The Dagger - NCAAB

Shaquille O'Neal had a similar reaction to LSU unveiling a statue in his honor on Thursday as fans often have when they meet him in person for the first time.

Its size caught him by surprise.

Indeed the towering 900-pound bronze statue of O'Neal throwing down a signature two-handed dunk is a fitting homage to one of the giants of LSU basketball. The statue, which cost an estimated $70,000 in private funds, stands directly in front of LSU's new basketball practice facility.

"I'm honored and humbled," O'Neal told reporters in Baton Rouge. "There are a lot of great players that came through this university -- greater than me.  Pistol Pete. Bob Pettit. Stanley Roberts, guys like that. So I'm just honored that they chose me to build a statue of. I had no idea it was that big because Coach Johnson sent me the email pictures and I thought it was going to be some little thing. I think it's beautiful. It's fabulous."

The choice of poses for the statue was ideal because it's a reminder of what most of us remember most about O'Neal in college: His unmatched strength and power. O'Neal never led LSU to even a Sweet 16 in his college career, but he was the most fearsome presence in the sport during those three seasons, averaging 22 points and 14 rebounds and dominating smaller centers in the low post.

O'Neal said Thursday that leaving LSU after his junior season was a surprisingly difficult decision even though he was all but guaranteed of being the No. 1 pick in the 1992 draft.

"When I had to call Coach (Dale) Brown and tell him I didn't think I wanted to come back that was one of the hardest days of my life," O'Neal said. "There will be no more Tiger Town, no more sports on Thursday, no more football games, no more tailgating, no more crawfish. There would be no more fun. Now I've got to go to work."

O'Neal has since earned his degree from LSU and says he plans to get his doctorate now that he has retired from the NBA. He recently spoke to the current LSU team, emphasizing that they need to take advantage of perks he didn't have in college.

"I said listen you got everything you want here," O'Neal said. "I didn't have any of this and I made it. You've got computers and Internet and a practice facility and study hall. My message to them was take advantage of all this stuff."

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