In the most recent issue of Dime, I wrote a story on Saint Mary’s point guard Mickey McConnell and his odd trip as an unknown basketball prospect to being a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the NCAA’s best point guard. Despite being wooed by some of the nation’s best baseball programs during his senior year of high school, McConnell chose hoops. In four years, he grew by leaps and bounds.
He hasn’t picked up a glove in that time span, but Major League Baseball apparently didn’t notice. On Wednesday, McConnell was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 91st round of the MLB Draft – the 944th pick to be exact.
“It’s exciting, I’m totally surprised, this was a little bit unexpected,” McConnell said in a press release by the school. “The last time I played was four years ago in high school. In the summers I would hit a little bit and do minor baseball stuff with my brother but nothing serious or organized.”
McConnell doesn’t have plans to go the baseball route. He’s been working out for NBA teams such as the hometown Phoenix Suns and plans to try out with Golden State and Sacramento in the upcoming week. With that, here’s the story of McConnell’s rise to basketball success while growing up in the baseball hotbed of Arizona.
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Often, we find ourselves in awe of the LeBron James and Derrick Rose genetics in a basketball player; the ones that give them god-like athleticism and the superhuman abilities incomprehensible by you or I.
Much of becoming a successful basketball player – the type that makes our jaws drop – is usually predicated on the legends of players’ high schools days, where dunking on current NBA stars or exploding onto the AAU circuit with a big game on an even larger stage equates to fame. But what if they didn’t have that experience, exposure or even genetics to lean on?
You do what Saint Mary’s College (Moraga, Calif.) point guard Mickey McConnell did. Don’t trust anyone but yourself, never get rattled. That’s McConnell in a nutshell.
“Coming out of high school, personally, I thought I was good enough to continue playing,” says McConnell. “In college, I thought I was good enough to make an impact.”
He resembles the perfect model for building a basketball player from scratch. Not a highly-sought-after recruit out of high school, McConnell finished his senior year at Saint Mary’s this spring with a Bob Cousy Award nomination on his resume and an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament after averaging 16.4 points and 6.1 assists per game. This included standout victories over Mississippi State (28 points and 13 assists) and Gonzaga (27 points, four rebounds and six assists) for the 25-9 Gaels.
Now, as usual, the 6-0, 190-pound guard has confidence that he’s good enough to be a professional.
“It’s funny,” says Mickey’s father, Rick McConnell, who was also his son’s basketball coach at Dobson High School (Mesa, Ariz.). “I’d laugh, most of the teams he’d play (in college) weren’t the teams that recruited him. You just kind of have to approach (the next level) the same way – realistic. But he’s got a lot of confidence in what he can do.”
Not surprisingly, McConnell’s recruitment to the Gaels was closer to an accident than a straightforward affair. Committing to New Mexico during his junior season, a coaching change led to his eventual release from his commitment in the spring of his senior year.
Only three or four Division I schools came calling. Instead, elite baseball programs came after McConnell in the midst of his spring baseball season at Dobson, including Oregon State coach Pat Casey. Rick McConnell said Casey, fresh off a 2006 NCAA Championship, would call every week in Mickey’s final month of high school, just one of the programs looking at McConnell as another big-time Arizona prospect.
“It was kind of a strange thing,” says Rick. “You know, most people thought baseball was the smart move for him. Baseball kind of threw a curve in everything because it made him think a little bit.”
But baseball wasn’t in his heart, the lure of a national championship team not enough. McConnell chose Saint Mary’s basketball instead, becoming a member of the small liberal arts college of 2,600 undergrads. And like he had done in high school, without the AAU advantages and without frequent experience against Division I-caliber players, he built his career on his own.