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Largo point guard Mike O'Donnell, perhaps the county's best player, has few options when the Packers need points.
By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 28, 2002
LARGO -- He will have no Billy McDade to feed the ball to on the break, no Alvin Gunter to set up in the post, no Billy Richardson on the wing. This year, when Largo senior point guard Mike O'Donnell looks for someone to score, he will have to settle for the best player in Pinellas County.
Largo's top returning player is one of its few returning players. The Packers begin the season without their leading scorer (McDade) and rebounder (Gunter), but in O'Donnell they have the major component of what was one of the county's top scoring teams. The Packers were ranked No. 2 in Class 5A for most of last season before getting upset in the district tournament by Clearwater to finish 25-4.
The 5-foot-11 O'Donnell's uncanny knack for the game, his ability to handle the ball and the press, and an ever-improving jump shot give the Packers hope in what should be a rebuilding year.
There is little debate about who is the area's top player. While most coaches trumpet the likes of Lakewood 6-8 center Brian Ligon and super sophomore forward Sean Morrison, Clearwater point guard Luke Postorino, Countryside guard Julian Mascoll or Palm Harbor's Garrett Tyler, they have weaknesses that can be exposed.
When it comes to O'Donnell they're not so sure.
"He plays well against everybody," Northeast coach Dave Redding said. "Whether it's an elite or a national team or the best team around here, he has a good game. No one can make him look bad. No one can take him out of his game. There's not a lot of those guys around."
"Mike O'Donnell is the best player," Clearwater coach Jack Coit said, "because he understands the game of basketball."
And he understands this: the upcoming season will provide him more challenges than the previous one, because without all the weapons again at his disposal, O'Donnell becomes the focus of every opponent. O'Donnell said he has faith in teammates such as Trevor Bing and Fred Marshall, who will step in and keep defenses honest. But if not, he also knows he will be counted on to be more than just a point guard.
"I think everyone is right, it's going to be different, but I don't know about the pressure on me rather than the pressure on the team," said O'Donnell, who verbally committed to Florida this summer but changed his mind two weeks ago.
"We're going to be smaller and lacking in some height, but I believe we definitely make up for it with speed."
That speed will lead a run-and-gun attack that might make last year's offense look pedestrian. O'Donnell, who has added 20 pounds since last season, will push the ball at every opportunity, hoping to compensate for his team's lack of an inside game.
"Last year was a great year, but we didn't run as much as we hopefully plan on running this year," O'Donnell said. "Now, it's just kind of like here's the ball and let's go."