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Former St. John’s hoops star O’Neil commits to Harvard

Tommy O'Neil committed to play basketball for the Harvard Crimson. (Item File Photo)

During his four-year varsity basketball career at St. John’s Prep, Lexington native Tommy O’Neil molded himself into one of the better power forwards in Massachusetts.

As a senior in 2017-2018, O’Neil posted averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. He decided to take his talents to post-grad Vermont Academy shortly after graduating from St. John’s, in hopes of fine-tuning his game before jumping to the college level. Earlier this month, O’Neil solidified his college plans when he committed to the basketball program at Division I Harvard.

“I was looking for the best mix of high academics and high-level basketball,” O’Neil, who’s interested in studying economics, said. “When it came down to it, it was between two or three Ivy League schools. Harvard’s been a top two or three Ivy League school in the past decade. In the next few years we’re going to be extremely good. Making the (NCAA) Tournament’s always been a goal of mine and I felt I had a chance at Harvard.”

O’Neil said making his decision wasn’t easy. In the end, his relationship with Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker and the rest of the team’s coaching staff helped O’Neil believe Harvard was the right choice.

“It was pretty difficult,” O’Neil said. “I had a lot of schools looking at me. I had a lot of Ivy League, Patriot League schools. It really came down to the relationship I had with the coach (Amaker). I always knew education’s been a big thing for me. In picking Harvard, it was more about the feeling I had with the guys and the coaching staff.

“(Amaker) has been awesome with me,” O’Neil said. “I think he’s an incredible basketball mind. He’s taken them from toward the middle of the pack in the Ivy League to the top. In basketball, he’s a phenomenal coach. Even more so, I was more impressed with what he does for the team outside the court. It’s pretty incredible some of the stories he’s told me.”

The Crimson are coming off a bit of a down year after falling short of the Ivy League crown, which carries an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, in 2017-2018. Harvard finished at 18-14 and was bounced by Marquette in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

O’Neil feels the Crimson are due for a big season this winter.

“I think this season they’re going to be exceptional,” O’Neil said. “They have (junior) Bryce Aiken, who barely played last year. He was the preseason pick for Ivy League Player of the Year. They have Seth Towns, who’s also junior, for the next two years. They’ll be extremely good. With Coach Amaker, there’s no reason they can’t compete for a championship both those years and beyond.”

Now that his future endeavors are official and his next move is no longer a question mark, O’Neil feels relieved and eager to focus on the upcoming basketball season at Vermont Academy. The team begins preseason practices Nov.1 and opens the season Nov. 18.

“It was relieving,” O’Neil said. “I think the process was awesome. It was definitely a lot more fun than where I was a year ago at this time. I had done my visits, I had a lot of people expecting me to make a decision. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel awesome about my decision. I’m pumped to get there and get started.”

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