UCLA freshman Shareef O’Neal will sit out the 2018-19 basketball season because of a heart condition that will require surgery.
“Thank God the UCLA medical staff found it early,” O’Neal told TMZ Sports about a condition that a person close to the situation said was an electrical problem with the heart.
O’Neal, the son of former Lakers great and Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, said doctors discovered the condition after he “felt funny” during summer practices. The 6-foot-10 power forward wore a heart monitor attached to a button that he pressed whenever he felt unwell. He received the diagnosis a few weeks after pressing the button during a practice.
“A lot of people are asking if it’s career-ending,” said O’Neal, who led Santa Monica Crossroads High to a state championship. “The answer is absolutely not. It’s just a little bump in the road and I’ll be back in no time.”
O’Neal said he would attend school and take a medical redshirt. He is expected to be sidelined for three to four months after undergoing surgery to correct the condition. UCLA said in a statement that it will completely support O’Neal as he gets the issue resolved.
“I’m a little down,” O’Neal said. “I feel like I was at my peak of basketball going into my freshman year and coming out of a state championship in high school. I felt like I was at the top of my game right now, just trying to get better, just getting stronger, but then this happened.”
O’Neal becomes the second member of UCLA’s frontcourt to be sidelined for a significant period after power forward Alex Olesinski was diagnosed this week with a stress fracture in his right foot that will force him to miss two to three months.
That leaves centers Moses Brown and Kenneth Nwuba in addition to power forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley to man the front line for the Bruins.