At 7-foot-1, Shaquille O'Neal casts a tall shadow. The boys basketball team at Cole High School can look up at the state championship banner in their gym and feel it. Behind O'Neal, a future NBA Champion and Hall of Famer, the Cougars went 36-0 and won the 3A state championship in 1989.
This year's team now has an opportunity to bring the school its second UIL basketball state title, and they have a big cheerleader behind them.
In a video posted to their Twitter page, Shaq offers some advice and encouragement before Thursday's semifinal game at the Alamodome.
"Coach Noe Cantu and the Cole Cougars, hi, I’m Shaquille O’Neal, state champion, 1989," O'Neal said.
"Guess what? Two more games, and you’ll be champions. I just want to say, go out there and continue to have fun. Do what you’ve been doing. Don’t switch it up. Fort Sam Houston loves you. San Antonio loves you. Do it for San Antonio. Do it for the Cole Cougars. Do it for alma mater. Hail to thee. Do it for everyone."
Cole is making its sixth appearance in the state tournament and first since 2012. The Cougars have lost in the semifinals four times (1967, 1968, 2006, 2012). O'Neal emphasized that this year's team is close to reaching their goal.
"Remember, two games left. You can do it. I know you’re gonna do it, alright? I love you guys, no matter what, but let’s make history," he said. "We produce champions at Cole, Cougars. We produce Hall of Famers."
Shaq also had a special message for one of the notable players on this year's team: 6-foot-10 freshman Vince Iwuchukwu.
"Baby Shaq, I like your game, but I don’t want you to be Shaq. I want you to be yourself. I want you to be better than Shaq," O'Neal said, before adding, "Go out there, have fun, play together, do it for each other and win."
Cole plays Dallas Madison in the 3A semifinals Thursday at 3 p.m. Winnie East Chambers (31-2) faces Brock (33-5) in the first 3A semifinal at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The winners meet for the championship Saturday at 10 a.m.