NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal's son, UCLA basketball player Shareef O'Neal, will be forced to sit out his freshman season due to a heart issue that will require surgery, he says.
The 18-year-old told TMZ Sports that during a routine checkup, "we found a medical issue dealing with my heart" and that recovery from the surgery alone will take three to four months.
"Thank God the UCLA medical staff found it early," he said, later adding that "if I was playing right now, it would be really, really bad. I wouldn't be talking to you today."
The basketball player said that he will be a medical red shirt during the 2018-2019 season, which 247 Sports reports means that he will have four years to play when he returns to the court next year. "During this time off — I'll be off for a while — I'll be focusing on my academics, my health, of course and I'll just be observing to be the best player I can be next year."
"Being an athlete, I know this is an injury that requires surgery. So I'll be having heart surgery and I'll be out for a couple months and after that I'll be back," O'Neill said.
"A lot of people are asking if it's career ending. The answer is absolutely not. It's just a little bump in the road and I'll be back in no time," he continued, adding that during his rehab, he'll be "attending classes and being a normal student."
"I'd like to thank UCLA, my family and my teammates and everyone who supports me in this decision," he said.
He said that his family took the news hard, but no one took it harder than himself.
"I'm a little down," he said, adding that "it felt like I was at my peak of my basketball, going into my freshman year coming out of a state championship in high school, [I] felt like I was at the top of my game."
He's using the experience as a teaching opportunity for young athletes. "I have something to say to all the kids: The road to success is not always going to be a straight path," he said. "You gotta go through some bumps and bruises. It's not always going to be easy."0comments
He added that while the news was disappointing to hear, it could have been much worse.
"I'm just blessed that they found it. Everyone's happy I'm here. Basketball's always gonna go here, I'm a young kid. Everyone has some sort of injury growing up and this is mine," he said. "I'm just happy to be here. Everybody was down, my family was down, I think I took it the worse. I didn't know what to say, didn't know what to do. I'm just happy I'm here."