O'Connor a force for Mount St. Joe

Basketball: The senior guard has shown the touch of an artist in helping push the Gaels to a 15-2 record and No. 4 ranking.

January 19, 2003|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Some of basketball standout Kyle O'Connor's drawings are on display in a showcase at Mount St. Joseph in Irvington.

They are abstract art, which is difficult for many to understand because it focuses on a different vision of reality.

But there is nothing abstract about O'Connor's basketball skills. He has averaged 14.4 points per game, tops for the No. 4-ranked Gaels, who jumped from No. 7 in the previous week's Sun poll by virtue of three victories, including a 73-68 upset of then-No. 4 St. Frances last Sunday.

O'Connor made 10 straight free throws in the fourth quarter against St. Frances to keep the Gaels alive in a highly competitive Catholic/Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference race. The Gaels are 15-2 overall and 6-2 in the league after Friday's 58-41 victory over No. 15 Calvert Hall.

In Mount St. Joseph's biggest win of the season, O'Connor scored 20 points as the Gaels upset then-No. 1 Archbishop Spalding by 11 points. He grabbed a crucial rebound late in the game and converted two free throws to help ice it.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior shooting guard from Columbia is delighting coach Pat Clatchey.

"It's hard to find a premier shooter who is a solid all-around player like he is," Clatchey said. "This year, he's finally had a chance to shine, and he's stepped to the forefront. He's really playing out of his mind right now."

O'Connor had a solid season a year ago when he averaged 11 points, six rebounds and four assists as a small forward. Clatchey described him as a role player as a sophomore.

The Gaels put together a 13-game winning streak last season. They currently have won seven straight and 28 of their past 31.

"He's been a big part of that streak," said Clatchey, who is coaching his 11th season at the school. "He's stepped up to the challenge of playing tough defense and guarding the other team's best shooter. He's worked so hard that he's opened college recruiters' eyes, but he's still being under-recruited."

O'Connor's father, Kevin, who ran track in college at St. John's, said that a lot of Division III schools have recruited his son, but that only recently have larger schools expressed interest.

O'Connor, who lives in the Oakland Mills school district, has a 3.2 grade-point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. His best subjects are math and science.

The road to Mount St. Joseph began 10 years ago in the Columbia Basketball Association recreational league. O'Connor later played for the Columbia Heat travel team and for both Cecil-Kirk (three years) and Mount Royal (one year) in the Amateur Athletic Union.

He has played with Gaels starting power forward Anthony Fair for the last eight years. Fair, 6-7, is from the Wilde Lake district.

"Anthony and I have played a lot of schoolyard basketball together," O'Connor said.

The starting team for Cecil-Kirk, the state runner-up and eighth in the nation in 2000, included Fair, Tavon Nelson and Kyle Garrison of Lake Clifton and Levi Stukes of Randallstown.

"We made it to nationals three straight years," said O'Connor. "When I came to Cecil-Kirk from the county, people said I wouldn't be good, and that motivated me to work on my game every day."

Jared Bradford of undefeated, No. 11 Long Reach, played against O'Connor both in travel competition and AAU. Bradford played with the Columbia Jaguars and First Baptist, respectively.

"Kyle is a great player," Bradford said. "He's very strong. But what makes him so good is that he's an all-around player who can shoot outside or drive equally as well."

O'Connor's highest-scoring game this season was 21 points, against York-Suburban in a holiday tournament. He and Will Thomas are the Gaels' top offensive threats.

"He has leadership skills, works hard and makes the most out of his athletic ability," said his father. `The last few years, he's gotten a good spiritual grounding, and that has helped him. He's worked at senior citizens' homes and soup kitchens and given of himself."

Kyle is a member of the Mount St. Joseph's Leadership Club that performs such tasks as assisting at the school's open houses and helping students with homework.

"He is a really nice kid who comes from a quality family,"Clatchey said.

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