The competition between Royce O’Neale and TaShawn Thomas never stops. It doesn’t matter if they were playing for their respective Killeen ISD schools, Big 12 teams or helping out at the inaugural Cory Jefferson Basketball Camp.
They were back at the Killeen High gym on Saturday as elementary- and middle school-aged children tried to lob jumpers over them. The pair served notice it wasn’t going to happen; they playfully swatted some those attempts to the side of the gym.
“There’s nothing easy around here,” O’Neale joked. “They’ve got to grow up with that, nothing easy and no free shots.”
“He started before I did, he was getting a little competitive with the kids, but I still blocked a couple,” Thomas said with a hearty laugh.
The kids loved it all.
The O’Neale-Thomas rivalry is still alive as both embark on the start of professional careers in Germany. O’Neale will play for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and Thomas is headed to Mitteldeutscher BC of the German Basketball League.
“They called and really liked me,” Thomas said. “I talked to their coaches and it seems like the best situation for me right now.”
Both players finished up their collegiate careers and spent some time in the NBA Summer League.
O’Neale played for the Boston Celtics’ Las Vegas Summer League team averaging 3.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals while playing 18.5 minutes per game.
Thomas played for the Orlando Magic Blue squad in the Orlando Summer League where he averaged two points, four rebounds and a steal per contest.
“It’s easy to be overlooked over there,” Thomas said about the summer league experience. “I was blessed with the opportunity to go out there and play, so I’m thankful.”
O’Neale starred at Harker Heights and led the Knights to the Class 5A regional quarterfinals as a senior in 2010-11. The Knights finished with a 28-6 overall record.
O’Neale played two seasons at the University of Denver before transferring to Baylor. This past season, O’Neale averaged 10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the 3-point line.
Thomas was a star at Killeen High, graduating in 2011. As a senior, he averaged 28 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks and was named All-Area and District 8-4A MVP.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Thomas said. “I’m just nervous right now since I’ve never been outside of the country like that. It’s going to be my first time outside of the country, but I’m just very excited about going over there.”
Thomas played for the University of Houston for three years before finishing up his career at Oklahoma. He was a two-time All-Conference USA selection as a Cougar and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season as a Sooner.
Thomas averaged 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and had 53 blocks as a senior while starting in all 35 games at Oklahoma and helping the Sooners reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
“It’s been really busy, just working out with other teams right now,” Thomas said. “It’s good to come home and just enjoy the time with the kids and just give back.”
Coming back home and helping out Jefferson — a Killeen and Baylor alum who played last season for the Brooklyn Nets — at his camp was important since the event was a free opportunity for local kids to learn fundamentals of the game.
“It feels good just giving back, seeing these kids doing good things, playing basketball with them,” O’Neale said. “It feels good to give back to the community, helping the kids since they look up to us like we look up to the other guys,” Thomas said. “I got a little sister here so I’m trying to be a good role model.”
O’Neale and Thomas have long since worked on their games and now the rivalry and friendship will reach a second continent.
Their professional careers may start in Germany, but both are hoping the experience will lead to other opportunities.
“You’ve just got to find that right person to like you, then you’re good,” O’Neale said.
“Being able to play against him in high school, college and as a professional is crazy,” Thomas said. “I’m looking forward to that, too.”