By Shehan Jeyarajah
A year ago, junior forward Royce O’Neale was starting for the University of Denver. Everything changed when O’Neale learned about the illness of a family member back in his hometown of Killeen.
“Once I found out about my family issues, I knew I had to come closer to home,” O’Neale said. “Coming to Baylor was a family decision, to be closer to home and closer to my family. But I also wanted to play basketball and get an education.”
O’Neale was not a highly recruited player out of Killeen’s Harker Heights High School.
O’Neale committed to play basketball almost a thousand miles from home at the University of Denver. While at Denver, he turned heads by averaging 10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
“University of Denver was where I needed to be for a while,” O’Neale said. “They helped me develop and get better every single day.”
During his sophomore year of basketball, throughout a season where he earned Third Team All-Sun Belt Conference honors, O’Neale learned of the family illness and knew he needed to be closer to home.
“Baylor started reaching out to me once I got my release,” O’Neale said. “They were close to home and had great academics. They also were probably the best basketball program out of the group. My mom and my sister took a visit back when I couldn’t, and they really enjoyed the environment.”
O’Neale was also swayed by the presence of fellow Killeen native junior power forward Cory Jefferson.
“We’re extremely excited that he chose to play at Baylor,” head basketball coach Scott Drew said. “He’s a great young man who can do a lot of different things on the basketball court.”
The NCAA gave O’Neale a hardship waiver that would allow him to start playing basketball immediately for Baylor. O’Neale’s presence has been felt immediately on the court. After starting the season off the bench, O’Neale was moved to the starting lineup after seven games.
Drew referred to O’Neale as a “jack-of-all-trades” player.
“I have an all-around game,” O’Neale said. “I do whatever I have to do. I don’t mind if I’m not scoring, as long as we get the win. On this team, I’m an energy guy. I just do what I have to do, whether on offense or defense.”
This season for the Bears, O’Neale averages 6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in 25.5 minutes per game.
“I think guys really like playing with O’Neale because he’s unselfish and passes the ball,” Drew said. “He’s got that laid-back personality that everyone gravitates to.”
O’Neale believes everything he has experienced has worked out for the best.
“I look at it like I had a late start,” O’Neale said. “Eventually I ended up where I needed to be. It’s great being back close to home. My family can catch all my games and I can go home if I need to because it’s right down the highway. I love being at Baylor. I think we can do something special here.”