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Jermaine O’Neal: Now, ‘I feel like I know what I’m doing’


No one was more disappointed about the way last season ended in Miami than Jermaine O’Neal [1]. He had just begun to find his legs in the playoffs, playing significant minutes and becoming a force after injuries to his left knee and left wrist caused him to miss 58 regular season games.

But now he’s healthy and ready to go. He says he hasn’t felt this good since finishing the 2009-10 season in Miami, when he played and started 70 games.

“I felt strong, I felt knowledgable about the system,” O’Neal said. “Now I feel comfortable with the guys and the guys felt comfortable with me. I think the coaching staff feel comfortable with me. Last year, no one knew what to expect since I wasn’t out there.”

Doc Rivers [2] called him the “MVP of training camp” and believes the C’s will be getting the real O’Neal this season. O’Neal doesn’t want to disappoint.

“I think all of us want to do the job Doc expects us to do,” O’Neal said Friday. “I feel like we have enough size, enough mobility to play the style of game we want to play.”

O’Neal, if healthy, could be a huge difference-maker this season for the Celtics [3]. He has average 14 points and just over seven rebounds a game and is considered one of the best defensive centers in the league when healthy.

“You talk about our size, there’s not many teams that have legitimately three or four seven-footers,” O’Neal said. “We have 6-10, 6-11, three or four of those guys who can really do a lot of different things. I think a lot of guys are just mentally focused on doing their jobs. If we do our jobs, we’ll be fine.”

O’Neal could never get on track last season, battling injuries and splitting practice time with Shaquille O’Neal [4] and Glen Davis [5] as the Celtics desperately searched for an answer in the low post.

“Last year, I was kind of behind the gun,” O’Neal said. “I ended up getting hurt in the second or third day of training camp. I ended up missing some of the schemes they were putting me in and I never really caught up. I had to deal with trying to catch up and trying to physically get healthy. That’s tough, whereas now I feel healthy, I feel strong, I feel like I know what I’m doing, which is key. In any professional sports, if you don’t know the system, you’re in trouble.

“I’m not in any different position than anybody else. There are two aspects to this game. There’s physical, there’s mental. The mental is most important. With physical, you can get ice and get treatment. I think that’s where we’re going to have an advantage because we have some older guys who win games and know how to take care of their bodies. And that’s what this year is all about.”

O’Neal left the preseason game early on Wednesday to get a massage, just one of the ways he’s trying to make sure he’ll be full strength come Sunday.

“You guys are talking a lot about our age and stuff like that but we feel like we have enough depth to get through the challenge,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge though. We’re not going to sit here and fabricate it. We understand we have to be prepared to go through some bumps and bruises and I think we are.”