Connor O’Toole could have gotten sick and tired of his older brother during all of their stay-at-home time together over the course of the past few months. Maybe he did.
Whatever the case, the 2020 Gilmour Academy graduate didn’t want to stray from his sibling, which he made known after committing June 2 to continue his basketball career with the Blue Streaks at John Carroll University.
The gang is getting back together after spending two years apart. O’Toole and his brother, Owen O’Toole, a 2018 Gilmour graduate, were varsity teammates during the Lancers’ 2016-17 and 2017-18 campaigns.
The elder O’Toole is now a rising junior at JCU.
“My decision took a while, because I was trying to weigh out what I wanted socially, academically and basketball-wise,” the younger O’Toole said. “And, ultimately, what it came down to was the chance at John Carroll to play again with my brother.
“I was blessed to break a lot of records and stuff like that at Gilmour, but nothing beat the opportunity that I got to play with Owen. That was my favorite experience at Gilmour. My greatest accomplishment was being able to play with him for two years.”
Joining Gilmour after their dad, Sean O’Toole, took over as the Lancers’ athletic director in 2016, the O’Toole brothers were together for the 16-8 and 17-7 campaigns under former head coach David Pfundstein, who accumulated 237 wins in 20 seasons at the helm. Both of those campaigns ended with district semifinal losses against Warrensville Heights.
The younger O’Toole got the nod to play in the varsity rotation as a freshman, getting increased minutes after then-senior Jackson Clark went down with a shoulder injury that season. O’Toole finished with 55 points and 18 assists as a freshman under Pfundstein, who is now an assistant coach at John Carroll.
“He’s very personable,” O’Toole said of Pfundstein. “He was our dean of students, and, even when he wasn’t my coach the past two years, I knew I could go to him for anything. I could go talk to him about basketball or stuff outside of basketball. He’s just a really great guy, and he’s always looking out for me and my brother and all his players.”
But Pfundstein isn’t the only JCU coach whom O’Toole is familiar with.
Head coach Pete Moran, a 2008 JCU graduate who just finished his third year at the helm, succeeds his father, Mike Moran, who held a 25-year tenure at the helm. O’Toole’s father was a graduate assistant under the elder Moran when he first started at JCU.
Sean O’Toole also played high school basketball at St. Ignatius when the Wildcats’ staff included coach Frank O’Brien, who is now an assistant at John Carroll.
“Growing up, I’ve known every single Moran,” Connor O’Toole said. “And coach O’Brien coached my dad in high school. I’ve known him my whole life too. So, I definitely like the connections of knowing those coaches. It just felt like a family type, which I like a lot.”
John Carroll very much is a family affair for O’Toole, who plans to study sports management with a possible business minor. Not only does his brother already go there, but both of his parents, his grandpa and numerous aunts and uncles also went there.
Playing four years of varsity hoops at Gilmour, O’Toole, a 6-foot-3 guard, rewrote the Lancers’ record book, including most assists in a game (13), season (156) and career (393), as well as most 3-pointers in a season (83) and career (211) in 96 games played.
Other notables, O’Toole scored 938 points and took 68 charges as a Lancer.
After getting accustomed to the varsity game as a freshman, O’Toole made his presence known to the rest of Northeast Ohio as a catch-and-shoot guy who knocked down 51 treys during his sophomore season to help spread the floor for then-senior Dechlan Kirincic, a 6-foot-6 standout who accumulated 214 of his 593 career rebounds his senior year – both program marks.
“My role was more to hit shots, space the floor and be there when guys doubled down on (Kirincic) or pinched in on guys like CJ (Charleston), which was nice,” he said. “But, obviously, my junior and senior year, my role changed a lot.”
With head coach Dan DeCrane taking over the reins in 2018, the Lancers transitioned to more of a run-and-stun offense with then-senior point guard Charleston driving the lane and O’Toole becoming the second option with 366 points as a two-guard. Gilmour finished 17-6 with a North Coast League title, averaging a program-best 79.3 points per game that season.
When coach Moran first took the reins three years ago at John Carroll, he implemented a similar fast-paced offense that averaged 98.1 points – the fourth most per game in the nation.
“Both coaches those seasons definitely liked the quick shot. The first open look they got, they would take,” O’Toole said. “And, obviously, that Carroll team had a lot of great scorers. So, they put up a lot of numbers. I remember watching a few of their games that year.
“So, at John Carroll, they like to play fast; they like to score a lot; they like to shoot the three, which, obviously, I like. Overall, I just like the way they play and how coach Pete (Moran) gives his guys freedom to play.”
As a senior at Gilmour this past season, O’Toole took on more of a one-guard role as a facilitator and scored a little bit less. He averaged 12.6 points and 6.2 assists as a Division II special-mention all-Ohioan during a 16-9 campaign that ended in a loss against powerhouse St. Vincent-St. Mary in the district semis.
“I saw more game plans surrounded by me, trying to make sure I’m not getting my shots,” he said. “I knew that I would use my passing ability and my IQ to help get open looks for other guys on my team, which I did a good job of. And I enjoyed that role too, honestly.”
Entering John Carroll as a more versatile guard after that experience, O’Toole chose the Blue Streaks over the likes of Lake Erie College, Baldwin Wallace University, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and the possibility of a prep year at International Sports Academy in Willoughby.
But his decision stemmed back to playing two more years of hoops with his brother, Owen, who intends to stay with the JCU men’s basketball program as a graduate assistant for two seasons.
“He’s just an unselfish player,” O’Toole said of his older brother. “Being out on the floor with him, he doesn’t care if he scores zero points or 30 points, he just wants to make the right play and make everyone around him better. And he definitely makes me better, finding ways to screen to get me open. It helps my confidence playing with him.”
The Lancers won 16 or 17 games in each of O’Toole’s four years with the varsity program, going 66-30 overall, because of dedicated players like his brother who put team ahead of self, he said.