Shaquille O’Neal was a phenomenon even in high school, back in the late 80s. But college recruitment was a whole different ballgame at the time.
LeBron James was the first high school basketball player to be covered by ESPN even in his junior year. Through his excellence and promise, James paved the way for the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Zion Williamson.
The NBA’s rise in popularity and exponential growth in revenue has also fueled a grassroots revamp, particularly in D1 college recruitment. By the time a talented player hits 14, he’s already been profiled at a regional level.
This wasn’t the case at all even 30 years ago. Scouting for high school talent has always been an inexact science. But limited coverage meant that profiling talents across the nation was a matter of great difficulty for college scouts and head coaches.
How Shaquille O’Neal and Dale Brown met for the first time
There’s a fortuitous tale for how Shaq ended up under the tutelage of LSU head coach Dale Brown. The Lakers legend and 3-time Finals MVP has talked about their first meeting in numerous interviews.
“When I first met Dale Brown at a basketball camp in West Germany, I didn’t know anything about Louisiana State. People ask me why I chose LSU, and this is the reason why I chose LSU.”
“From 0 to 12, I was a horrible basketball player. I was told many times ‘You won’t amount to anything. At best, you’ll be in the military like your father.'”
“So one day I was in the house, my father came, punched me in the chest and said ‘Some guy named Dale Brown is speaking at the gym. Maybe you can get a scholarship’. In his mind I wasn’t really that good.”
“So I met Dale Brown and I asked him ‘Could you send me some exercise for my lower extremities?’ He gave me this look and he’s like ‘Yeah soldier, how long have you been in the Army?'”
“I was a shy kid at the time. I’m like, I’m not in the Army sir, I’m only 13. And Dale Brown went crazy. So Dale Brown sent me a letter every week. I went out to walk half a mile to get the mail, and I’d always see the letter from LSU.”
“So I got back to the States and developed as player in San Antonio. Now every college in America wanted me! But I owed it to coach Brown because he believed in me. So I went to LSU.”