Men’s Basketball guard succeeds despite late career start

Photo of O'Neal during a game
Courtesy of Kylie Hill/LC Athletics

Roderick O’Neal ’24 talks junior varsity, sacrifices of student athletes in the aftermath of COVID-19

Even though Roderick O’Neal ’24 played basketball growing up, he was only on the junior varsity team for one year in high school. This is very unusual for collegiate athletes, and it was a journey for O’Neal to become a part of the Lewis & Clark team.

“I didn’t have the typical basketball journey of playing in college,” O’Neil said. “I only played one year of high school basketball, and that kind of stuck out … because of how far I’ve gotten. You don’t see people play college basketball with only one year of high school basketball under their belt, and I didn’t even play varsity, I played junior varsity. And I didn’t even play often, I was always the last man off the bench.”

After graduating high school, he attended a prep school to transition to college life. Shortly after, the pandemic began as he was looking for colleges to attend before ultimately picking LC after an LC coach expressed interest in him.

According to O’Neal, scouting is less likely to happen on club teams, like the team he was on during his year at prep school. This, paired with earlier anxieties, made him worried about the prospect of collegiate basketball.

“I was super short in high school, and I would say that was a struggle just because I was kind of overlooked, I was the small kid,” O’Neal said. “This caused a lot of doubt, like am I ever going to grow? I ended up growing my senior year of high school. Senior year of high school is kind of late, being like a late bloomer, and that was a tremendous worry like whether I was going to be able to play in college.”

In the 21-22 season, O’Neal played in nine games, finishing the season with 10 points, four total rebounds, two assists, three steals and one block. He made first career appearance on Nov. 12, 2021 against West Coast Baptist because his freshman year’s season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, COVID was not the only obstacle of his college career. The journey has been filled with multiple highs and lows, including an ankle injury.

“Honestly one of the highest experiences I had was this year, after my ankle surgery,” O’Neal said. “I was able to get back in shape and felt like the best my body has felt in my whole life. I think it’s just the whole aspect of you know, college sports there is going to be a lot of ups and downs.”

O’Neal thanked his mom and grandparents for the sacrifices they have made in order for him to get where he has gotten in life.

“I feel like my story is significant, because of how much time and dedication it took for me to take different paths, and all the sacrifices I’ve made with my family, my mom, all the sacrifices they had to make to get me here, and it paid off,” O’Neal said. 

Additional reporting by Alex Stross.

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