New Sun Jermaine O’Neal healthy, happy in Phoenix

Arizona Sports News online

There isn’t much new Phoenix Sun Jermaine O’Neal hasn’t seen in his 16 NBA seasons.

In some ways O’Neal was a trend-setter of sorts. He decided to forego college and enter the NBA draft straight out of Eau Claire High School in Columbia, South Carolina. Taken with 17th overall pick in the 1996 draft by the Portland Trailblazers the 6’11, 255-pounder has been consistent and reliable making six All-Star teams and averaging just under 14 points per game with five different teams.

“I fought for so long to earn what I’ve gotten,” O’Neal told Pros2Preps.com. “Coming to Phoenix really fit the bill of everything.”

After signing with the Suns this summer, he’ll be looked upon for leadership on and off the court as Phoenix enters the post-Steve Nash Era.

He understands the team will have its hands full in the loaded Western Conference and says how quickly the new collection of talent blends together will likely dictate if Phoenix qualifies for one of the eight post-season spots next summer.

After spending the past two seasons in Boston with the Celtics, O’Neal wasn’t sure he wanted to continue playing, but decided to pursue his 17th-season after deeming himself physically capable of handling the grind of the NBA season.

“The more I got into the summer the better I felt,” O’Neal explained to Pros2Preps.com. “I told teams I had a due date I wanted to get to before I decided to play. When coach [Alvin] Gentry and [GM Lance] Blanks came [to visit], they really sold it.”

The 33-year old said his hard work this off-season is paying off as he’s seen his leaping ability return along with the strength in his lower legs.

Phoenix opens the exhibition season Wednesday night in Sacramento against the Kings.

The regular season opener is October 31 against the Golden State Warriors at US Airways Center.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.