Plymouth Whitemarsh’s O’Brien has season to remember

Taylor O’Brien really wasn’t trying to score that many points this season.

Yes, that sounds a little odd coming from a player who dropped in 663 points, scored at least 30 points four times during a five-game midseason stretch and led the entire Suburban One League in scoring at 22 points per game. O’Brien really wasn’t going out there every night trying to take every shot or score every point.

That’s a big part of the reason why the 5-foot-9 junior guard was able to actually do it.

O’Brien’s breakout season has led her to be selected at the Times-Herald/Reporter/Montgomery Media Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

“I wasn’t purposely trying to score all the time, I just took the open looks when they were there,” O’Brien said. “It kept adding up and it was just an amazing experience. Reaching my 1,000th point as a junior is just insane, I can’t even wrap my head around that. All of the support I’ve gotten is incredible.”

O’Brien’s numbers were simply put, ridiculous. Rarely coming off the floor, the junior also totaled 151 rebounds, 90 assists and 85 steals. She shot 51 percent from the floor overall and showed off a much-improved outside shot, hitting 37 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. The junior, who also excels at volleyball and track and field at PW, is currently the fourth-highest scoring girls player in school history.

The Colonials went 27-3 in the 2016-17 season with a 22-0 regular season mark, also reaching the District 1-6A final and the PIAA quarterfinals.

Here’s another absolutely staggering fact about her season. According to PW coach Dan Dougherty, O’Brien’s 663 points are the highest ever single-season total for any Colonial player, boy or girl. Considering some of the names that have come through Plymouth Whitemarsh on both sides through the years, that’s quite a note.

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Taylor O’Brien goes to the basket during game against McCaskey in first round of PIAA State Tournament at Cheltenham High School on Friday, March 10 , 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

“Being a math teacher, I love to look at the statistics and things like that and statistically, it’s just incredible,” Dougherty said. “To be able to maintain that level of output for that many games is really special. The only one who’s ever been close in scoring was Tammy Green, who went on to be the national player of the year for Division II at Philly U.

“It’s one thing to be able to do it in regular season games but for her to maintain it, and for some of the special performances she had in the playoffs, it definitely goes down as the greatest single season in PW girls basketball history.”

During the season, there were two constants. The first was O’Brien being at the center of it all and the second was O’Brien not taking any solo credit for it. It was always “we played well” or “the team did it,” and not much about her exploits.

O’Brien’s parents — Joe and Tishara — played collegiate sports, so it was only natural that Taylor gravitated to athletics. In volleyball, she’s not the star of the show, but she plays her part and got to be a part of a long postseason run the Colonials this past fall. In the spring, she’s a returning state medalist in the high jump and has medaled at districts in hurdles and high jump and also runs the 400, 800 and 4×400 relay.

Basketball has always been her passion however. She competes in club track and field over the summer, as well as plays AAU basketball with Philly Triple Threat alongside a handful of local players like Abington’s Britney James and Upper Merion’s Jordan Wilson. Playing AAU ball is where O’Brien’s talent really started to show itself.

“My coaches would always tell me I had a gift and I couldn’t waste my gift and I was something special,” O’Brien said. “I didn’t want to let them down. My whole family, they’ve put in hours of work driving me to practices and games and I’m just trying to do everything I can to make them proud.”

Naturally, O’Brien’s exploits put her on the college radar this season. She’s planning to start taking her first visits in the coming weeks and holds several Division I offers, including some Atlantic 10 and Patriot League schools.

A natural lefty, O’Brien leaned a little too much on her dominant hand her first two years, relying on her incredible speed to get down the floor faster than everyone else and score easy layups. Teams adjusted and O’Brien knew that to get her game to the next level, she had to start using her right hand more, as well as work on her outside shooting.

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Taylor O’Brien lofts a shot over Central Bucks South’s Alexa Brodie during their District 1-6A semifinal on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2017.

She’s still better going left than right, but O’Brien can still turn the corner and get to the rim when she does get forced the other way. For as fast as the guard is up and down the floor, she plays at a controlled pace and when she gets into the lane, more than likely she’s either going to score or draw a foul.

“You can’t leave your feet and if your leave your feet, she has such great body control, she’s going to create contact,” Souderton coach Lynn Carroll said after her team knocked out PW in the state quarterfinals. “You have to experience it. We don’t have anybody who can pretend to be Taylor O’Brien. They had to experience her speed and quickness.”

The secret to O’Brien’s success was finding the most open look possible every time down the floor and not trying to score it herself every time. It led to plenty of open shots for teammates Lauren Fortescue, Laurel Suchsland, Lauren Coscia and Ali Diamond and plenty of open shots for O’Brien herself.

Dougherty described O’Brien as more of “an insane athlete who played basketball” her first two years, but the junior grew into a complete player this season. She’s also not done working, saying she needs to get stronger and continue to hone her off hand and shooting.

Plenty of eyes will be on O’Brien and PW next season. The Colonials lose Suchsland and Coscia, but bring everyone else back and have some JV players ready to take a step up. If next season is anything like this one, it will certainly be one to remember.

“Coming off of this amazing season, we have to believe we can only do better from here,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to have six or seven seniors, we’ll have veterans on our team who are going to know how to play in any situation and we’re not going in as the young kids so hopefully we can be mature and know what to do.”LISH

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