There’s a sign in the gym at Colonial Elementary School bearing the names of the greatest basketball players in Plymouth Whitemarsh history.
Senior Taylor O’Brien shares something with all of those names in that her name belongs up there with them when her career concludes sometime this month. But O’Brien has something no one else on that sign does.
She has more points to her name than anyone else in Plymouth Whitemarsh’s storied history. Heading into Friday night’s 6A PIAA tournament opener against Central York (7:30 p.m. at Northern York HS), O’Brien stands at 2,003 career points.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that nobody does this, it blows my mind when I think about it sometimes,” O’Brien said. “Nobody has ever done this at this school. Everything’s coming together, the girls are super-supportive, we’re all getting open looks and passing and it’s all flowing together.”
O’Brien was fantastic last year. This year, she’s upped her numbers across the board – points, rebounds, assists, steals – and on Saturday became the first Colonial to ever score 2,000 points. While the 5-foot-9 guard understands the magnitude of it, the number hasn’t fully sunk in yet.
Also in typical O’Brien fashion, she hasn’t really been able to enjoy it since the milestone came in a loss to Abington in a seeding game for the state tournament. That’s a huge part of the reason why O’Brien has been so good. She’s not out there to score points, she’s out there to win games.
“It’s all been working to get my team better and help my team,” O’Brien said. “The main goal is to win. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure my team wins. That’s the goal, for us to have a successful season and me going out there and producing, that’s my way of helping the team.”
It’s all about belief. O’Brien is supremely confident in her ability, but she’s not arrogant. She’s not the type to boast or broadcast her accomplishments and isn’t all that comfortable talking about herself but on the court, she believes fully in herself.
O’Brien said that confidence comes from her parents and as the oldest of four siblings, she plays that way to show her two younger sisters and younger brother that they can accomplish whatever they want if they work hard at it.
“It’s all about confidence. I tell my teammates all the time you have to take every shot you want to make, believe every shot is going in,” O’Brien said. “If you don’t believe it’s going in, then it’s not going in. You have to practice hard and be confident in everything you do on a basketball court.
“My parents tell me all the time just being confident in whatever you do will make you 10 times better at whatever you’re doing.”
PW’s won a lot of games the last two seasons and the Bucknell recruit has had a lot to do with those wins. As a freshman, O’Brien averaged 12.6 points per game as a left-hand dominant driver. As a sophomore, she upped her scoring to 19.1 ppg and made first team All-SOL American for the first time but was still mostly a driver and finisher around the rim.
One of the top track and field athletes in the state and a good volleyball player, O’Brien’s speed in transition and her leaping ability are elite. O’Brien was already working to expand her game, but PW coach Dan Dougherty felt there was one area the guard had to improve to become truly unguardable.
“I remember a workout between her sophomore and junior year and we talked about her trying to become the all-time leading scorer and I said the shot that will make you that is the 3-point shot,” Dougherty said. “That shot will make you unguardable and her eyes kind of lit up. You add those elements to what she can already do, and it’s borderline unstoppable.”
After making a combined 20 3-pointers as a freshman and sophomore, O’Brien made 37 in her junior season. So far this year, the senior has connected on 51 shots from beyond the arc. None were bigger than the deep shot she hit to force overtime in the team’s first meeting with SOL American rival Upper Dublin.
O’Brien rates that game as the best one she’s ever played and there’s really not much of an argument. The guard went off for 36 points as the Colonials beat the Cardinals in double-overtime on Jan. 6. That trey was more than just a buzzer beater. When O’Brien buried it, she became the highest scoring female player in PW history.
“That wasn’t the prettiest shot but it was all in the moment and you have to believe it’s going in,” O’Brien said. “You have to believe in yourself and it works off of that so much. You believe in yourself, then everyone around you believes you can do it. We rally each other up.”
A few days later, in a 29-point effort against Hatboro-Horsham on January 9, O’Brien passed Thomas Young to become the top scorer in school history. O’Brien had a chance to meet young and called the former record holder “inspirational.”
It took O’Brien just 58 games to reach 1,000 points which the senior said was the only personal goal she set for herself when she began playing at PW. After hitting the mark early in her junior year, O’Brien went into a bit of a self-described “funk,” not sure what to try and chase next.
“I knew freshman year I wanted to get 1,000, that was my goal and after I got my goal I almost felt like ‘I don’t know what to do now,’” O’Brien said. “You have to keep setting goals for yourself so you can be driven to go to practice every day, go into games and perform. It’s a lifestyle you have to live with to want to do your best in everything you’re doing.”
She set her sights on 1,500, then the girls’ scoring record, the overall record and finally, the elusive 2,000-point barrier. Amazingly, it only took O’Brien 44 more games to score that second 1,000 points despite being the focal point defensively of every team the Colonials played.
In 102 career games, she’s scored double figured 92 times. She’s now an 80 percent foul shooter, upping that mark from 67 percent her first two seasons. She has eclipsed 500 rebounds, 300 steals and 250 assists in her career. After averaging 22.1 ppg last year, O’Brien is posting 23.5 ppg this year, and in 14 career postseason games, her average rises to 24 points a night.
O’Brien is a three-time unanimous first team All-SOL pick, and made first team all-state in 6A last season after helping the Colonials to a District I runner-up finish and the state quarterfinals. She’s a finalist for PA Gatorade Player of the Year and was named the suburban recipient of the prestigious Markwood Club’s Player of the Year award.
“As a math guy, I love the statistics and to study the history of everything but no, it doesn’t sink in,” Dougherty said. “When you try to comprehend, take CJ Aiken, he’s one of the greatest players to ever come through here. From a scoring standpoint, Taylor has scored in two years more points than he scored in four years and in fewer games. The ability to score is just incredible and I think it’ll take a long time to sink in.”
There are times when she feels completely unstoppable on the court. She’s been able to find that proverbial zone that every basketball player wants to experience, where the basket looks like a hula-hoop and the defender in front of them might as well not be there.
“You’re trying to help your team win and you get a basket like ‘that’s good, let me get another one,’ then you do and you just try to keep it going,” O’Brien said. “Once you get on a roll, it becomes easy and it just flows. The girls notice you’re on a roll and we can point out whenever somebody’s having a good stretch and we just get the ball to them.”
What makes O’Brien happiest though, is that she’s reached all these milestones as part of a successful team. She said one of her favorite moments this season was when teammate Lauren Fortescue scored her 1,000th point on their Senior Night. The Colonials are 77-25 so far in her four seasons at PW and O’Brien feels all her scoring wouldn’t mean as much if the team hadn’t been winning.
The Colonials celebrate as a team. It might be celebrating O’Brien breaking a record or Fortescue hitting her 1,000th point, but it’s “PW did this together.”
“It feels so much better that my team has been here with me for all of it and we’ve been winning,” O’Brien said. “Some of us have been playing together since sixth grade and it’s crazy to think that we’re going our separate ways in college. Even in all my other sports, we have a good time but our basketball team is a family and it’s been a family even back before freshman year.”
O’Brien’s influence isn’t just contained on the basketball court.
“The numbers in our program are because of a kid like this. They want to play with her, they want to be like her,” Dougherty said. “You see more and more schools that have to cancel teams and our numbers are just exploding. A couple times we’ve had youth teams come to games and Taylor’s signing autographs and taking pictures with the kids. Having a kid like that in your program leads to future success.”
Plymouth Whitemarsh will open a new gym next year and it’s a safe bet the names of all those greats, the Jaylen Bonds, the CJ Aikens, John Salmons, Tammy Greene, Nikki Flocco, Chuck Moore and Thomas Young, will be featured.
It’s also a sure bet Taylor O’Brien’s name will be added to that ledger.
“When someone sees my name, I want them not think about me, but this team and this season,” O’Brien said. “It wasn’t just one person, we all did it, we gave PW one of its best seasons it’s had in a while. Yes, the 2,000 points is insane to think about, but there’s been a lot more to it.”