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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “After 16 seasons, Shaq always up for a challenge”

    Before the start of the NBA basketball season last year, Shaquille O’Neal strapped on headgear and participated in ultimate fighting to stay in shape. Why anyone would want a piece of the 7-foot-1, 320-pounder is beyond most people, but he even accepted challenges from random men.

    Around the same time, a television show called “”Shaq’s Big Challenge,”” debuted on ABC. O’Neal helped obese children in Florida lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle. In the nine months it took to film the TV series, six children lost a total of 285 pounds.

    The international icon has no doubt been on both ends of many challenges. His most recent obstacle, however, was proposed to him Tuesday in McKale Center when UA junior swimmer Carley Beaudreau approached him.

    “”A girl from the (UA) swimming team challenged me,”” O’Neal said Tuesday morning. “”I told her I was the black Michael Phelps and she didn’t believe me. I told her that I was going to be at the pool at 4 o’clock.””

    And still come back to McKale by 4:45 p.m. for an evening workout?

    “”And still come back for practice,”” he said.

    Although the race in the pool never went down, the Suns, who are holding training camp in McKale this week, look to thrive from the light-hearted O’Neal and his way of dealing and accepting challenges.

    During training camp last season, Suns general manager and former Wildcat Steve Kerr had to deal with the backlash that forward Shawn Marion created with his request to be traded. In early February, Marion got his wish. He was sent to Miami along with Marcus Banks in exchange for O’Neal.

    The Suns weren’t able to capitalize on their 28 games with O’Neal, as they lost in the first round of the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs. But this season, with O’Neal starting fresh with the team, the level of optimism is through the roof.

    “”It’s very important to build that camaraderie and get that chemistry down,”” said center Amaré Stoudemire. “”I think with Shaquille, he was great last year. We kinda just threw him out in the fire, and he was able to adjust and he played well for us.

    “”This year he starts from ground zero with a new coaching staff, with a new scheme and we’re all pretty hyped about it,”” Stoudemire added.

    O’Neal isn’t exactly alone, though. New head coach Terry Porter will implement a different system than the Suns are used to – slower-paced play with a stronger emphasis on defense – and that puts everyone in the same boat as O’Neal, more or less.

    “”In this particular case I think everyone’s gotta start fresh because it’s a new coach, new philosophy,”” Porter said. “”Having him in all year is going to be important.””

    A few weeks ago O’Neal made national news when he said he would retire after his Phoenix contract ends in two years. On Tuesday he said that’s not necessarily the case.

    “”I have two years left on my contract and then we’ll see what happens,”” he said. “”I came (to Phoenix) and I promised the city something, and I’ve gotta fulfill that.””

    Which is where yet another challenge comes into place.

    “”I’m gonna try to get two (championships) in two (years),”” O’Neal said. “”That’s my goal this year. That’s my motto this year.

    “”My last couple years in the league, my last three, four, five, six years in the league – however many I’m gonna play – I’m gonna have fun with it,”” he added.

    It’s only appropriate that O’Neal is undergoing his first Suns training camp on a college campus. Because of his experience as a professional and the reputation he has made for himself, his transition into his first full season with the Suns has advanced.

    Just like his transition from LSU to the NBA’s Orlando Magic was in 1992.

    “”I had a lot of money coming out and I had a little bit of knowledge of what to do with that and I had good people around me,”” O’Neal said. “”I could have come out after my sophomore year but I wasn’t really ready. I took a couple business courses, talked to some people and was ready after my junior year…. I was lucky I came in with a lot of hype and everyone knew who I was.””

    Little has changed from that statement in 16 years. There’s still a lot of hype around the Big Aristotle and everyone still knows who he is.

    The biggest change over the years could be O’Neal’s openness to exchange challenges. He’s already put one out to the rest of the NBA for the upcoming season.

    “”I guarantee,”” he said, “”we won’t lose in the first round this year.””

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