Shaquille O'Neal is an NBA Fall of Famer and considered one of the best centers in basketball history. Yet he might not end up being the best basketball player in his family.
Meet Me'Arah O'Neal, Shaq's 17-year-old daughter. On Sunday she announced her commitment to play college basketball at the University of Florida. Shaq claimed that Me'Arah "will probably be the best women's basketball player ever" during his 2016 Naismith Hall of Fame induction speech — despite Me'Arah being 10 years old at the time. Yet his massive expectations for his youngest daughter aren't unfounded.
Me'Arah O'Neal began playing basketball at the age of 3, as she watched her three older brothers — Myles, Shareef and Shaqir O'Neal — dribbling around the house and wanted to join in. While her brothers were initially reluctant to let their younger sister play with them, they eventually conceded. According to her mother, Shaunie Henderson, Me'Arah's talent became clear right away.
"When I first saw Me'Arah dribble a basketball," Henderson told ESPN, "I actually was kind of shocked because no one taught her. She just watched her brothers. It wasn't even like she was a little girl that watched basketball on television. She has a God-given athletic ability that is just not normal."
Although Me'Arah's three brothers allowed her to practice their dad's pastime with them, they also refused to take it easy on her.
Me'Arah loved this challenge. As Shareef O'Neal told ESPN, "[Me'Arah] would rather play with us than play with her friends. Even from when she was single digits, she always wanted to play with the boys — the older boys."
Me'Arah O'Neal Has Massive Shoes to Fill
— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) November 12, 2023
This fearlessness has manifested in success throughout Me'Arah's basketball career. Now playing against female competition her own age, Me'Arah — who is 6-foot-4, and plays the post position — averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 19.8 minutes per game with a Texas-based Amateur Athletic Union team over the summer. And she is the 33rd-ranked recruit in the country (fifth for her position), according to Prospects Nation and the ESPNW Top 100.
The gigantic expectations that come with being Shaq's daughter aren't always easy to manage. In fact, these expectations caused Me'Arah's big sister Amirah to quit playing.
"When I was playing, my brothers were playing, we would have huge crowds in the gym just because people knew either my dad was in the gym or they just knew that we were playing," said 21-year-old Amirah, who played basketball as a walk-on at LSU (her dad's alma mater) before transferring to Texas Southern and calling it quits on her playing career. "People had all these expectations of us to be just so great even at a young age."
These expectations have been tough for Me'Arah as well. "If [Shaq] just showed up just to show up, then it threw me off," Me'Arah said. "It used to mess with me."
However, her own expectations weigh the heaviest. "I'm really, really hard on myself," Me'Arah said. "I just feel like I'm not good enough or I'm not doing this good enough or I'm just not good enough as a person."
Still, Me'Arah exceeded that self-imposed pressure enough to become a top recruit and receive scholarship offers from dozens of different Division I schools including LSU — which, in addition to being where Shaq went, also won the 2023 national championship and just received a brand new locker room. Me'Arah clearly wanted to carve her own path instead of following in her dad's footsteps.
Florida is certainly excited about Me'Arah's choice.
"We are thrilled that Me'Arah is a Gator," Florida head coach Kelly-Rae Finley said in a release. "On the court she is a dynamic player who brings a unique skill set along with versatility to the floor. Her humble nature and team-first mentality make her the total package."
While Florida is the next step in Me'Arah's basketball journey, it is far from her final destination.
"I wanna make it to the WNBA," Me'Arah told ESPN. "I wanna hold my own name. I wanna just be the best basketball player that I could be. Just reach my full potential and get a championship, make All-Star. Do all the big stuff and eventually make the Hall of Fame."
Those are lofty expectations indeed. Yet, if Shaq's prediction at his Hall of Fame induction speech is any indication, his daughter may be destined to achieve them all — perhaps even exceeding his own legacy in the process.
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