O’Neills’ legacy secure with Saints

A four-year starter at Saint Martin’s, guard Roger O’Neill wants to go out with a bang

December 7, 2012 

Looking back, Keith Cooper knows what a steal he landed when he recruited Roger O’Neill to play for him at Saint Martin’s.

It was 2009 – O’Neill’s senior season at Edmonds’ Meadowdale High School – and Cooper, who coaches the Saints’ men’s basketball team, was watching O’Neill lead the Mavericks into the semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. Other coaches watching O’Neill agreed with Cooper that he had a special player.

Now, as O’Neill’s senior season begins in Lacey, he’s closing in on 1,000 career points and likely will end his career on the school’s top-10 list in scoring. He’s also a four-year starter, an uncommon thing in the men’s basketball program. O’Neill and fellow senior Brady Bomber have been in the starting lineup since they were freshmen.

“It’s such a rarity,” Cooper said.

As the 6-foot-5 senior guard/small forward in Cooper’s three-guard system, O’Neill has increased his scoring average each season since starting nine games as a freshman. He has averaged double-digit scoring the past two seasons, including 13 points and 4.2 rebounds a game as a junior.

With an average of more than 40 points of production gone with the graduation of Jeremy Green (18.3 points a game), Brok Pendleton (15.1) and Ryan Votaw (7.2), expect O’Neill’s scoring numbers to rise this season as he looks to give his team scoring punch.

His size and versatility have already created matchup problems for foes, and one aspect of his game he worked on this offseason was his long-range shooting. So far, it has helped. He’s shooting a career-best 46 percent from 3-point range (12-for-26) through seven games and leads the Saints in scoring at 14.7 points a game.

“I’m definitely looking to be more aggressive this year,” O’Neill said. “I’m not looking to shoot more, as it is to put myself in better positions to get better shots.”

It wasn’t until his senior season in high school that O’Neill was looked to for scoring. A starting point guard the previous two years, O’Neill moved off the ball for the first time and his shooting stroke soon emerged. O’Neill had options to pursue baseball at the college level, but basketball was his passion and he chose to suit up for Cooper at Saint Martin’s.

O’Neill is the youngest of four siblings, all of whom played college sports. His two older sisters, Kellie and Kristen, played basketball at the University of Washington, and older brother Richard played baseball at Saint Martin’s.

Kristen O’Neill, a former UW point guard who played in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm, is now an assistant coach for Joan Bonvicini at Seattle University. Older sister Kellie was a member of UW’s 2001 Elite Eight team that lost to Southwest Missouri State in Spokane. And Roger O’Neill was his siblings’ biggest fan growing up, and their success had a big influence on him.

“In a seven-year stretch, I could count the games I missed on one hand,” O’Neill said. “They’re definitely a bit part of inspiring me to play sports and loving the game.”

Cooper has come to rely on different contributions from different players. From O’Neill, it’s swagger, and that’s a positive thing in Cooper’s eyes. When Saint Martin’s trailed Central Washington by 17 points with less than 10 minutes to play in its Great Northwest Athletic Conference opener, O’Neill’s leadership and never-give-up attitude sparked the timeout huddles and helped lead the Saints on a late rally that fell just short, 81-75.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence – in a good way,” Cooper said.

The Saints are off to a 3-4 start (0-2 GNAC) going into a non-league game at Willamette at 7 tonight.

The offense has a different dynamic to it with strong perimeter shooters in the starting lineup, including O’Neill, Bomber and junior-college transfer Evan Coulter from Whatcom Community College.

That sparks O’Neill’s confidence about what lies ahead for the Saints.

“I think we have a chance to do some cool things this year if we put it all together,” O’Neill said, “and I think we will.” SAINT MARTIN’S SAINTS

Coach: Keith Cooper, 10th season (106-142 overall)

2011-12: 10-17 overall, 6-12 GNAC (T-8th place)

Returning starters: 2

Key players: F Roger O’Neill (6-5, sr.), G Brady Bamber (5-10, sr.), G Evan Coulter (5-10, jr.), F Rei Jensen (6-8, jr.), C Matt Dodson (6-11, jr.).

Outlook: It’s tough to replace the 40 points a game lost via the graduation of Jeremy Green (18.5 a game), Brok Pendleton (15) and Ryan Votaw (7). But three junior-college transfers have made a big, early impact on a squad that looks to be more up-tempo. Coulter and Jensen have started all six games, averaging 13.7 and 13.9 points, respectively. O’Neill was selected to the all-GNAC preseason team after averaging 13 points a game as a junior. O’Neill and point guard Brady Bomber have been starters since they were freshmen and have totaled more than 75 starts together.

THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE GEODUCKS

Coach: Arvin Mosley Jr., third season (9-46 overall)

2011-12: 1-26 overall, 0-18 CCC (10th place)

Returning starters: 2

Key players: F Elzie Dickens III (6-4, sr.), F Travis Wagner (6-4, sr.), G KJ Hong (6-1, jr.), F Marc Taylor (6-7, jr.)

Outlook: The Geoducks have nowhere to go but up in the conference standings, and will try to do it with nearly an entirely new roster. Twelve of the 14 players are transfers from other programs. Only Dickens and Wagner are returning. Mosley Jr., said he likes the size of his team; the primary interior players average 6-foot-4 to 6-7. With a 74-66 win in late November over the University of Puget Sound – behind Hong’s career-best 25 points – the program earned its 200th overall victory since it began in the 1997-98 season.

SOUTH PUGET SOUND COMMUNITY COLLEGE CLIPPERS

Coach: Curtis Norwood, third season (16-36 overall)

2011-12: 12-16 overall, 8-8 NWAACC (4th in West Division)

Returning starters: 2

Key players: G Jamey Smith (6-1, so.), F Dustin Meade (6-5, so.); G AJ Fuller (6-0, so.), G Scott Ewing (5-9, so.).

Outlook: The Clippers have made steady improvement under Norwood and qualified for the NWAACC tournament last season. Norwood recruited speedy guards for his up-tempo offense, and while the bulk of the roster features players with South Sound ties, there are players from Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Utah and British Columbia. Smith, an Olympia graduate, had a career-high 40 points in a 110-101 win over Shoreline this season.

SAINT MARTIN’S SAINTS

Coach: Tim Healy, 18th season (203-234 overall)

2011-12: 9-19 overall, 4-14 GNAC (9th place)

Returning starters: 2

Key players: F Chelsea Haskey (6-1, jr.), G Jori Skorpik (5-2, so.), F Brooke Paulson (5-10, so.), G Jordyn Richardson (5-9, so.), G Angela Gelhar (5-6, so.)

Outlook: The Saints are young, but the youth is experienced. Twelve of the 16 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores, meaning those young players will have a chance to make an impression early. Redshirt freshman MacKenzie Taylor, Washington state’s Class 1A player of the year in 2011 at Freeman High School, is back after tearing her ACL in the season opener a year ago. Paulson, from Buckley, has scored in double figures in six of the Saints’ eight games this season.

THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE GEODUCKS

Coach: Monica Heuer, 12th season (90-229 overall)

2011-12: 7-21 overall, 5-13 CCC (T-7th place)

Returning starters: 4

Key players: F Danielle Swain, (6-0, jr.), F Jessica Edge (6-2, sr.), G Sammi Clark (5-8, jr.), G Jessica Denmon (5-7, jr.)

Outlook: Can the Geoducks sustain the momentum from their playoff season of 2011-12? For the first time since 2007-08, Evergreen made the Cascade Collegiate Conference playoffs after its seventh-place tie in the league standings. And with four of five starters returning, back-to-back playoff appearances are a strong possibility. Swain is a double-double machine; she ranked third in the conference in scoring (15 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (9.6 rpg) and was a preseason All-CCC selection.

SOUTH PUGET SOUND COMMUNITY COLLEGE CLIPPERS

Coach: Mychael Heuer, third season (6-45 overall)

2011-12: 6-19 overall, 3-13 NWAACC (8th in West Division)

Returning starters: 2

Key players: G McKenzie Raben (5-8, so.), G Sarah Houchen (5-9, so.), F Renee Willey (6-1, so.).

Outlook: With nine players on the roster, this is the highest turnout in Heuer’s tenure. Six of the nine are freshmen. Houchen (4.2 ppg last season) and Willey (5.1 ppg) will shoulder the bulk of the load for the inexperienced Clippers. Willey, a North Mason graduate, had a team-best 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in the team’s NWAACC opener against Shoreline.

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick mwochnick@theolympian.com

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