting class. He originally chose to attend Arizona but de-committed from the school after coach Sean Miller was caught on FBI wiretaps discussing a payment of $100,000 for Deandre Ayton.
O’Neal committed to UCLA a few days later to much fanfare, but his career at the school was interrupted by a twist of cruel fate.
Shareef’s possibly fatal heart problem ruined his UCLA tenure
During practices during the summer, O’Neal told the UCLA medical staff that he had a funny feeling in his chest after a team workout. Doctors soon discovered that he had right anomalous coronary artery that required surgery.
The condition forced him to take a medical redshirt for the 2018-19 season. But O’Neal is fortunate that his losses weren’t more severe. His mother, Shaunie, discussed the fear that engulfed that family after learning about this ailment on an episode of Basketball Wives.
“He was born with it. He could’ve died from it. They let us know Shareef needed open-heart surgery. That made my heart break.”
O’Neal underwent surgery in December. His dreams of playing basketball on a high level couldn’t felt further away. He had to relearn how to walk again and lost 25 pounds while recovering from surgery.
Dealing with serious heart problems is a huge ordeal for a person of any age, but the struggles are particularly hard for a teenager ready to perform on a bigger stage. It’s a testament to O’Neal’s character that he was ready to play again only a few months later. He talked about his journey on Instagram after the anniversary of his surgery. O’Neal made his UCLA debut in the 2019-20 season opener against Long Beach State.
When will Shareef get a chance to reassert his talent?
O’Neal getting back on the court was a remarkable story. But the turn of events afterward did not feel as much like a fairytale. While he was recovering from surgery, UCLA fired the coach that recruited him, Steve Alford, and replaced him with Mick Cronin.
Cronin had no investment in O’Neal’s success, so he had no problem sidelining him for other players. O’Neal only played in 13 of the team’s 31 games, averaging two points and three rebounds in 10 minutes per game. (His shooting percentages weren’t great, but considering what O’Neal went through, you could forgive some level of rustiness.)
O’Neal left the school to transfer to LSU for the upcoming season. But no one has any idea when, or if, this season will occur. COVID-19 continues to run rampant in most of America. The increased number of cases will surely force the NCAA to consider shutting down the college sports seasons.
This will lead to a loss of billions of dollars for universities. Unless millions of more people suddenly decide to wear masks and stay away from the beach for a while, however, it’s the only responsible option to take. It’s unfair for players for O’Neal and other players waiting for a chance to stand out. But he’s overcome bigger setbacks than this.