(Danvers) Senior Night at St. John’s Prep was, “awesome,” according to 18-year-old Ryan O’Connell of Ipswich.
Who could argue with his assessment after seeing him honored (as a senior) and then get himself into the St. John’s basketball record book as their all-time scorer. Add that the Eagles defeated visiting Malden High 77-73, he put up 31 points, and you can understand what he meant by “awesome.”
Ryan, pictured here with his mother Maureen, may be a 6-3 sharpshooter but St. John’s Coach Dan Letarte was quick to mention that Ryan’s abilities go beyond basketball. “No question that he is a student/athlete. His grade point average is 3.5. He’ll be going to Bowdoin (Brunswick, Maine) in the fall.”
“I chose Bowdoin because I wanted to get into the best academic school I could get into and play basketball at,” explained Ryan after the game.
Before the game, however, the talk at St. John’s on Valentine’s Day evening wasn’t about grades it was about Ryan needing four points to pass Matt Symmes and become the school’s top scorer. Sporting a 25-point average, you knew it wasn’t a matter of if he would get the points needed but when it would happen.
Ryan was stymied by an effective box-and-one defense in the first period but erupted for 27 points in the second and third periods. The record-breaking basket came at the end of a 2-on-1 fast break with sophomore playmaker Brendan Felder. “Brendan told me that he wanted to get the assist on the record-breaking basket and he did.”
Ryan’s first four baskets in this game were two-pointers and then the long-range shots started to fall. He made five of the next six 3’s he tried despite being tightly defended.
Coach Letarte has encouraged Ryan to shoot the long-range shot. “He shoots 52% from out there and he’s not afraid to take that shot at any time in the game. I have confidence in him.”
“I played the post as a freshman on the JV team,” said Ryan. “I realized as a sophomore that I wasn’t tall enough to play that position on the varsity so that’s when I started working on my 3-point shooting and that’s been my specialty.”
The consistent release and rotation on his 3-point shots comes from hours of practice. Ryan is a regular at the Ipswich Y. “I know for a fact that either before practice or after practice he’ll go over to the Ipswich Y and put up 200 three-pointers and work on his ball-handling skills,” said Coach Letarte.
An injury to a starting St. John’s guard put Ryan into the starting lineup in Game #10 of his sophomore year. “It was against BC High the eventual Number 1 seed in the North,” recalled Coach Letarte. “Ryan scored 24 points and became a fixture in the starting lineups thereafter”.
On hand to witness Ryan’s record-setting performance, and pass congratulations his way, were many of his friends from Ipswich including Tiger coach Doug Woodworth.
(Submitted to The Town Common on February 15, 2008)