HYDE PARK – The man picked to refuel Withrow High School basketball will save some big money on gas in the coming months.
Shaun O’Connell, who had most recently coached Ponitz Career Tech in Dayton, will now make a leisurely drive from Pleasant Ridge to Withrow’s spacious gymnasium to direct the Tigers on the hardwood. At age 32, he already has 14 years of experience.
He inherits a team that had just three seniors and suffered through a 2-21 record. Just two seasons ago, Withrow won 20 games and was co-champion of the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference.
Athletic Director Darren Braddix hired O’Connell based on a good recommendation. It came from former Withrow football coach Jim Place, who now is coaching at Dayton Ponitz.
“He called and gave him a ringing endorsement,” Braddix said. “He said they hated to lose him, but he would do a fantastic job.”
It turns out Place is friends with O’Connell’s family.
“He went above and beyond what he needed to do,” O’Connell said. “He’s a good friend.”
Ponitz Career Tech is in the location of the former Dayton Patterson. After a pair of losing seasons, O’Connell turned around Ponitz with consecutive seasons of 16-6 and 19-6.
Guard Elijah Pitts is Withrow’s top returner, averaging 17.9 points per game as a sophomore. During the season he had four games where he scored 30 or more points. O’Connell has noticed the output of some of his new underclassmen.
“Our new slogan is going to be ‘Restore the Roar’ in Tiger basketball,” O’Connell said. “There’s some good programs in that league (ECC). We’re going to get to work and try to get the kids rejuvenated.”
From the AAU circuit, O’Connell was familiar with former Withrow players Yancy Gates and Anthony McBride, who both went on to play at the University of Cincinnati. He also knew former UC assistant George Jackson (also a former Withrow coach) when he came by to recruit players at Dayton Dunbar.
O’Connell served as an assistant at Dayton Carroll and Dunbar before getting the Ponitz job. His career on the bench began shortly after his prep career at Carroll.
“I was fortunate that my high school coach let me help him right away,” O’Connell said. “I kind of knew I was going to be a coach earlier rather than later.”
O’Connell hit the ground running, with one orange shirt and a plan to meet with his new Tigers a day after his announcement became official. He plans to take Withrow to play this summer at Xavier, Columbus and at Dayton Dunbar. He would like to play as many games as possible during the allowable coaching time in June.
“We have four goals,” O’Connell said. “We’re going to try to become better people, better students, be prepared and make continuous improvement. If we can get better every single day, the big things will take care of themselves.”