By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Anything Harker Heights boys basketball coach Celneque Bobbitt needed, Royce O'Neale did.
Whether it was draining a clutch 3-pointer, getting an emotional put-back, making that extra pass to find the open shooter, or pulling down a tough rebound, the 6-foot-6 Knights senior wing was versatile to get the job done.
"Royce was the ultimate player for us," Bobbitt said. "... He's been my Scottie Pippen, my Michael Jordan, my Dennis Rodman. He's been the defender, the scorer and the rebounder. He's been a little bit of everything."
It's that versatility and all-around play that O'Neale is taking to the next level after committing to play college basketball at the University of Denver late Tuesday evening.
"It's a little different. I'll have to get used to the (high-altitude) atmosphere, but they said it's easy to get used to - like a week and a half," O'Neale said by phone Wednesday.
O'Neale, the first player in Knights history to average a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds as a senior) for a season, will officially sign his letter of intent during a ceremony today at 3 p.m. at the Harker Heights gym.
With his signature, O'Neale will join fellow Division I-signees Devonte Brown (Indiana State) and Jaleel Williams (San Jose State) of Ellison and Killeen forward Tashawn Thomas (Houston).
"This is the first time in the history of Killeen that four kids have signed D-I scholarships in basketball," Bobbitt said.
"No matter what, Devonte, Jaleel, Royce and Tashawn are pioneers. Because what they've done is help those (Killeen-area prospects) for 2012 and beyond with great recruiting opportunities."
Despite not having a football program, Denver competes in the Sun Belt Conference along with Florida International (FIU), North Texas, Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas-Little Rock, another school vying for O'Neale's services.
In 2012, Denver will join Texas State and UT-San Antonio as they move to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).
O'Neale ultimately picked the Pioneers over Mount St. Mary's (Md.) because of how their coaches planned to use him at wing in Denver's four-out, one-in system.
"It was basically how they said I'd fit in their program and that I could be a big help - a dynamic player," O'Neale said.
The opportunity nearly disappeared, though, after O'Neale delayed his decision to commit, which allowed two other prospects to jump in and take the only two open scholarships.
"Royce was the No. 1 recruit for the University of Denver this year and two other guys scooped up the scholarships on Sunday and we didn't have one Sunday afternoon," Bobbitt said.
"I talked to the coaches on Monday and they were pretty upset they missed out on their guy (O'Neale) ... But the next thing we know (Denver head coach Joe Scott) worked magic to get him in there."
With a full-ride scholarship on the table again, O'Neale didn't hesitate this time, committing Tuesday.
"It was basically an opportunity to play basketball and get a good education - just all of the doors that are open up there," O'Neale said.
Bobbitt credited the overall lack of interest to the broken ankle he suffered near the end of his junior season, which hampered him during summer ball last year - a pivotal recruiting period for most high schoolers.
After putting up a career-high 39 points in the second game of the season, O'Neale was integral in leading senior-laden Harker Heights (28-6) to the Region II-5A quarterfinals.
"I think some of these universities right here in Texas kind of missed out on an opportunity to get a Texas player that had a wealth of growth," Bobbitt said. "To me, Royce is a strength and conditioning coach and (a) jump rope from being an All-Star."