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Seals of Approval: CHD interviews Tulsa legend Shea Seals

Basketball fans were horrified by Paul George’s gruesome leg injury in Las Vegas, although George has said he hopes to come back better than ever.  One guy who knows all too well about how an injury can derail an NBA career is Shea Seals.  After choosing to play in his hometown of Tulsa, he made the NCAA tourney for 4 straight years and graduated as the all-time leading scorer in school history.  After joining the Lakers his NBA career came to a crashing halt after four games due to an injury and the 1998 NBA lockout.  He later played pro basketball overseas and in the US, then spent a few years as a high school coach, and currently works for his alma mater as Director of Player Development.  CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Shea about playing for Tubby Smith, playing against Dream Team III, and making it to the NBA. 

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In 1993 you chose to attend college in your hometown of Tulsa despite the fact that the entire athletic department had spent the previous year on probation with no postseason play for any of its athletic teams: why did you choose to go to Tulsa despite the probation situation, and what was it like to play in the same city in which you were born? I got to know Tubby Smith and the rest of the coaching staff and players beforehand. I wanted to stay home and be around the people that had always supported me, and I was happy about the direction that Tubby was taking the program. It was an opportunity for a great education and I liked the chance to start as a freshman.

At Tulsa you played for two different coaches (Smith and Steve Robinson): were their coaching styles very similar or not, and what impressed you the most about each of them? They were similar in terms of pressure defense and getting into the passing lanes but different offensively: Robinson was more structured and made sure that everyone passed the ball, while Tubby was more about setting screens and using an up-tempo style. I learned a lot from both men so I was fortunate to play for both.

You were named MVC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-MVC as a sophomore and junior: how were you able to come in as a freshman and contribute from the start, and how were you able to continue to dominate throughout the rest of your college career? I was helped by getting to know my teammates a lot and play with them while I was still in high school. I made myself very visible so that once I got on campus I was able to build confidence in my teammates and they had confidence in me. I never felt a lot of pressure or had high expectations: I just went out there and did the best I could. It also helped that I was on a very good team with several guys who were All-MVC.

You helped lead your team to the NCAA tourney during each of your four years: how was your team able to remain so consistent throughout your career? When we made a run in the tourney during my freshman year it gave us the know-how to compete against top teams across the nation. We were not happy to just be in the tourney: we expected to be there and to win games so we competed every day.

In the 1994 NCAA tourney you had 20 points and nine rebounds in a win over UCLA (Ed O’Bannon scored 20 points) that was never even close (you led 63-38 at halftime): how were you able to jump out to such a big lead, and did it give you a lot of confidence going into your next game? UCLA underestimated a bit because they did not know a lot about us and had not seen us on TV. They were a #5-seed and thought they would walk all over us. We saw the tourney as a brand-new season and made sure that they got our best shot, so we jumped on them before they even realized what happened.

You had 13 points and eight rebounds rebounds in a two-point win over Oklahoma State (Bryant Reeves scored 32 points) after Lou Dawkins hit a three point shot in the final minute that was arguably the most famous play in Tulsa history: was Reeves the most unstoppable opponent you ever faced in college, and what was the reaction like after Dawkins made his shot? I played against Big Country 3-4 times in my career and he was pretty unstoppable due to his size. He was big but also had a soft touch and knew how to score. He took up a lot of space inside and became more athletic over time. When Lou hit that shot it was unbelievable: I knew that we had the game won. We were playing in Oklahoma City so we knew the crowd would be pro-Cowboys.

That win gave your team the first-ever Sweet 16 appearance in school history: how big a deal was it, and what was the mood like back on campus? It was awesome: the energy level was high and the students/fans were excited about what we were accomplishing. When we beat UCLA some people thought it was just our lucky day, but when we beat Oklahoma State we started to get a lot of respect as a small school competing against a big school.

You scored 19 points (4-17 FG) in a loss to eventual national champion Arkansas (Corliss Williamson had 21 points on 10-13 FG), who had defeated you in a two-point overtime win earlier that season on a shot by Williamson with 1.4 seconds left: was your team out for revenge after the earlier loss to the Razorbacks, and did Williamson just have your team’s number that year? Williamson was another future NBA player who was tough to defend: he was too agile/mobile for some of our bigger guys. When we faced them the 1st time they were #1 in the nation and we had a chance to win, so we wanted the opportunity to play them again. They were focused and you could tell they were going to be national champions: their bench guys would have started for almost any team in the country!

In the 1995 NCAA tourney you scored 22 PTS in a six-point win over Illinois after being down by one in the final minute before Pooh Williamson made a four-point play: what did your team learn from the 1994 tourney that helped you in 1995, and what was the reaction like after Williamson made his shot? Whenever you play against a big-time program you want to defend the honor of your own conference. The Ilini were physical and in control for most of the game, but when Pooh made the four point play it gave us the lead and allowed us to take control.

You scored 31 points in a win over Old Dominion after the Monarchs had a three overtime win over Villanova in the first round: do you think ODU just ran out of gas after their previous game, and did you think that making the Sweet 16 again showed people that 1994 was not a fluke? We knew that Villanova was a good team, so after ODU beat them behind Petey Sessoms’ 35 points we knew we would have our hands full. I do not know if they were tired but when we stepped on the floor we were ready to compete. I was feeling really good about my game: we were able to dominate most of that game and pulled away at the end. I think that year’s Sweet 16 established us as a team that could compete with anyone in March.

You scored 19 points in a loss to UMass (freshman Marcus Camby had 20 points): what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards, and could you tell at the time that Camby was going to become a star? Camby was another one of those big guys who we had problems matching up with, and he caused a lot of problems in the lane with his shot-blocking ability. I thought they were just a little more talented than we were but they surprised us with how good they were.

What are your memories of the 1996 NCAA tourney (you scored 22 points in 43 minutes but Dejuan Wheat scored 33 points including six three point shots in a two-point OT win by Louisville after the Cardinals were down 12 points with four minutes left in regulation)? That was a disappointing loss: I can still remember the turnover that led to our downhill spiral. We felt like we could beat them: they had been very up and down that year. We made some key mistakes down the stretch and did not take care of the ball. If you are up 12 with four minutes left then you should be able to win the game if you do not turn the ball over.

In the summer of 1996 you scored a game-high 20 points on 8-11 FG for the Collegiate All-Star team (including teammates Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, and Chauncey Billups) in a six-PT loss to Dream Team three (featuring Hall of Famers David Robinson, John Stockton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Charles Barkley) in their first exhibition game prior to the 1996 Olympics: what was it like to play against such legends, and how were you able to get any shots when you had such amazing teammates of your own? It was great to compete against NBA legends who I had seen on TV all the time. It was one of those dream afternoons where I stepped on the floor and felt like I was in the zone. Once I hit a couple of shots it felt like the goal just got bigger and bigger, so my teammates kept finding me and setting screens for me. There is nothing like playing well against the best basketball players in the world!

In 1997 you were named 1st-team All-WAC and 3rd-team All-American: how did the WAC compare to the MVC, and did you feel like you were 1 of the best players in the country? I thought that I was 1 of the best players in the country, as I competed with other top guys every summer (Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, etc.). The WAC had some great players as well: Keith Van Horn at Utah, Kenny Thomas at New Mexico, etc.

In the 1997 NCAA tourney you scored 17 points in a win over Boston U.: did you feel pressure to win a game after losing in the 1st round in 1996, and was your role on the team any different because you were a senior? My role was definitely different as a senior: we had developed the program to the point that we wanted to make some noise when we got to the tourney. Losing to Louisville in the 1st round the previous year was not a great feeling so we did not want to do that again.

You scored five points (2-11 FG) in a six points loss to Clemson and only played seven minutes in the first half after picking up three early fouls: what impact did your foul trouble have on you, and did it feel extra-painful to end your college career on such a low note? That was one of the most disappointing evenings of my playing career. The good memories far outweigh the bad memories…but the bad ones sting you a little more from time to time. The fouls really hindered my mentality and my aggression so I had to resort to shooting jump shots. I started thinking too much and second-guessing myself, which really hurt my game and affected what I did later on. I wish I could step back out there and change the outcome but I just had to move on and look forward to the good memories.

You finished your career as the all-time leading scorer in school history: did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were? At that time I just enjoyed playing in front of my home crowd and the people I loved in the community, which made me work even harder. I was born and raised in that area, which gave me the hunger to advance as a player and show my appreciation to those who have supported me. I never knew how people perceived me until many years later: they still come up to me and tell me that they enjoyed watching me play.

During the 1997-98 season you played four games with the Lakers: did you consider this a success (due to making it to the NBA), or a failure (due to only playing four games), or something in between? Just to get that far was a dream come true. If you ask any player they would always choose a career in the NBA, but I was disappointed that I could not resume my career after getting injured during my rookie year. The NBA went into a lockout in 1998 and I was unable to re-sign with the Lakers, so the timing was pretty unfortunate. Millions of people try to reach the NBA and never get there so I was excited about making it.

You also played in the ABA with the Indiana Legends/Kansas City Knights, in the D-League with the Mobile Revelers, and professionally in France: what did you learn from these experiences, and how did they compare to college basketball? Playing professionally was a lot of fun but was also tough because it is a job. You have to support your family and put food on the table: it is not about going out to play and then doing your homework! I loved playing the game and getting paid for it, but it was hard to play with the pressure of providing for your family, playing in front of fans overseas where you are the “foreigner”, etc.

In 2007 you were named head coach at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, despite being a former player/coach at nearby McLain HS: how did you like being a high school coach, and what was it like to switch schools in the same city? I enjoyed being a high school coach and learned a lot from my players. You have to be more than a coach: a mentor, a father figure, etc. They talked to me about their personal lives, and when they asked me for guidance I tried to give them the best advice I could. The hardest part of being a coach is when a parent thinks his or her kid is an All-American, so I just explained how I would use them in the way that is best for the team. My past with McLain was great but I enjoyed being at Booker T. Washington. I was given the opportunity to join a top program and I took it.

When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? I want them to look at me as a winner who competed to the best of my ability. I did not always shoot a high percentage (which is how some people have tried to judge me) but I went out there and did a lot of other things besides score. I am proud to be the all-time leading scorer but I also take pride in being in the top-five in several other categories. I tried to do my best, be a leader, and represent the city in the best way possible. I carried myself with dignity and always treated others with respect. I tried to be a 1st-class person both on and off the court.

JonTeitel