Jimmy O'Connell of Wheatley staves off the defensive move by...

Jimmy O'Connell of Wheatley staves off the defensive move by West Hempstead's Isaiah Blunt during a Nassau boys basketball game in Old Westbury on Monday, February 7, 2022. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Prior to his final season, Jimmy O’Connell had already established himself as a respectable scoring option.

But once this past summer rolled around, the Wheatley guard upped his game to the next level, increasing his scoring average from 18 points per game last season to 21.9 entering Monday night — making him the fourth-highest boys basketball scorer in Nassau County.

O’Connell displayed his scoring prowess once again on Senior Night, scoring 24 points as Wheatley defeated West Hempstead, 72-37 in Nassau B-I.

"This past summer was a big one for me," O’Connell said. "Did a lot of workouts and AAU. I played against a lot of good players this summer and I think that really accelerated my game."

The Wildcats (10-4) pressed from the outset and utilized their speed to cause a bevy of turnovers that enabled them to get out to a sizeable early lead and never look back.

Four consecutive layups by O’Connell gave the Wildcats an 11-2 advantage with 5:36 remaining in the first. Wheatley extended the lead to 18-4 about three minutes later with a corner three from Michael Santarelli followed by an O’Connell floater. O’Connell notched 10 points in the opening period, as the Wildcats led 23-9 entering the second.

"That was big for us," O’Connell said. "We always like to get the first punch. We like to run and it was nice to get out to a great start."

O’Connell showed a feathery touch from the outside to begin the second, splashing in a high-arcing three from the left wing before tacking on a jumper at the 4:09 mark that pushed Wheatley ahead 29-12.

"Jimmy just lets the game come to him," Wheatley coach Rich Slater said. "He doesn’t force things and he makes other people better. He’s a scoring point guard but we’ve been playing better because he’s been trusting his teammates."

Santarelli knocked down a pair of treys himself for the Wildcats before halftime, and Mike Delgais, Will Karikas and Nate Song tacked on five points apiece to help put Wheatley ahead 41-19 entering the locker room.

Wheatley cruised in the second half, finishing off the wire-to-wire victory.

As the Wildcats prepare to embark on the playoffs, Slater said there’s one main reason why he’s confident in Wheatley’s chances of earning its first county title since 2014.

"Any time you have a kid like Jimmy," Slater said, "you always have a chance."


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