Written by Corbett Smith
Shaq makes first return to Austin since 1989 title run with San Antonio Cole
AUSTIN — As Shaquille O’Neal stood in line with his San Antonio Cole teammates, waiting to be honored by the UIL as a member of the 1989 Class 3A champions, the crowd that had gathered to watch the 8:30 a.m. Class A Division I title game took notice.
Before O’Neal had set foot on the Frank Erwin Center court, most of the fans in the lower bowl of the arena stood up, craning to get a good look, or to take cellphone videos and pictures.
It was a royal entrance for one of the state’s greatest players.
“We would say that Shaquille O’Neal is the greatest player to ever play in this tournament,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said, after telling the crowd of O’Neal’s accolades. “He is the image of Texas basketball.”
In a 12-minute news conference after the presentation, O’Neal spoke fondly of his teammates and his team’s lone trip to Austin, where Cole beat Clarksville, 66-60, for the school’s first title.
Moving from Germany to San Antonio as a junior, O’Neal went 68-1 at Cole, with his lone loss coming to Liberty Hill in the 1988 3A Region IV final. As a senior, he averaged 32 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks and was named a Parade and McDonald’s All-American before successful careers at LSU and in the NBA.
He compared his high school teammates to those on his Los Angeles Lakers championship teams.
“All the guys were great at their position,” O’Neal said — naming off several of his high school teammates and their strengths.
Cole retired O’Neal’s jersey on Friday night, and his trip back to Austin was his first since 1989.
“San Antonio Cole was the place that I cultivated my dreams,” he said.