“He was, for his standards, relatively skinny and still growing,” said Geert Hammink about Shaquille O’Neal – his former teammate at LSU. “Not necessarily height-wise, but size-wise, definitely.” But even at 17, a “relatively skinny” freshman O’Neal was a physical force, and it only took one preseason workout for Hammink to feel it firsthand.
At one point, I was isolated against him at a pickup game in the summer, and somebody else shot, and I thought I had him solidly boxed out at the block. And somehow, he jumped straight up and stretched out, rebounded, and dunked it over me. I was like, ‘this is physically impossible.’Geert Hammink, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Over the years, defending O’Neal in practices didn’t get any easier. He was getting bigger and bigger, expanding his game, adding skills to go along with his brute strength in the post. But the most frustrating part for Hammink was the fact he could never match his intensity. No one could.
He was at such high intensity where somebody on his team – I was on the other team – would shoot an airball, the ball would bounce out of bounds, he would chase it down way out of bounds, bring it back inbounds, dunk on everybody, and said, ‘There’s no out of bounds here.’Geert Hammink, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Shaq took it upon himself to set the intensity standard during practices, and no one could meet his demands. Even throughout his entire collegiate experience, no one was able to do it. It’s no wonder Shaq made a huge jump freshman to junior year – from 13.9 to 27.6 points per game – and finished his college career averaging 21.6 points and 13.5 rebounds per contest before taking his talents to the NBA.
Once he got to the league, O’Neal picked up where he left off. Fast forward nearly two decades; he retired as an all-time great and one of the most dominant big men we’ve ever seen. But despite his resume, some still see him as an underachiever. They criticize O’Neal for not taking care of his body and refusing to expand his game away from the paint area. But Hammink pushed back against that.
I never thought, at that point in time, when there wasn’t an opponent as strong or physically dominant as he was, to work on that. Why would you pass up an 80% shot for something that, even when it’s good, it’s 50%? It didn’t make any sense.Geert Hammink, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network
Even as a college star, Shaq made a business decision to maximize his unmatched physical gifts. And playing at LSU, it worked. It also worked after he joined the NBA. At no point in his basketball career has O’Neal felt he needed to do things differently. Being a 7-1 freight train has always been enough. The most dominant force in the history of basketball.