While T-Bone buzzes, Johnson, a grain silo of a guy, will try to push O'Neal out of the paint. "I'm only 225 pounds," Johnson concedes, "so I can't do that much pushing." That responsibility may be left to Martin Yokum, McNeese State's 6'10" Q-tip of a center. "If I foul Shaq, it ain't going to be no touch foul," he says. "It's going to be an obvious foul that the whole arena can see. A touch foul ain't going to do nothing. Hammer him, and it'll stop something."
"If Shaq hammers back," volunteers Johnson, "I guess we'll be banged and bumped and bruised."
Memo to Shaquille: Please hammer, don't hurt 'em.
Feb. 15, Vanderbilt
Todd Milholland has The Hobbit habit. He couldn't put the book down. "I like the adventure of the book, the surprise," says Milholland, the Commodores' center. But his read on O'Neal is right out of the Brothers Grimm: "There's really no surprise in Shaq. I know what's coming—there's just not a whole lot I can do about it."
Though Milholland is 6'10" and 229 pounds, the first time he sighted O'Neal he felt like Bilbo Baggins in the presence of the horrifying Balrog. "I was amazed at how big and massive he was," he says. "I glanced up. I glanced down. I had to glance up again to make sure I got it right."
O'Neal proved as unyielding as the Lord of the Black Riders on the road to Mordor. "It was very frustrating," Milholland says. "I had to push on him as hard as I could just to keep him standing still."
As with most fairy tales, Milholland says, the ogre has a fatal flaw. "Shaq's one weakness is his turnaround jumper," he says. "If you hold him far enough from the basket, he'll have to kick the ball out to his guards."
That's as good as it goes—which last season wasn't very far. In their lone meeting, an 87-70 LSU thumping of Vanderbilt, O'Neal made 15 of 18 shots. "I wasn't humiliated by anything Shaq did," says Milholland, even when O'Neal beat him on a backdoor alley-oop jam. "If it had been anyone else," Milholland says with a sigh, "I would have crawled into a hole."
Nodding to himself, he adds, "Yes, like a hobbit."