The Basketball Guy – Stanford University Athletics
THIS WAS NOT A simple thing to obtain Thomas’s blessing, to turn away from a school and a program so good for the family. But Michael did it anyway, having the faith to ask for a release from his lacrosse letter of intent without knowing where he would land.
On Long Island, lacrosse is king, but the O’Connells are a basketball family first. Michael’s grandfather, James, was a high school referee for over 30 years. Great Uncle Andrew played at Niagara. Aunt Theresa was an all-time great at Lafayette. Uncle James played at Central Connecticut State and Uncle Andrew played at Albany.
Michael’s mother, the former Tara Felix, was the first All-Big East Conference first-team softball player in St. John’s. His father, Tim O’Connell, was the 2019 Long Island Catholic Youth Organization Role Model of the Year and, through CYO, the Police Athletic League, and his role as Deputy Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in Nassau County, “Coach Tim” has influenced countless young people. He coached his two sons in football, basketball and lacrosse.
Tim’s style as a coach and father was all about discipline, respect and fair action.
“Growing up, it was, quite simply, books and school.” said Thomas. “That was it. My dad was very strict. Take care of your business first and then you can have fun later.
There wasn’t much time for social activities anyway.
“It was from lacrosse to basketball to weight training to homework to sleep,” Thomas said. “We always had a regular schedule, even in the summer. Camps, hop in the car, road trip to an AAU Tournament or Travel Lacrosse Tournament. It was really non-stop. »
Michael played for a time with the Riverside Hawks, an AAU team in Manhattan that was the proving ground for future NBA stars like Chris Mullin, Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and Kenny Smith. Later, O’Connell played for the Rising Stars Youth Foundation on Long Island, but his New York hoop roots were crucial.
“It’s different in the city,” said Thomas, who played for a club in Queens. “It’s hard and tough basketball. It was the best thing for us. No foul was called. You are alone in the back area and no one comes to save you. The crowds go crazy. You have to grow up fast.
Michael learned to never be shaken on the pitch or on the court. He never panicked. These qualities held true at Chaminade, a Catholic high school for boys as strict as its upbringing.
Both O’Connell brothers first played lacrosse to supplement basketball. They were so good, “we took the first opportunities given to us,” Thomas said, earning the chance to join a Maryland lacrosse program that has won 12 national championships.
Even with his future in hand, Michael never let go of basketball. Lacrosse was his ticket, but basketball was never for fun. It was more important than that.
“I tried to do everything I could to be the best and help my team win,” Michael said.
On the lacrosse field, O’Connell was a force as an attacking midfielder and Chaminade’s main scoring threat. But in basketball, he was a distributor rather than a scorer. He rose to prominence as an unflappable point guard, doing college as a freshman and earning his first All-Long Island honor a year later.
Michael was so good it was natural to wonder what his ceiling was. Even Michael had no idea. After O’Connell’s junior season at Chaminade, Rising Stars coach Dan Gimpel recommended O’Connell give basketball another shot and suggested a transfer to Blair Academy, boarding school in New Jersey and a central basketball. O’Connell agreed.
“You’re going to have a kid that you’re going to adore, who’s a winner, and who’s probably going to be one of the toughest players on the team,” Gimpel told Blair basketball coach Ted Mantegna, as Jacob Rayburn reminded us in Cardinal Sports Report.
Even Michael’s coach at Chaminade, Bob Paul, approved the transfer.