Me’Arah O’Neal, Shaq’s youngest child, to play for Gators

Me’Arah O’Neal, the youngest child of four-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, signed her national letter of intent Sunday to play women’s basketball for the Florida Gators.

O’Neal, a 6-foot-4 post player who is ranked No. 33 in the espnW Top 100 for the 2024 class, picked Florida over her other finalists, including her father’s alma mater and reigning national champion LSU. In September, the 17-year-old made her official visit to Gainesville, Florida, and said it solidified her decision to commit to the Gators and coach Kelly Rae Finley.

“I went on the Florida visit, and I had a feeling that’s where I belonged,” O’Neal says. “And that I was going to be most successful if I went to go play at Florida. I felt like I connected with Coach Kelly more than I connected with any of the other schools that recruited me. She really cares about me not just on the court but off the court. That’s important for me.”

O’Neal joins Alivia McGill in the Gators’ 2024-25 recruiting class. McGill is the No. 16 prospect in the class and, according to the school, the highest-ranked recruit in program history. Florida has made 16 NCAA tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run in 1997.

Last spring, O’Neal visited LSU with her father. During his three years with the Tigers, Shaquille O’Neal became a national celebrity, racking up accolades and school records and was named the 1991 Associated Press National Player of the Year before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA draft.

“One of the best moments of my life, where I took her to my alma mater, and they knew who she was,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “But believe it or not, I tried to stay out of it. … What I did tell her is, ‘Go where you’re needed, not where you’re wanted. Because if you go where you’re wanted and they got other people like you, may take a while.’ I want [my kids] to have their own journey, have their own experience.”

Me’Arah O’Neal, who currently lives in Houston with her mother, Shaunie Henderson, and plays for Episcopal High School, says she made the college decision on her own.

“My family was just there to support me. I was pressuring myself to make a decision. But I learned I had to be patient. And I did make this decision on my own,” she said.

Growing up in Orlando, O’Neal learned how to dribble a basketball at the age of 3 by watching her older siblings. Over the last few years, O’Neal gained national attention with her versatile game. Over past few months, she participated in the SLAM Summer Classic at Rucker Park, as well as the 2023 Nike World Basketball Festival and the Wootten Basketball Camp.

“She can handle it. She can shoot it. She’s a rim protector. She makes plays. She makes great decisions,” sad Moochie Norris, former NBA player and O’Neal’s current skills and development coach. “That’s what I really like. Her 3 ball has unlimited range. She’s going to be a big guard that can play probably the one through four.”

O’Neal’s brother Shareef, who most recently played in the G league, played for UCLA before transferring to LSU. Her brother Shaqir plays for Texas Southern. And her sister Amirah walked on at LSU before transferring to Texas Southern before hanging up her jersey.

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