Shaquille O’Neal got regular letters from Dale Brown after meeting his future coach at a young teenager on a U.S. Army base in Germany.
Brown knew a future prospect when he saw one, but the one letter from Brown that touched O’Neal more than any had nothing to do with recruiting.
“It said even if you don’t play basketball, I want to come to LSU on a scholarship,” O’Neal said. “That meant everything to me.”
O’Neal went to LSU, became a two-time SEC player of the year and one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
Getting his degree
O’Neal left LSU after three seasons but promised his parents he would get his degree.
“Two of the hardest conversations I had in my life were telling coach Brown I wouldn’t be back for my senior year and telling my parents I was going pro,” O’Neal said. “My parents said, ‘OK, but you have to go back and get your degree.’ ”
A few years passed and O’Neal still didn’t have his sheepskin. His mom came for a visit and pointed an accusing finger.
“You lied,” Lucille O’Neal said.
It didn’t take long for O’Neal to get on the phone with LSU and arrange to finish his academic requirements. On Dec. 14, 2000, O’Neal graduated with his bachelor’s degree in general studies. He later received a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix and doctoral degree in education from Barry University in Miami.
Wilkes did it all
Glenn Wilkes worked his way to the top of his profession by not believing any task was beneath him.
“I learned if the floor needed to be swept, I swept it,” said Wilkes, who won 551 games at Stetson. “Throughout my entire time coaching I never thought there was anything in the program that needed to be done that I shouldn’t help with.”
Beaty helped put NAIA on map
The NAIA was the first national tournament to integrate, and historically black university Tennessee State won the championship from 1957 to 1959.
The doors were now open, and in stepped Grambling, the 1961 champion, and Prairie View A&M in 1962, led by Zelmo Beaty. He set the tournament record with 96 rebounds in five games that year.
“Prairie View teams helped put us on the national map,” said NAIA president Jim Carr. “By then, NBA and ABA scouts could come here and see the best talent in the country.”
Beaty, who died last year, went on to star in the NBA for the Hawks and ABA for the Utah Stars.
Williams loyal to his alma mater
Gary Williams, a former Maryland guard, answered the call from his alma mater in 1989 and became the Terrapins coach. The school had suffered through the Len Bias tragedy and an extra benefits scandal under coach Bob Wade.
Maryland was socked with big penalties, with no NCAA Tournament or live television appearances for two years.
Williams, who spent the previous three years at Ohio State and had just signed future All-America Jimmy Jackson, rode to the rescue.
“I wouldn’t have left Ohio State for any job other than Maryland,” said Williams, who also was courted by Kansas before the Jayhawks hired Roy Williams after the 1988 season. “When I got there, things were really tough.
“But the negativity on campus was the biggest thing we had to overcome.”
Williams and Maryland did just that, and in 2002 won the national championship.
| Blair Kerkhoff, firstname.lastname@example.org