If doctors hadn't discovered UCLA sophomore forward Shareef O'Neal's heart condition before last season he "could've died," his mother, Shaunie O'Neal, said in the eighth-season premiere of her VH1 show, "Basketball Wives," on Wednesday night.
Shareef, whose father is former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, missed last season after he was diagnosed with a right anomalous coronary artery, Shaunie O'Neal said. The congenital condition can cause "chest pain, heart failure or even sudden cardiac death" if left undiagnosed, according to the Stanford Health Care website. Shareef had open-heart surgery in October to correct the abnormality.
"[It's] an artery that just grows in the wrong place," Shaunie said on the show, which she created and produces. "He was born with it. He could've died from it. They let us know Shareef needed open-heart surgery. That made my heart break."
Officials at UCLA have not disclosed details about Shareef's diagnosis or his surgery. But he was cleared to return to the court in late March.
He participated in his first team workouts with new coach Mick Cronin last month. Cronin said then that Shareef, a former four-star recruit, was still working on his conditioning and strength after losing 25 pounds.
"When you go from just not doing anything to try to playing basketball, stop-and-go contact, full workouts, it's almost like zero-to-60," Cronin said last month. "He's obviously got monitors all over him. Obviously, if he wasn't cleared, he wouldn't be out here. It's just a matter of getting his wind back up and his strength. He lost 25 pounds. That'll come.
"He's just working through it all. But he's been great. Really impressed with his skill level."
All signs seem to point to a return during the 2019-2020 season. Shareef recently tweeted that he is "ready to go."
Shareef appeared in the "Basketball Wives" season premiere and was shown walking about a week after the heart procedure.
At the end of the episode, Shaunie held a fundraiser for heart health and advised everyone to "get your heart checked."
"This is definitely the hardest thing we've ever had to face in our lives," she said on the show.