LSU forward Shareef O’Neal is going to follow in his famous father’s giant footsteps on the Pete Maravich Assembly Center floor sooner rather than later.
The UCLA transfer’s request to the NCAA for immediate eligibility was approved Wednesday afternoon, allowing him to suit up for LSU when the Tigers open the season on Nov. 25 in a multi-team event in Lincoln, Nebraska.
O’Neal, a 6-foot-10 forward who enrolled at LSU this summer, requested a waiver from the NCAA to be immediately eligible and not have to redshirt even though he didn’t leave UCLA’s team until mid-January.
While acknowledging it was very good news, LSU coach Will Wade said he was more relieved for O’Neal after weeks of not knowing if he would be allowed to play this season.
They cleared my waiver man ! Thank god I can play this season ❤️❤️❤️ I was waiting and scared it wasn’t gonna happen ! Thank you so much ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️— Shareef O’Neal (@SSJreef) November 18, 2020
“I felt bad for Shareef because he was nervous and was asking a bunch of questions all the time,” Wade said. “It was a long, long process.”
He credited Blair Napolitano, an assistant A.D. for compliance, and assistant coach Bill Armstrong with helping ensure the outcome.
It wasn't the famous name or the physical attributes that left his former coach knowing Shareef O'Neal, even at just 13 years old, was a speci…
“Blair and Bill did a tremendous job filing the initial paperwork and they had to go back and gather information and file more documentation,” Wade said.
“Blair, Bill and UCLA were all helpful with their support. This is what you do it for, to give kids an opportunity. Shareef was excited when we called and told him.”
O'Neal quickly took to Twitter after hearing the news: "They cleared my waiver man! Thank god I can play this season. I was waiting and scared it wasn’t gonna happen! Thank you so much."
The tweet was accompanied by nine red hearts.
While it may have taken a little longer than usual, Wade said it was all part of the process and had said for weeks he thought it would happen.
“We felt confident all along and were planning all along during preseason practice to have him,” he said. “He’s somebody that can really help us.
“Shareef’s been playing very well at a high level in practice. He’s very similar to Aaron Epps, who was a very good player for us a few years ago. Shareef has the ability to develop into a really, really good player for us.”
A four-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, O’Neal had already missed his true freshman season after having a surgical procedure to repair a heart condition, and, after playing half a season last year, may have had to sit out another.
Ranking as the No. 41 overall prospect and No. 8 power forward nationally when he came out of high school, O’Neal was cleared to resume playing in March 2019.
In 13 games for UCLA, he averaged 2.2 points and 2.9 rebounds while playing 10.2 minutes a game. In a 75-61 loss at Notre Dame on Dec. 14, O’Neal had eight points and 11 rebounds.
LSU is now two for two this offseason in requesting eligibility waivers with the NCAA.
The LSU basketball Tigers picked up three signees Wednesday — a pair of four-star prospects and a transfer with a five-star last name.
Earlier, Washington transfer Bryan Penn-Johnson was granted immediate eligibility, giving the Tigers a much-needed 7-foot rim-protector.
Wade is still awaiting word on Georgetown transfer Josh LeBlanc, a Baton Rouge native who played last fall for the Hoyas before coming home and enrolling at LSU in the spring.
If he isn’t cleared by the NCAA, LeBlanc would still become eligible when final exams are completed. Under that scenario, he would only miss four games.