By Rob Potter
HAWLEY, PA December 4, 2007 Naturally Monticello boys’ varsity basketball Coach Dick O’Neill, his assistant coaches and their players were very happy to begin the 2007-2008 season with a victory.
But Monticello’s 39-34 triumph over the Western Wayne (Pa.) Wildcats on Friday night in the first round of the 10th annual Hawley (Pa.) Rotary Tip-Off Tournament at Wallenpaupack (Pa.) High School was cause for a special celebration. The win was the 400th in O’Neill’s long and distinguished coaching career.
His record now stands at 400-138.
Moments after achieving the milestone, O’Neill joined Wallenpaupack Coach George Werthmuller and Superintendent Michael Silsby at halfcourt. Werthmuller and Silsby then happily presented the game ball to O’Neill.
After posing for some photos with his Assistant Coaches Chris Russo and Antonio Simmons, the varsity and JV basketball players and cheerleaders, Dick O’Neill climbed into the bleachers to embrace his wife, Diane, and their two daughters, Dana Dembroski and Lori O’Neill.
He then joined Russo and Simmons for some more pictures on the court.
“It feels very good,” Dick O’Neill said of reaching the 400-win plateau.
After the Panthers lost their final two games of last season, O’Neill was stuck on 399 career victories. Following the season, he contemplated retiring from coaching.
“I’m glad I made the decision to come back this season,” O’Neill said. “I would have been content to go out with 399 [victories]. But as much as this 400th win means to me, it means more to a lot of other people my family, friends and former players.
“I received so many calls from former players the past few days,” he added. “Guys who played for me 20 years ago called to say ‘Tonight’s the night, Coach. You’re going to do it tonight.’”
Just as his former and current players truly appreciate O’Neill, he feels the same way about them.
“Reaching this mark is because of all the good players we have had over the years,” said O’Neill, who earned 88 victories in five years as the Head Coach at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen prior to becoming the Monticello Head Coach during the 1985-1986 school year. “I don’t care who you are, you don’t get here without good players. We’ve gone to the Section IX tournament every year and I don’t think we’ve had a losing season.”
O’Neill said he has always wanted opposing teams to take note of the word “Monticello” when they were looking over their season schedule.
“For the other team not to respect us would bother me more than anything else,” said O’Neill, who plans to retire from teaching and coaching at the end of the current school year.
The Panthers made sure O’Neill would celebrate his 400th win on Friday night by rallying from an early deficit. Western Wayne (0-1) held an 11-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Monticello (1-0), tied the game at 12-12 when junior guard William Watson scored in the lane with 5:21 remaining in the second period.
Thirty seconds later, Watson gave the Panthers a 15-12 lead when he swished a 3-pointer.
Monticello led 25-16 at halftime and pushed its advantage to as many as 14 points in the second half.
O’Neill credited his defense with turning the game around in the first quarter.
“Our defense was outstanding tonight,” he commented. “They came out and had us down 12-7, but then we dug in. We got aggressive and were right in their face.”
Watson scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Panthers to victory.
Devon Mathis and Briar Patterson each scored six points and Dior Jackson added four points for Monticello.
The Wildcats’ leading scorers were Mitchell Vitovsky, who netted 14 points, and Michael Gaudio, who recorded 10 points.
With the victory, Monticello advanced to Saturday night’s championship game to face the host Wallenpaupack Buckhorns.