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Portledge enjoys a Shaq attack

Shaquille O'Neal, left, slaps hands with Sam Palagonia,

Shaquille O'Neal, left, slaps hands with Sam Palagonia, 4, of Glen Head, as O'Neal makes a special visit to the Portledge School in Locust Valley. (Jan. 28, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Terence Simpson charged down the lane, caught a lob pass from Shaquille O'Neal and slammed down the alley-oop.

Yes, that Shaquille O'Neal.

"He's not the best passer because he's a big man," joked Simpson, who said O'Neal's first pass from under the basket was too high. "But I'll always remember that."

O'Neal, a 15-time NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer, visited the Portledge School in Locust Valley last Monday. He shot around with the basketball teams and read a book to younger students.

For Simpson, a shooting guard on Portledge, the alley-oop from Shaq was the latest highlight in two seasons full of them.

After leading Portledge to an unbeaten season and a league championship as a sophomore, the reigning IPPSAL Player of the Year is leading Long Island in scoring at just under 28 points per game.

Simpson, a 6-3 slasher who also can step back and hit the three-pointer, has drawn interest from many Ivy League schools, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

"One possession he'll bring the ball up and the next he could be down low in the post," Portledge coach Nick Woll said. "Some games he'll be guarding the other team's point guard and other games he'll be guarding the other team's center. He does whatever the team needs."

Sophomore David Lustberg also has taken on a larger role this season. He has shifted to point guard from his natural position of shooting guard and is averaging nearly 16 points a game. Matt Goldstein, a 6-5 senior center, has become a reliable interior defender and is grabbing 10 rebounds per game.

So what brings a mega-superstar like Shaq to a small school like Portledge, you ask?

Al Palagonia -- the CEO of Apollo Jets, a company for which O'Neal is a spokesman -- has three children who attend Portledge, and he arranged the visit. Shaq also came to the school in December 2011.

"I travel with Shaq a lot," Palagonia said. "When you walk in the room with him, no matter what city, no matter what state, no matter what country, he's one of the most recognized names and faces in the world. He lights up a room."

He certainly lit up Portledge on Monday. Did the players get any advice from O'Neal while shooting around with him?

"He just said if you have a dream, keep after it and work hard every day," Simpson said. "It's pretty cool that an NBA legend came down and talked to us."

Almost as cool as having one throw an alley-oop to you.

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