Jermaine O'Neal Interview
Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal is putting up 20.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.17 blocks per game this season. Fans voted him as a starter for the All-Star game. But he's been out injured and hasn't had a chance to play with new teammate Peja Stojakovic just yet. InsideHoops.com editor Jeff Lenchiner met with O'Neal Sunday evening in New Jersey for an exclusive interview.
InsideHoops.com: What are your initial impressions of new teammate Peja Stojakovic? The dude can definitely shoot.
Jermaine O'Neal: Really that. His ability to shoot. And his size was a surprise to me. I didn't know he was a legitimate 6-10. I always thought he was like 6-7. He's a great person. I think he fits into our new style of offense as far as pushing the ball up and down. It'll be real interesting to see how things will be once I get back. The last couple of games, he's been coming off screens, wide open... once I get back and we get some low post presence, I think he's going to be really extraordinary for us, because he has the ability to really get that shot off in a matter of seconds.
InsideHoops.com: A bunch of guys are really stepping up in your absence.
Jermaine O'Neal: Stephen Jackson, Anthony Johnson, Freddy Jones, those guys are really giving us a huge boost, in terms of offensively. And I think if they can continue to do that, even when I come back... I don't want to have to come down and the ball gets thrown down every single time, because we become predictable. If we have a situation where everybody's scoring, and I come in and just do what I need to do to be effective, then I think we'll be extremely tough to beat.
InsideHoops.com: That's always an interesting thing, seeing how teams handle using stars who can do it all on their own. Like, you and a bunch of guys in the league can be one-man wrecking crews, or you can focus more on the total team thing, even if it means being less individually effective.
Jermaine O'Neal: My thing is I always want to soften the defense early. I always tell my teammates, I want to pass, pass, pass early so they can get going. Because if they can get going, the defense is going to stay on them and not double as fast. And that's what I want. I never want to be me, going at guys, while four guys stand around watching, because they don't have rhythm. So when I get tired, and I kick the ball out, they wind up in rhythm to make shots. I think we're a better fit with the ball being moved around. We don't have guys on this team that have egos where they feel like, OK this guy's going, but I know I can take my man, too. We don't really have that on this team. I think that's a good situation, and guys are really looking forward to me coming back, so that's always a plus, also.
InsideHoops.com: And when are you due back, again?
Jermaine O'Neal: I don't know. When I get back, within the next four weeks. I've been out for four weeks -- on Tuesday it'll be four weeks -- and I'm projected to be out eight weeks. So if I can get back within the next four weeks, and be 100 percent healthy, then I will come back. But ultimately my concerns are to walk into the playoffs healthy. Because I haven't walked into the playoffs healthy the last two years. I came in, I hurt my shoulder last year. I hurt my knee two years before in the first round. I don't want to do it anymore. I want to make sure I'm healthy and as effective as possible. Obviously we know the playoffs is the real season, and you want to be able to make things happen.
InsideHoops.com: With all the injuries this season, and the major trade, is it almost like you guys shouldn't even be judged until next season, and if you do anything in the playoffs it's a bonus? Is that the wrong kind of thinking?
Jermaine O'Neal: To tell you the truth, I don't think that way. Because when you look for people to make excuse for you, then you're setting yourself up for failure, anyway. And our players, we came into the season expecting to contend in the Eastern conference, for a championship. And that's our plan. So we feel like we have a whole new dimension now, with [Peja] Stojakovic, with [Sarunas] Jasikevicius, with Stephen Jackson, Freddy Jones. We feel like we have a different dimension that we haven't quite had. We've been pretty much a dominant post-up team with Ron [Artest]. We posted Ron up a lot. That's what we did. But now we put in a new system of plays. We really feel like, when it comes down to it, we match up very, very well with a lot of the marquee teams. We're 2-0 against Miami this year. And we're 1-1 against Detroit. And I haven't played at all against Detroit this year. So we're looking forward to really getting better. And it's not necessarily what the other team is presenting to us. It's all about how we're playing. If we're playing good basketball, on both ends of the floor, then we're going to give ourselves a great chance to represent the Eastern conference this year. But we have to be playing good basketball on both ends of the floor to compete against Detroit and Miami
InsideHoops.com is the web's best basketball site. Read daily.