For Royce O’Neale, it was all about proximity.
With his grandfather suffering the debilitating affects of his diabetes in Killeen, including occasional heart issues and blackouts, O’Neale was forced to make one of the hardest decisions of his young life and move back home.
The former Harker Heights basketball standout completed transfer paperwork over the weekend to officially transfer from the University of Denver to Baylor, where he will now seek a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA to play immediately.
“It was pretty much the closest place to my family and family means everything to me,” O’Neale said. “It was a hard decision because my teammates and all the coaches (at Denver) were real good to me.”
O’Neale signed a financial aid contract over the weekend and Baylor released an official announcement Monday morning. Bears officials have already started paperwork to petition the NCAA for a hardship waiver, which ESPN.com reported last year had been approved at a 50 percent rate for basketball.
“I should be cleared soon,” O’Neale said.
O’Neale has two weeks left of classes at Denver, then plans to move back to Texas in early June and enroll in classes at Baylor soon after, with some birthday parties planned in between.
“It’s been a little crazy, like the whole situation, but I’m glad it’s finally over with,” he said.
Regardless of what happens with his waiver, O’Neale has two years of eligibility remaining since he has not used up his redshirt season.
“Royce is from right here in Central Texas, and our staff is really excited about having two local players on our roster,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He wanted to move back home to be closer to family, and we’re extremely excited that he chose to play at Baylor.”
Once cleared, the 6-foot-5 O’Neale is expected to see time as at shooting guard and small forward for the Bears, who recently saw guards Deuce Bello (Missouri) and L.J. Rose and the nation’s top center recruit, Dominic Woodson, opt to transfer due to playing time issues.
After appearing in 63 games in his two seasons at Denver, including 32 starts this past season, O’Neale said he expects to have to work for a starting spot, but believes he’ll see considerable playing time in whatever role he has.
O’Neale, who averaged 11.2 points last season and led the Pioneers with 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, is glad he’ll be able to play where his family can come and watch, an issue the last two years at Denver.
“That’s a good feeling, and that’s pretty much the main reason why (I transferred), now they get the chance (to see me play), I’m happy,” O’Neale said.
At Baylor, he’ll join longtime friend and fellow Killeen native in 6-11 junior post Cory Jefferson, who recently announced he was returning for his senior season after helping lead Baylor to the 2013 NIT championship.
O’Neale said having Jefferson in Waco was a nice bonus, but it didn’t play a factor in his decision.
“I guess, because I know somebody there already,” O’Neale said, “and I know he’ll look out for me, so that’ll be a help.”
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566