Good grades and excelling in high school sports are a win-win situation -- especially for Indianapolis high school senior Janese Banks, who was accompanied to her prom by Pacers All-Star Jermaine O'Neal, The Indianapolis Star reported in Thursday's editions.
Banks met her prom date during a news conference for the Jermaine O'Neal Super Shootout in March. Banks was selected to play in the all-star game as a result of her athletic excellence at Ben Davis High School. She swung the prom date simply by having the nerve to ask.
"It wasn't something I was planning," Banks told the Star. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I guess it pays to be assertive."
To her surprise, O'Neal accepted -- though he made sure to get approval from his fiancée, Lamesha Roper.
O'Neal had one requirement: He would accompany Banks to her senior prom only if she kept her grades up and continued to do well in sports -- which she was only too happy to do.
A four-year letter winner in basketball, volleyball and track at Ben Davis High School, Banks led her basketball team to a 23-1 season and was named The Indianapolis Star's metro-area player of the year. Banks has accepted a basketball scholarship for next year at Wisconsin.
"I'm proud of her," O'Neal told the Star. "She's excelled in school. She's mentally focused. 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 had skipped his own prom at Eau Claire High School in Columbia, S.C., because he'd wanted to avoid the media frenzy surrounding his entry into the 1996 NBA draft.
"Four or five people asked me, but I wanted to sit home," he told the paper. "There was so much hoopla, I was shying away from the public."
The 25-year-old O'Neal was a perfect prom date. Following the Pacers' April 17 afternoon playoff win over the Boston Celtics, O'Neal came to Banks' house to pick her up. He met her parents and family, and he even asked about his date's curfew. When it came to the traditional pinning of the corsage, though, O'Neal was all thumbs.
"I didn't know how to do it," he told the Star. "Her mother (Gwen) did it."
Though O'Neal, who placed third in the voting this week for NBA MVP, didn't dance at the prom, he was no wallflower.
"People were like, 'Is that Jermaine?' " he said. "You wouldn't believe how many people have cameras at a prom."
And when the festivities officially ended, O'Neal escorted his teenaged date back home.
"One of Jermaine's first questions was what time they wanted me home, and he stuck by that," Banks told the Star. "The prom was over about 11, and I was home by 11:30 or so.
"It was a blast," she added. "It will be a lifetime memory. I guess you can say I ended my senior year on a fun note. I don't think anyone else will have a prom date like that."
O'Neal returned home promptly as well, to his fiancée and their daughter, telling the newspaper that his prom days are officially over.
"Next year I'll probably be married," he said. "I don't think my fiancée is going to continue to let me go."