One Shaq is bowing out, and another is warming up for a meteoric rise to prominence.
Farewell Shaquille O'Neal, the big man/funny man who announced his retirement after 19 NBA seasons, and hello again Shaq Thompson, pride of Grant High School. He is a senior-to-be with the demeanor and skills to star for years to come.
Kings fans will forever grumble about O'Neal's zest to plow over defenders and make free throws only in Arco Arena in clinching playoff games.
But a peculiar side note is that O'Neal might have been a King if not for a better twist of fate. O'Neal could have landed in the state capital in 1989 if it had been fashionable for prep players to jump to the NBA. The fad didn't kick in until Kevin Garnett in 1995 and Kobe Bryant in 1996. The Kings had the No. 1 pick in '89, when O'Neal completed his senior season in Texas as the nation's top prep. He went to LSU. The Kings picked Pervis Ellison, and we know how that turned out.
O'Neal joked a few seasons ago when I mentioned this to him: "Wow. Shaq and cowbells might've been fun."
Thompson, meanwhile, is a five-star national recruit with interest from across the country. But where to put him on the field? I caught up to Thompson at a track meet the other day. He is a still-growing 6-foot-2 and 210 muscled pounds.
Thompson's mother, Patty, groaned when he placed third in the 200- meter race at the Masters Championships at Hughes Stadium. He advanced to the state meet, but she wondered if a bigger Shaq suddenly means a slower Shaq. The sprinter who won the race, Breonntae Snelling of Kennedy, is three inches shorter and some 40 pounds lighter than Thompson. Put Thompson in cleats and a helmet, and no one catches him.
Thompson dazzled at tailback and cornerback for Grant last fall. He expects to play more at safety and linebacker. Imagine his closing speed on defense. Thompson will join other area national recruits Jake Rodrigues and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick of Whitney and Marcus Rios of Cosumnes Oaks at the Nike-sponsored skills camp in Oregon next month.
"I'm ready for a big year," Thompson said, "and to play any position to help my team."
A good student, a revered leader on campus, Thompson hasn't decided on where to attend college. He gave a verbal commitment to Cal but de-committed to weigh all options. USC? Oregon? Auburn?
Of all prep football skill players I have seen around here over the years, Thompson is on the shortest list of marvels you sensed were NFL-bound. Tailback Marc Hicks of Davis in the mid-1980s might have gotten there if not for leg injuries in college. Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth and running back Onterrio Smith of Grant were men back then (late '90s) and reached the NFL. Quarterback Randy Fasani of Del Oro '96 took his myriad skills to the NFL.
Ever the humble young Shaq a stark contrast to the retired Shaq Thompson insists he's just one of the guys.
In addition to 40-yard times and players' physiques, the top priority for recruiters is good grades. No way around it.
The local contingent going to the Oregon camp passes those tests. Rios has emerged faster than any of them, a superb cornerback prospect and leader with 15 scholarship offers.
Hoops at Cap Christian
The Sacramento Professional Developmental League returns to Capital Christian High. Former area prep basketball stars playing internationally, current Kings and college players will compete at 7:15 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Scheduled to play: Donté Greene and Jason Thompson of the Kings, Phillip Ricci, DeMarcus Nelson, Julian Welch and Arik Armstead.