The dorm room lights are dimmed. The videotape is cued, set to
the moment Shea Seals became a name to remember. This is the
nationally televised game in which the University of Tulsa's
silky swingman scored a game-high 20 points against the Dream
Team in a pre-Olympic tune-up in July. Seals and his roommate,
point guard Rod Thompson, draw their desk chairs closer to the
TV. Seals presses the PLAY button.
This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1996 issue
Television announcer Marv Albert introduces the starters of USA
Basketball's Under-22 Selects, a team made up of college
all-stars, but the 6'5", 210-pound Seals is not mentioned. On
the Selects' first trip down the court, Seals, a last-minute
addition to the starting lineup, comes off a double screen and
swishes a three-pointer from the left side. Albert booms, "A
three-pointer by ..."--and here there is a pregnant pause, a
momentary panic in the booth, the silent shuffling of paper as
Albert tries to figure out just who the heck is that number
The roommates dissolve in laughter. Thus did Shea Seals become a
name to remember.
In a day and age in which no NCAA phenom lives an unexamined
life, Seals, 21, is a surprisingly underexposed exception.
Despite leading Tulsa to three NCAA tournaments--including two
Sweet 16 appearances--he has been a relative unknown. That
should change in this, his senior season, thanks to his
eye-opening performance this summer against the world's best
basketball team. "Tulsa's not an extremely visible program,"
says Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, who coached the Under-22's,
"but people watched that Dream Team game. Now Seals will be
mentioned among the best players in the country."
And that bodes well for Seals's career prospects. "The Dream
Team game opened some eyes, but we in the NBA already knew about
him," says Marty Blake, the NBA scouting director. "We knew what
he could do, though it's nice to see him do it against the Dream
Team instead of Florida Tech. I like this kid. He's a big-time
Against the dreamy zillionaires, Seals hit his first six field
goal attempts, including a take-that three-pointer at the
halftime buzzer to give the Under-22's a 17-point lead. The
Dream Team dominated the second half and won 96-90; still, the
Dream Killer, as Thompson now calls Seals, shot 8 of 11 from the
field, scoring more points than Shaq, Penny and Sir Charles
combined. After the game, Barkley shook Seals's hand and told
him, "Way to play, boy. You just made yourself a lot of money."
For a brief moment last season, Seals--whose name trips up even
those announcers with perfect elocution ("Just try saying 'Shea
Seals steals' fast," he suggests)--considered turning pro; he
guesses he would have been a second-round pick. But Seals, who
was born and raised in Tulsa, decided to stay in school. "I had
too much unfinished business here," he says. "I want to prove
that I'm one of the better players in the nation."
Last season he was named an honorable-mention All-America as
well as a first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference player, but
he still wasn't happy with his performance. "I didn't play up to
my capabilities," Seals says in a low, contrite voice. "I need
to play more consistently." His dissatisfaction stemmed from the
more balanced offense installed last year by new coach Steve
Robinson, which was decidedly different from the fast-breaking,
three-point-Sealsapalooza favored by former Tulsa coach Tubby
Smith. Now head coach at Georgia, Smith says, "[Tulsa's]
approach is more team-oriented. When I was there, we were more
oriented around Shea."
The new system caused most of Seals's numbers to dip slightly:
He shot 38% from the field, and his scoring (17.1 ppg),
rebounding (5.7 rpg) and assist (2.2 apg) averages declined.
"Shea became a big-time marked man last year," says Robinson.
"Plus the coaching change contributed to the drop-off. This year
he will be much more comfortable with the offense."
Because of last year's learning experience, Seals is a more
complete player, one better prepared for pro ball. He has a game
that quietly fills up a box score. He may not be the best
shooter, the best passer, the best ball handler, the best
rebounder or the best defender in the country, but he does all
these things exceptionally well. "If I could add any player in
the country to my team, I would pick Shea Seals," says Smith.
"He steadies the game."
Seals's play is a reflection of his even-keeled personality.
Against Temple in Philadelphia last season, with NBA scouts in
attendance, Owls fans taunted him with shouts of "CBA Shea!"
Says Thompson, "I started laughing, then I looked at Shea and he
was just as tickled as I was." But once last year, in a game
against Southwest Missouri State in which he scored 30 points,
Seals shocked the entire gym with an uncharacteristic outburst:
He chest-bumped a teammate.
It sometimes seems as if the sweet whoosh of the ball slipping
through the net is about the only sound you'll hear from Seals.
"There were stretches of time when he didn't say a word," says
Montgomery, who spent two months coaching Seals this summer. "I
can't tell you what his voice sounds like." But Seals doesn't
need to raise his mellow baritone, his teammates say, because
his tireless work ethic already speaks volumes.
Much of the work he does is hoops research. On any given night
during the season, the Seals family might have three VCRs
whirring: his father recording one game while his two younger
brothers--Willie, 16, and Stace, 15--tape another. And Shea's
own VCR is always recording. In his dorm room closet, Seals
stores his video library in a large blue duffel bag. Rummage
through the overstuffed sack and you find tapes of Kansas games
("So I can see how Rex Walters got open"), UConn games ("Ray
Allen"), a long-overdue rental of Dumb and Dumber ("Oops," says
Seals, flashing a shy smile that reveals a row of braces on his
top teeth), Georgetown games ("Allen Iverson") and just about
every other college game that was on the tube last year. There
is also, tellingly, a tape entitled The Business of Professional
After being named Oklahoma player of the year while a senior at
Tulsa's McLain High School, Seals narrowed his college choices
to Tulsa, a small private school with an enrollment of 4,600
students, and Seton Hall. Few expected him to stay home, even
though his family roots are sunk deep in the city of Tulsa. (His
mother, Arvella Reed, teaches at a different Tulsa high school,
while his father, Tom Seals, is a maintenance worker for the
city's housing authority; a large extended family also lives in
the city.) When Shea decided on Tulsa, many observers questioned
whether pro basketball would be in his future. After all, hadn't
the best local players--Richard Dumas, Lee Mayberry, John
Starks, Wayman Tisdale--always gone to colleges elsewhere to
polish their games?
In deciding to stay home, Seals became the most highly regarded
Tulsa schoolboy ever to choose the Golden Hurricane. "When I
chose Tulsa, a lot of people said I made a big mistake," says
Seals. "They said I wouldn't be seen. They said, 'Are you crazy?
How could you turn down ESPN and the Big East and one of the top
college teams in the country?' I took it as a challenge."
But there's another reason why Seals stayed home, the most
important one. Today that reason is on the court at quaint Mabee
Gym on the Tulsa campus, dribbling, dribbling, dribbling with
his left hand. The top of his head barely reaches his father's
"Jeval, take a shot," Seals tells his four-year-old son.
"I can't. I'm too small," Jeval O'Shea Seals says. "Make me
tall." Seals lifts the boy above his shoulders, and Jeval tosses
in a soft shot. The little boy raises his arms in triumph, his
laughter filling the gym.
Jeval and his mother, Najia Wilson, live with Shea's mother in
north Tulsa, only a few minutes from campus. With his family so
close, Seals is able to share with his son the "little things
that let him know that Daddy loves him." Like taking his son for
haircuts, bringing his son to his pickup games or having his son
sleep over in his dorm room. And the not-so-little things, like
rushing his son to the emergency room in the middle of the night
when Jeval has an asthma attack.
Everything has worked out. The local kid has carried his team to
three--and counting--NCAA tournaments. In the process he has
become a top NBA prospect. And best of all, he has been able to
watch his son grow.
In Mabee Gym, Jeval does a nifty spin move along the sideline
while his father is playing in a pickup game. Robinson, just off
a red-eye flight after a week on the recruiting trail, wanders
into the gym and surveys Jeval's smooth lefthanded ball-handling
"I've got first dibs on him," Robinson says.