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This 24-year-old had a tough upbringing, but his grandma helped turn it around. Shaq can relate.

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WNET
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Let's play "guess the celebrity."

He's 7 feet 1 inch tall. He's a movie star. He's been a reserve police officer in Doral, Los Angeles, Miami, Tempe, and other cities. Oh, and also, he had a mildly successful NBA career.

His list of accomplishments beyond that is pretty remarkable too. He has a bachelor's degree from LSU, an MBA from the University of Phoenix, and his doctorate in human resource development from Barry University.


Any guesses?

Surprise — it's Shaq! Or Dr. O'Neal if we're being proper. You may have heard of him.

Kazaam! Photo by Keith Allison/Flickr

But you probably haven't heard of DeMarcus Womack, whose story actually has a lot in common with that of "Shaq Daddy."

Shaq is mega-successful today, despite not securing the starring role in "Space Jam," but his early years were filled with adversity. DeMarcus, a 24-year-old living in Daytona Beach, Florida, can relate.

How are they similar?

Growing up in a rough neighborhood? Check.

Losing a parent at a young age? Check.

Trouble with the law? Check.

Enormous athletic potential? Check.

The only question for DeMarcus was whether he, like Shaq, would be able to overcome the obstacles and achieve greatness.

In a recent interview with the big man Shaquille O'Neal, DeMarcus opened up about his struggle.

On the death of his mom when he was young and how it fueled an anger problem in him that he carried for a long time.

On getting in trouble with the law shortly after high school and serving an eight-year term in prison, which cost him a shot at playing Division I football.

And on his grandmother, who took him in and helped him get his life back on track:

That's where their stories intersect the most: in the loving arms — or rather, under the watchful eyes — of their grandmothers.

Shaq would never have become an NBA champion, much less the star of his own amazing video game, without the help of mentors like his grandmother, who supported him for most of his life.

And thanks to a little tough love from granny, DeMarcus is currently a student, and a star football player, at Bethune-Cookman University.

He even plans to become a positive role model for kids like himself in the near future.

Tough upbringings like those Shaq and DeMarcus faced are common. Strong mentors and role models are much harder to find.

Shaq's — er, Dr. O'Neal's — incredible academic achievements are pretty surprising. After all, he has plenty of money from his playing days and endorsements... It's not exactly like he's going to be applying for HR jobs anytime soon.

If you look closely, though, his motives become more clear. Shaq didn't go back to school for himself. He told People magazine that he did it to set a good example for his children and for the African-American community and as a way of repaying everyone who helped him along the way.

But he's not done paying it back. He's recently partnered with American Graduate Day to help highlight the role mentorship plays in helping students graduate high school and secure a better future.

When those students go on to become positive role models themselves, like DeMarcus plans to, well that's just Shaqtastic.

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