By Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal and Janese Banks, the senior prom at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis—but just as friends. At a press conference for O'Neal's Super Shootout charity basketball game on April 10, Banks, the Marion County athlete of the year and a participant in the game, jokingly inquired of O'Neal, "Why don't you take me to the prom?" O'Neal, who is 25 and engaged, played along, telling Banks, 18, he'd take her if she continued to work hard in the classroom. She did, so after getting permission from his fianc�e, Lamesha Roper, O'Neal escorted Banks to the April 17 dance at the Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis—just hours after leading Indiana with 24 points and 11 rebounds in a 104-88 playoff win over the Celtics. "When you get kids that have a plan in life and are going to do whatever it takes to excel in life, I have no problem going to a high school prom," O'Neal said.
O'Neal skipped his own senior prom at Eau Claire High in Columbia, S.C., eight years ago, and his inexperience showed when he tried to pin a corsage on Banks. "I didn't know how to do it," O'Neal said. "My mom had to help him," says Banks. Once the flower was in place, the couple rode in O'Neal's Bentley—with a police escort—to the prom, where, alas, they didn't dance. ("His knee was hurting him," says Banks, who will play basketball at Wisconsin next year.) O'Neal ducked out after 90 minutes so Banks could hang out with her friends, but not before offering her a limousine ride home. Moves like that earned O'Neal high marks from the toughest audience of all. "He was classy," says James Banks, Janese's father. "He was a very respectful young man, and I think he really treated my daughter well. A gentleman all the way."