On Saturday the seventeenth of August, the University of Miami played host to the biggest man in town, ten of his new pals and a few thousand attending as family, friends or fans. A fairly informal affair, the Nestlé Crunch Hot Shots Camp gave the youngsters selected a chance to square off with the Heat’s finest and show their slick handles, fancy moves and, according to the media guide, “overall Crunchy attitude”.
Whether or not they delivered on the Crunchy attitude I couldn’t tell you, but I can say for certain that an enjoyable time was had by all, due in no small part to Superman and The Flash. Their entrance was met with a deafening chorus of cheers, almost entirely drowning out the video introduction playing on the big screen. Once the noise had subsided somewhat, no time was wasted in getting things started, with the first camp member quickly ushered onto the court to face up to Shaq, the seven-foot muscle mass topped with a cheesy grin.
Much to the delight of everyone but his bewildered defender, The Big Quotable immediately broke out a series of jerky crossovers, keeping his man at a decent distance with a giant palm when necessary. On losing the ball, he simply lifted his opponent and deposited him several feet away as he made a move for the rock, taking it himself and dropping in the easy two. More often than not, the Diesel made his way right to the rim by backing down or blowing by his defender, several times finishing with double-handers powerful enough to shake a tooth loose in the fifteenth row.
However, the highlight of the one-on-one match-ups came when Shaq caught one unlucky participant with a stutter-step crossover move, causing him to take a hard spill and land flat on his face. Although the defender did as was expected in pointing to an alleged wet patch, the crowd was having none of it, celebrating the play as if it were a game-winning free throw. An embarrassing moment perhaps, but how many people can boast of having had their ankles broken by Shaq? That camper is now the proud member of an elite group which features only himself and Shawn Bradley, whom Shaq once sent the wrong way with a hard right-to-left move.
The game which followed turned out to be as entertaining as advertised, featuring not only a barrage of the teenagers’ best (and, presumably, Crunchiest) tricks, but also a few reels of highlights from Shaq, Dwyane and several of the ballers from the And 1 tour. In the second half, Spyda kept the fans noisy with a number of alley-oops and ball tricks as well as his trademark dunk, while Pennsylvania streetballer Colin Stanton – known to most as "C-Stan" – wowed the crowd with some impressive ballhandling.
The comedy moment of the game came when one of the Hot Shots put down a transition dunk with O’Neal several feet away. Swinging through on his momentum, he landed directly next to Shaq and mean-mugged the big fella before running back to play defence. Not to be outdone, Diesel caught the ball down low, span and hammered one home before sprinting towards his heckler and following him down the floor with a mock snarl on his face.
After the game, we managed to find the aforementioned C-Stan and big Shaq himself for brief interviews. Read on to see what they had to say.
Interview with C-Stan
C.Y. Ellis: Tell us a little about how you came to be selected for this event.
C-Stan: I heard about the event through word of mouth, so I found the entry information on the Nestlé Crunch website. I sent in a sixty-second video, and I was one of fourteen out of one thousand-plus selected by Shaq for the event.
CYE: What sort of preparation did you put in beforehand?
C-Stan: Just practicing hours on ballhandling and shooting skills like I always do.
CYE: How do you think your experience as a streetballer benefited you with regards to this sort of competition?
C-Stan: It benefited one hundred percent. Without having crowds watching in the background in my video and doing a lot of my own original moves, I doubt I would have been selected.
CYE: Where does it go from here? Is that the end of the competition or are there further stages to come?
C-Stan: The whole weekend was filmed by the NBA TV crew and is supposed to air in early September.
CYE: What’s next for C-Stan? What do you have planned and what are your goals as a streetball player?
C-Stan: A lot. I have a few other projects lined up, including some freestyle halftime performances this winter on the East coast. Basically be on the lookout for me blowing up.
Interview with Shaq
C.Y. Ellis: With the signing of Jason Williams and Antoine Walker, some people have raised the topic of potential chemistry issues next season. What’s Shaq going to do to keep everybody in check?
Shaquille O’Neal: It’s my job to keep everybody in check. I don’t think they understand what they’re coming into down here. It’s a great city, great fans. The fans are going to keep us pumping. Jason Williams is going to get everybody the ball; he sees everything. Antoine’s going to shoot the three, and it’s going to be fun. I’m very excited. I can’t wait to play the first game, and then go home and watch the first game.
CYE: In the past you’ve attributed some of your success to the way you were raised. How important is it that someone like Shaquille O’Neal reaches the kids with positive messages?
Shaq: I just try to keep it simple with the kids. I just tell them to be leaders and not followers. I just try to lead by example. A lot of guys get in trouble when they build up fake images for themselves and they can’t live up to them. My image is reality. What you see with me is what you get. I have nobody coming in the office saying, "Hey, I think you should do a camp. Hey, I think you should go to police academy." Everything I do has been designed by my mother and my father and taught to me, and hopefully people will consider it the right thing.