Royce O’Neale is coming home.
O’Neale was granted a medical hardship release from his basketball scholarship at the University of Denver on May 3 after the former Harker Heights star requested it last month due to ongoing medical issues with his family back in Killeen.
“It was a hard decision and a hard situation to go through, (I’m) trying to be strong but I’ll just be glad when it’s over with, and I can make a decision soon,” O’Neale said by phone from Denver.
O’Neale, who has narrowed his list of possible destinations to Baylor, TCU and Texas, said he will choose his destination Friday.
O’Neale must apply for a medical hardship waiver with the NCAA in order to play immediately, otherwise, he’ll be required to sit out the year due to transferring between Division I programs. O’Neale has not used up his redshirt season, either, and will have two more years of eligibility remaining.
O’Neale’s grandfather has been dealing with heart troubles as a result of his diabetes, while his sister underwent a surgical procedure over a month ago. Both are recovering nicely now though, according to O’Neale’s mother Deborah Kingwood.
“Royce, he’s real close with my dad, and my parents have been really supportive of him, and he just made the decision that he wanted to be closer to home, be closer to family,” Kingwood said.
“It was a hard decision for Royce because he was torn between his immediate family and his Denver family, but the outpouring of support he’s received from Denver has just been incredible, really overwhelming.”
O’Neale’s grandfather, with whom O’Neale lived with throughout much of his high school career while his mother worked out of state, suffered from repeated blackouts and heart issues, one of which resulted in a stress facture that necessitated him rehabilitating in a nursing home.
O’Neale, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, averaged 11.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season, leading the Pioneers in both rebounding and assists.
Once O’Neale’s release was announced, Kingwood said her phone “blew up” with inquiries from interested college coaches from all over Texas.
“It feels like I’m just getting recruited out of high school all over again really,” O’Neale said.
Per his release, O’Neale is only allowed to transfer to a select group of Texas-based Division I programs, while being restricted from others such as the University of Houston, Rice, Texas Tech and UTSA. Last weekend Kingwood went on unofficial visits to Baylor, TCU and UT-Arlington to speak with their respective coaching staffs and gauge their interest for O'Neale, who has only spoken to coaches over the phone.
“I just went and talked to the coaches, and they all expressed an interest in Royce, they considered him a very versatile player with experience and they said that he could make a significant contribution to their team,” Kingwood said.
Baylor seems to be a considerable lean given its proximity to Killeen and O’Neale’s long-standing relationship with former Killeen standout and current Bears post Cory Jefferson, who recently announced he’ll return for his senior season. This week two scholarships became available at Baylor when guards Duece Bello and L.J. Rose opted to transfer.
Not a single Big 12 program showed any interest in O’Neale coming out of Harker Heights, despite him averaging a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior.
O’Neale capped his Knights career as the school’s single-season rebound leader (364) and career double-double leader (22).
“It is sweet (to have so many programs showing interest),” O’Neale said.