Jermaine O'Neal has plenty of blemishes. His old coaches would tell you to ignore them.
Pay no mind to the statutory rape case that swirled around him when he was a 17-year-old in South Carolina. Forget about the minor problems he got into as a prep-turned-pro in Portland. Stop thinking about that brawl in Detroit.
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, who coached O'Neal in both Portland and Indiana, has. He calls O'Neal, a married father of two children, a "conscientious family man." Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown, who was an assistant with the brawling Pacers, calls O'Neal "terrific." Repeatedly. Former Toronto Raptors
head coach Kevin O'Neill, another assistant with that Indiana team, says he "can't say enough good things about him."
George Glymph understands why. Glymph, who was O'Neal's mentor, high-school coach and later an assistant coach with the Pacers, remembers that in March, 2003, O'Neal was the first on the scene when his stepfather, Abraham Kennedy, shot himself in the head. He remembers that O'Neal, with his mother too stricken by grief, was left to make the decision whether to let Kennedy die, or to have doctors perform a highly risky surgery that could save him or leave him brain dead.
And Glymph remembers what O'Neal did after choosing the surgery, which ultimately saved Kennedy's life.
"The most amazing thing about the whole situation is that two days later, we had to go on a West Coast trip," Glymph recalled from his South Carolina home. "Isiah [Thomas, the Pacers coach] and Donnie [Walsh, the team president] told him, 'Don't worry about the trip. You take care of your mom and your stepfather.' And we were there on the tarmac waiting for the plane to take off, and who walks across the tarmac but Jermaine O'Neal. And he had one of the best games he ever had. He needed that to get away from the pressure of what had happened, just to relieve his mind."