Marvin O’Connor clearly wants to make a difference in his community. O’Connor, former Simon Gratz and Saint Joseph’s basketball star, has purchased some property near Chew and High streets in Germantown. There he plans to have an all-purpose recreation center where people can participate in a number of different activities.
“I want it to be a more positive environment,” O’Connor said. “I want people to come out and take advantage of whatever they may be lacking, and not just sports. I want to have SAT prep classes, tutoring, and a place where people can get their G.E.D. I want to provide something that’s positive. If people want to hang out in a positive environment instead of hanging out in the streets, they can come to a place like this.”
O’Connor was a terrific basketball player. The 6-foot-3 guard was an All-Public League standout at Simon Gratz. He led the Bulldogs to the 1997 league championship. After that, he played one season at Villanova before transferring to Saint Joseph’s. O’Connor was a big-time player on Hawk Hill. He had three great seasons where he scored a total of 1,678 points. As a senior he averaged 17.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game.
As a junior, he catapulted himself into the national spotlight. He had a tremendous 37-point performance against Stanford in a losing effort in the 2001 NCAA tournament. He shot 15-of-20 from the field and connected on 5-of-10 from three-point range. In addition, he was the subject of an ESPN SportsCentury documentary.
After his college career, O’Connor played four years of professional basketball overseas. Now 34, he has his own company, C.O.F.A/Christian Sports Inc. Activity Center, located in North Philadelphia. He owns two stores in South Philadelphia and is part owner of a medical transport company.
O’Connor grew up in South Philadelphia in the Passyunk Homes. Basketball was a good vehicle for him. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s with a degree in sociology.
“For a while, I always wanted to give something back,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were there for me coming up. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I had a good upbringing at home.
“It starts with my parents. Mr. Bill Ellerbee (former Simon Gratz head basketball coach) was a big help to me. I can’t [tell you] how much he’s helped me over the years. John Hardnett (late Sonny Hill League coach) was phenomenal. I really miss John. Then, Darryl Schofield and Chuck Moore Sr. were two people who took an interest in me.
“Phil Martelli (Saint Joseph’s head coach) has been huge. He gave me a chance to play some great basketball. I was able to go overseas and play basketball and make some money.
“It’s time for me to do something for somebody else. I truly understand the hurdles people face in everyday life. I’ve lived it. I know what it’s about.”
O’Connor has a set of blueprints for his recreation facility that include basketball courts, locker rooms, conference rooms, storage rooms, classrooms, administrative offices and a fitness center.
The only thing he needs is funding. He’s looking for support from the business community.
“We’re looking for some corporate sponsorship,” O’Connor said. “We would like to link up with some companies. It would mean everything to the community. I’m hoping somebody will be able to step in and help us out.”
Martelli is very impressed with O’Connor’s efforts to put together a major recreation center in the city.
“It’s hard to talk about Marv and a lot of guys because so many people see them as basketball players,” he said. “I see Marv as an ambassador for Saint Joseph’s University, for the program and the university. He’s a graduate. He knows how he got here and how he got to this point in life is that a lot of people picked him up, and boosted him up. Now, he’s willing to do that for young people. I’m moved. He inspires me to want to do more for my players and those in the community that I can help. I have Marv’s back in this thing.”
O’Connor was inspired by Shane Victorino, former Phillies outfielder who now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Victorino and his foundation donated $900,000 to the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club in North Philadelphia. He also noted how other professional athletes have given back to the community.
“I was really impressed with [Shane],” O’Connor said. “He’s from Hawaii, but he saw what the city needed. Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks star) has a youth center in Baltimore. He’s doing some good things down there.”
Ellerbee is very pleased with O’Connor’s commitment to making lives better for people throughout the city.
“When you’re a teacher, you don’t make a lot of money,” Ellerbee said. “Your riches come from people like Marvin, Aaron McKie, Rasheed Wallace and others who come back to help their families and then reach out to the community. It makes me very happy.”