"I just had to keep going," O'Neal said. "I had to learn to use criticism as motivation. People would tell me all the time that I'd be in the Army like my father. I had to take that fuel and just energize myself."
Everything changed in his sophomore year of high school, O'Neal said, when his stepfather showed him a newspaper article about a player who signed a five-year, $15 million contract. And that player was terrible, O'Neal said. It showed him that there was money to be made in basketball.
"A lot of guys here will have it easy and a lot of guys will have to work very hard," O'Neal, 42, told the campers. "Never give up. Never let anyone tell you that you can't do it. You have to define your own game, make your own name, and make your mark."
O'Neal was joined at the camp by former NBA stars Dominique Wilkins and Shawn Kemp.
A Hall of Famer, Wilkins recalled riding a Greyhound bus bound for North Carolina when he was a teenager. He fled his crime-ridden Baltimore neighborhood to live with family down South.
He said his high school basketball coach discovered him at a playground in Washington, N.C. The coach asked Wilkins whether he lived in the area. Wilkins answered, "No, not really." The coach asked where he was going to live, and Wilkins said he was not quite sure. He took Wilkins to his home and said the player could live there as long as he played for Washington High.
"And that's how my career started," Wilkins said. "I grew up with eight brothers and sisters and one parent. I had to become a man at an early age. If you think you have it tough, you really don't."
Wilkins, 54, said the Philadelphia camp is different from others because officials do not "just roll the basketball and tell these kids to go play." He said the camp teaches the game and is "instrumental" in a player's development. Unlike O'Neal, Wilkins was allowed to attend high school camps. He said he went to two.
"I don't like kids' going to a lot of camps," he said. "I think what you have to do is go to quality camps. That's the biggest difference. It's not how many you go to, it's the quality camps you go to that [are] going to make a difference."