Archive for Wednesday, November 14, 2007

THS coach high school teammates with ‘Shaq Diesel’

November 14, 2007

There's a few interesting facts local residents might want to know about Tonganoxie High first-year teacher/coach Doug Sandburg.

He teaches physics and coaches soccer and girls basketball at the high school. His father, Master Sgt. William Sandburg, served in the United States Army for 26 years. Sandburg was born in Pittsburg and his favorite basketball player growing up was Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird. He's an avid Duke University basketball fan.

Warning: Next fact might not initially sink in, but it's true.

Sandburg won the 1989 Texas Class 3A state basketball championship his senior year at Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio. One of his teammates is now a 14-time all-star, a four-time NBA champion, a three-time NBA finals MVP and one of the most feared centers to ever play: Shaquille O'Neal.

Sandburg has a message -- albeit a lighthearted one -- for his former high school teammate.

"Sure, Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade helped him win titles. Before that, it was me who won him the title," Sandburg said with a laugh. "I joke about that. It was more like Shaq won me the title. That's probably more true."

This much is certain: During O'Neal's two years at Cole, the Cougars were dominant. They went 68-1 and blew other teams out. Sandburg, who graduated in 1989 with O'Neal, said their junior year, the Cougars beat a team by 100 points, despite their starters only playing a total of 10 minutes.

The one game Cole lost during Sandburg's junior year was in the regional playoffs against Liberty Hill. O'Neal picked up three fouls in the first five minutes.

Throw it down, big fella

Sandburg was a backup guard/forward for the Cougars. When O'Neal arrived at Cole, he stood 6-feet-8 inches tall and weighed 235 pounds. By his senior year, O'Neal was 7 feet, 275 pounds. At age 35, he currently is 7-1, 325 pounds. Dunking with authority is commonplace in the O'Neal arsenal.

"One of the things the bench players did is we counted the number of dunks he got per game," Sandburg said. "I want to say he averaged around four to five dunks per game. And he had some spectacular ones that were just amazing."

The most memorable O'Neal throw-down, where Sandburg played a prominent role?

"The best one I ever did with him wasn't even during one of our games," Sandburg said. "We were out playing with some of the GI's at Fort Sam (Houston). We were running down the court playing a pickup game. I tossed one off the backboard to him. I threw it way too hard. Somehow, he caught this thing and just crammed it. It was just like, 'Oh my gosh.' It seemed like he took a step and jumped from about 10 feet away and caught that thing. It was lined hard off the backboard and coming with some steam. He caught it between his hands and just crashed the net."

It wasn't a good idea to motivate O'Neal with trash talk. Herb More, who was an assistant coach at Cole in 1989, currently is the Cougars' head coach. He said during one road trip, he overheard an opposing player, who said the game was going to be the biggest upset in the history of Texas high school basketball.

More immediately went to O'Neal with the news.

"He just shook his head," More said. "He bent the rim about three different ways that game. And that gym didn't have breakaway rims. The rim was bent so much it looked like a roller coaster. It was hanging three to four feet lower than usual."

More also had immediate memories about Sandburg.

"If the double or triple team would come on Shaq, he would kick it out to our shooters," More said. "Doug lived out on that three-point line. He was smart on the floor. He was like having a coach out there on the floor."

The lighter side of Shaq

O'Neal is generally perceived as an eloquent individual who incorporates the occasional humor during interviews. As a high school student at Cole, he was still a jokester and had a great sense of humor, according to Sandburg. His teammates would play jokes on O'Neal, too, like when they turned up the volume to the B-52's hit song "Love Shack" when Shaq entered the locker room.

Sandburg said he hadn't talked to O'Neal in roughly eight years, but they kept in touch after high school. In fact, Sandburg attended the Lakers-Wizards exhibition game at nearby Kemper Arena in 1999. Before the game, Sandburg wrote a note and asked someone who worked at the arena to take it to O'Neal in the locker room.

Sandburg received a response from O'Neal no more than two minutes later.

"(Lakers assistant coach) Del Harris comes out of the locker room and goes, 'Do you want to come back and see Shaq?' I said I'd come back and see him," Sandburg said. "But there was this little kid standing next to me. His dad was right there and we had been talking. Then, they said, 'Do you want to bring your son with you?' So I said, 'Kid, you want to go with me?' He looked at his dad and said, 'Can I go?' So I took this little kid back into the locker room.

"I sat down and started talking with Shaq. He introduced me to Nick Van Exel, Robert Horry, Kobe Bryant and all the guys on the Lakers. I always say I was the dumb one because I wasn't the little kid that was running around the room getting all the autographs of all the people who were going to be famous and win titles."

The next day, Sandburg received a call in his office at Lawrence Gardner High School, which serves young men who have been placed at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Facility in Topeka.

His secretary did what a responsible secretary would do.

'May I ask who's calling?' the secretary asked.

The voice on the other line spoke in a deep voice. 'Shaquille O'Neal,' he replied.

Imagine getting that call while on the job.

"I think my secretaries thought it was nuts," Sandburg said, laughing.

Despite the time that's passed between their last conversation, Sandburg said it'd be just like the two were in high school again when they next spoke.

"If you mention my name and Shaq hears it, I think even to this day he will remember it," Sandburg said. "I will never speak ill of the guy. He's a class act. Anybody that thinks otherwise I will take offense to and I will tell them otherwise. I will say, 'You don't know him.'"

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