UCLA's highly-touted incoming freshman class is set to get a jolt of big talent – both literally and figuratively -- within the next month.
The Bruins announced Monday that four-star prospect Shareef O'Neal, who committed to the Bruins in February but did not sign a National Letter of Intent as he worked to get his academics squared away, will enroll at the university for summer school later this month and join the basketball program as a freshman in September.
O'Neal, the son of Hall-of-Fame center Shaquille O'Neal, is a member of UCLA's sixth-ranked 2018 recruiting class that includes four players who are rated as four-star recruits, O'Neal among them, as well as five-star big man Moses Brown and three-star center Kenneth Nwuba.
"Shareef has made great strides throughout his high school career," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "He's an outstanding addition to our incoming class and brings a terrific combination of size, skill and athleticism. We love the length and height of this year's team, and Shareef is really going to add to that dynamic. He has a terrific frame, one that will allow him to continue improving on both sides of the floor. With Shareef, you're talking about a hard-working young man with tremendous upside, and his presence in our team's frontcourt is a significant addition."
O'Neal is the second-highest ranked signee for UCLA in its 2018 signing class, just behind Brown. He's ranked by 247Sports as the No. 40 overall player in the country and the No. 8 player at the power forward spot, where he could make an immediate contribution under Alford.
What O'Neal brings to the table
At Crossroads High School in Santa Monica, California, O'Neal led the team in scoring as a senior by putting up 27 points per game. Using his long 6-10, 225-pound frame, he bullied lesser opponents on the interior and supplemented his dominant inside game with a smooth outside stroke.
But O'Neal is more than just a one-dimensional big – he has the talent, length and awareness to alter shots at an elite level in and around the paint. It's almost as if he's the son and understudy of one of the best bigs to ever play the game!
O'Neal also has a natural stroke with sound shot mechanics to boot. In high school, he was used all over the court on offense, either as a traditional back-to-the-basket big, a floor-spacing stretch-four, or as a knockdown 3-point shooter used to run off screens. This is where UCLA could really use O'Neal to exploit opponents, given his versatility on offense. Alford can wield his 6-foot-10 weapon to create endless mismatches offensively.
He could also be used as a distraction to open up opportunities for incoming sharpshooter Jules Bernard and second-year man Kris Wilkes, both of which will be given the green light to let it fly like Lonzo Ball's Bruins two seasons ago.
How he can make an impact at UCLA
UCLA will have five players standing 6-10 or bigger on its 2018-19 roster, but O'Neal is far and away the most versatile of the bunch. Whether he's able to fend off Cody Riley for the starting job at power forward is yet to be determined, but his do-it-all role as a scorer, screener, defender and general big-bodied presence will afford him plenty of opportunities to make an impact.
O'Neal also has the benefit of joining the UCLA program alongside a game-changing presence in Brown. If the two are used in the same lineup, Brown could play anchor on defense, which might afford O'Neal the chance to use his athleticism and speed to guard from the perimeter all the way into the interior, giving UCLA speed and length that, on paper, would be one of the best defensive frontcourt units in the conference.
Under Alford, versatile big men, such as TJ Leaf, have flourished with their freedom to shoot it from outside. That's where O'Neal can really stand out among other players on UCLA's roster at the forward spot. If he's able to quickly get with the program when he arrives and shows he's capable of packing a punch worth playing on either side of the ball, UCLA could find him valuable enough to be a starting-level player as a freshman.