Michelle O’Neal knows first-hand that hard work pays off.
The daughter of a former Ellison head coach is getting the opportunity to run a program of her own in Killeen.
“I knew I wanted to do it. I knew it was in my blood,” O’Neal said. “I love basketball so much and I really enjoy being around kids, too.”
O’Neal will be Shoemaker’s new girls basketball head coach after accepting the position over the summer.
“I’ve been waiting for this forever it seems like,” O’Neal said. “I’ve been teaching and coaching for seven years and this is what I’ve been working for, to be a head coach.”
O’Neal, a first-time head coach, is the daughter of former Ellison head boys and girls soccer coach Leon, who headed the Eagles soccer program from 1986-1995.
She graduated from Killeen High in 1998 and the University of North Texas.
O’Neal was a freshman coach at Ellison from 2007 until 2012 and junior varsity coach during the 2011-12 season then became a varsity assistant at Harker Heights from 2012 until last season.
O’Neal lived in Fort Worth but returned to Killeen in 2006 and was a substitute teacher at Ellison before taking a full-time job as teacher. She started coaching the Lady Eagles freshmen team in 2007 when the position became open during the school year.
“She gave me a chance, she asked ‘Do you want to come down and see how it is?” O’Neal said about Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon. “I came down, ran some practices and I think I won district that year, or took second.”
McKinnon said that facing O’Neal as a head coach will take some getting used to. O’Neal is tight-lipped with her former mentor.
“I saw her the other day and asked her what offense she was going to be running and she said she wasn’t going to tell me,” McKinnon said with a laugh.
The Lady Wolves missed the playoffs in 2013-14, but O’Neal said the effort that Shoemaker players showed impressed her.
“They got after it and that’s what I liked about them,” O’Neal said. “They hustled, they could be winning by 10 or losing by 20 and they hustled. They were very aggressive, and I liked that about them, and then they were flat- out athletes. It seems like I have a lot to work with because I have basketball players that are athletic.”
Though she cannot coach the players formally until the first day of practice, O’Neal has met some of the players over the summer during open gym and is excited to see the figurative chunk of rock she can use to sculpt a successful program from.
“You can’t coach athleticism. You either have it or you don’t,” O’Neal said. “They have it, they definitely have it, they just need to be molded and they need skill development. That’s the main thing.”