Jon Connelly was blessed with many gifts. He’s quick, and he’s tougher than The New York Times crossword puzzle. He has a competitive streak that knows no bounds. He’s strong, and he’s brighter than the full moon on a cloudless night.
For all his gifts, the one thing Connelly wasn’t given was the gift of size. He’s 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds. That wouldn’t matter if Connelly spent his days swimming laps, kicking a soccer ball, lining up putts or perfecting his forehand. No, Connelly’s first and only love is basketball, and his family is hoops crazy, too. Connelly’s earliest memories involve gleaming hardwood floors, squeaky shoes and the constant, almost heartbeat-like cadence, of a dribbled basketball.
Connelly was born to hoop, and when it’s all said and done, he’ll go down as one of the best to wear a St. Mary’s uniform. The standout point guard for the Dragons took over sole possession of the St. Mary’s all-time scoring record last week when he pumped in 37 points against St. Pius to give him 1,469 for his career. It puts him just ahead of Kevin Spradling, who had held the record of 1,461 since 1997. “It’s just an honor,” Connelly, 17, says of putting up so many points. “I think it shows how hard I’ve worked.”
It’s also a testament to his talent and longevity. Connelly has missed three games since joining the starting lineup as a freshman. Now there are plenty of kids with basketball talent who never see the varsity starting lineup as 14 year olds. But Connelly was different. St. Mary’s coach Ed Perniciaro put him in and watched him go to work. Connelly averaged 14 points that season despite playing against kids that were much larger than him. “When I played select basketball in eighth grade, we would travel,” Connelly says. “We would play teams where everyone was 6’6”.”
Connelly knows no fear on the court. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen or experienced in his time running the show for the Dragons. And that’s what Connelly loves to do: Run the show. A consummate point guard, Connelly enjoys scoring but prefers to handle the ball, break down defenders and get his teammates quality shots. And, when the opportunity presents itself, go score a few buckets.
Because of his talents and the various supporting cast around him during his time at St. Mary’s, Connelly needed to score in order for the team to have the best chance to win. A lefty, Connelly has a jump shot that has only gotten better with time. He uses his speed to get to the basket, and he can finish with both hands in a variety of ways. Whether it’s a floater, a layup, a reverse layup–whatever. If he can get the ball near the rim, chances are, it’s going in.
But for the Dragons to reach the goals they’ve set this winter, offense won’t get them there. St. Mary’s must be stout defensively and that’s somewhere Connelly says he has improved the most. “I used to play no defense,” Connelly says. “When you’re a senior, you put a lot more heart into your game.”
Being a senior has opened Connelly’s eyes to some things. Getting older will do that. His maturity has made him a better player and teammate this winter. “I can’t take anything for granted. You see younger guys that remind you of you, and you want to help them and offer advice,” Connelly says. “I put so much heart into it now. I’ve grown up a lot.”
DAVID KVIDAHL HAS COVERED HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS FOR 10 YEARS AT SUBURBAN JOURNALS AND STLHIGHSCHOOLSPORTS.COM. CONTACT HIM AT DKVIDAHL@STLTODAY.COM. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @STLPREPSCRIBE.