Wheatley’s O’Connell carries on family tradition, flourishes in basketball

Wheatley’s O’Connell carries on family tradition, flourishes in basketball
Photo by Jordana Sheinman.


Growing up in Nassau County, the Wheatley School’s Jimmy O’Connell didn’t have to look far to see what athletic greatness looked like.

Everywhere he peeked inside his own family, there was sports excellence. His aunt Tara was a star softball player for St. John’s. His cousin Alexandra was a standout Division I basketball player for Lafayette College. His Dad, Jamie, hooped at Central Connecticut State, instilling the love of the hardwood in Jimmy.

And closer to his own age, Jimmy was always chasing and defending cousin Michael, who is currently the starting point guard for Stanford University as a sophomore.

Sports was in Jimmy’s blood, and it seemed all but inevitable he’d succeed somewhere.

“Alexandra was older than me so I didn’t play against her that much, but Michael and I were closer and played a lot of 1-on-1,” Jimmy said. “I knew he was really good, and I always wanted to show him I could play, too. He definitely made me better because he was so good.”

All that family competition certainly has helped the 5-foot-10 O’Connell thrive. He’s just completed a spectacular senior season at Wheatley, ranking in the top 5 in Nassau County in scoring average, pouring in 21 points per game and dishing out 6.7 assists per contest as well.

Hitting from 3-point range and on drives to the basket, O’Connell raised his game to a new level this season, helping Wheatley to the Class B semifinals, where it lost to Malverne on Feb. 21.

“He’s just a scorer in multiple ways, a kid who can beat you from anywhere,” said first-year Wildcats coach Rich Slater. “He’s gotten stronger and smarter this year and really has helped his teammates tremendously.”

O’Connell, 17, credits Slater for the team’s strong 14-6 record and for helping him improve, “just with all the skillwork we did in the preseason, and all of us buying into what he was saying.”

But in raising his game from a junior season that saw him average 18 points per contest, O’Connell pointed to his summer with the New York Jayhawks, a top AAU outfit, with helping him improve.

“Playing against great players who were going to Division I schools made me a lot better,” O’Connell said. “Working on my fitness, and getting stronger, doing all that made me improve.”

Slater said O’Connell, who said his NBA role model is Nets star Kyrie Irving, has heard from “a bunch” of Division I coaches but hasn’t received scholarship offers yet. But there’s still time, and O’Connell seems to be still getting better.

“I would love to play college basketball, and then maybe a career in finance,” O’Connell said. “This season has been so much fun, of course I want to keep playing.”



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