Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaq, will have heart surgery for a condition discovered during a physical and will be a medical redshirt for his freshman year at UCLA, he told TMZ Sports.
O’Neal wore a heart monitor during team workouts so team doctors could identify the source of what was making him feel “a little funny” while playing ball.
And after the data came in, it put an end to O’Neal’s season before it began.
“So, the other day during routine checkup, we found a medical issue dealing with my heart,” O’Neal said. “And thank God UCLA medical staff found it early, but causing this I will not be playing this season and I will be a medical redshirt. But during this time off, I’ll be off for a while, I’ll be focusing on academics, my health, of course, and I’ll just be observing to be the best player I can be next year.”
For the Bruins, this places a damper on their expectations for the upcoming season; they had the third-ranked recruiting class this year and begin the season ranked in most polls’ Top 25.
UCLA also loses out on the chance to stick it to Pac-12 rival Arizona, which had originally received O’Neal’s commitment before losing it in the wake of the pay-for-play scandal involving DeAndre Ayton, the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
O’Neal must now subsume any one-and-done instincts he might have and, as he said, focus on academics.
“Freshman Shareef O’Neal will be sidelined for the 2018-19 season (medical),” UCLA said in a statement. “He will remain enrolled in class and on the men’s basketball team during this redshirt year. The UCLA men’s basketball program completely supports Shareef and his family as he gets this issue resolved.”
Team spokesman Alex Timairos then said that no further information will be released on O’Neal or his condition; his medical privacy makes it impossible to know exactly what’s wrong with his heart, so any attempts to consider his prognosis are at best highly speculative and at worst outright fiction.
O’Neal, however, made it clear he believes he’ll return stronger than ever.
“I know it’s an injury that requires surgery, so I’ll be having heart surgery and I’ll be out a couple months and after that I’ll be back,” he said. “A lot of people are asking if it’s career-ending. The answer is absolutely not. Just a little bump in the road. … During my rehab, I’ll be attending my classes and being a normal student. But that’s what’s going on, and I’d like to thank UCLA, my family, my teammates and everyone who supports me in this decision.”
At risk of some of that “highly speculative” mentioned earlier, heart surgery has a nasty habit of laying waste to the endurance of anyone who goes through it, whether it’s bonesaw-and-knife traditional open heart surgery or the kind where they run a catheter and start rooting around without the invasive procedures required of the former option.
Whether O’Neal is truly fully right as rain after surgery will be a function of his youth, exactly what his ailment is, and how he handles his rehabilitation when the procedure is done.
Meanwhile, the son of a legend did allow himself to get a bit sanguine as to his fate.
“I’m a little down,” O’Neal told TMZ. “I feel like I was at my peak of basketball going into my freshman year and coming out of the state championship of high school. I felt like I was at the top of my game right now. Just trying to get better, getting stronger but then this happened. I’m just doing my best to focus on my health right now.”
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