HARKER HEIGHTS — Royce O'Neale has always been rather reticent with his emotions.But a mother always knows.

“Royce doesn't say much, and when we started hearing about people being recruited and some of his peers getting schools coming in to see them, he was wondering, ‘When is my day going to come? Who's interested in me? Am I going to a Division I school?'” said O'Neale's mother, Deborah Kingwood.

The 6-foot-6 senior wing from Harker Heights saw the answers to all those questions play out Thursday afternoon when he signed his letter of intent to play college basketball at the University of Denver in a ceremony in the Knights'  gym. “I did (want more), but I just have to manage and pick what I have to choose from,” O'Neale said. “I couldn't be too picky.”

As a child, O'Neale had dreams of playing basketball for his favorite team — the Texas Longhorns. And as he grew from a pudgy 5-foot-8 freshman to an imposing sharpshooter, that dream never faded far from his mind.

But, after breaking his left ankle in a game against Shoemaker on Jan. 22 of last year, the future became cloudy as O'Neale's recovery cut into the summer following his junior season at Harker Heights — a pivotal recruiting period for most high school basketball players.

“It was a bad feeling because I wanted to play and give coaches an opportunity to see me play early, but I still managed to play some,” O'Neale said. “I just started late.”

That late start, along with the time it took him to mentally return to being the player he was before the injury, inhibited the amount interest he received — especially from elite majors.

“He had hoped to get those calls. We were in tournaments where we knew those people would be to see him, but his recovery was slow — it was discouraging,” Kingwood said. “But I told him that if he keeps working hard, in a couple of years down the road, they'll be watching him on TV thinking, ‘Gosh, we missed out on that kid.'”

So back to work he went, proving an integral part in leading the District 12-5A champion Knights (28-6) to the Region II-5A quarterfinals — only the second time in school history Heights made it three rounds deep.

Finishing with a team-best 17 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior, O'Neale became the first Knights basketball player to average a double-double for a season and capped his career as the school's single-season rebound king (364) and career double-double man (22).

“It's been hard, it's been a rough road, but I managed to come back strong, play through everything and just be the person I am now,” O'Neale said.

It's that person — who has done everything asked of him on the court — that impressed the Denver coaching staff enough to make him their No. 1 recruiting target. And despite a little waffling with his commitment, O'Neale chose a new dream and became a Pioneer.

“It's been a little hectic, but it all came through. God made the right plan and I got what I wanted,” O'Neale said.Which ultimately was a chance to play college basketball.

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