Well, sort of. First, you have to understand his history. McConnell’s grandfather, Dick McConnell, is the all-time winningest high school basketball coach in the state of Arizona. And in addition to coaching Mickey for three years at Dobson, his father was a member of Arizona’s 1976 College World Series Championship baseball team.
So winning was in his genes.
“I was around my dad’s teams a lot,” says Mickey. “Just growing up around his teams and just watching a ton of high school games, watching film when he got home, I learned a lot about how the game should be played. Just kind of the little things like that; work ethic, being a good teammate, I learned a lot of that.”
The coaching perspective embedded itself into his style, wiring McConnell into a pass-first, pure point guard. At Dobson, he grew up in an unspectacular basketball metropolis of the greater Phoenix area, a place known more for its baseball and golf prospects than for its hoops stars.
AAU basketball was scattered throughout the sprawling suburbs, talent diluted to the point where high school hoops was the better place to develop. McConnell’s little exposure to Division I talent came against Mesa’s Mountain View High School, which ran out a team of Kendall Wallace (UNLV), Harper Kamp (Cal) and Brendon Lavender (Arizona).
And then there was St. Mary’s High School and future pro Jerryd Bayless, who knocked off the Dobson team from the state playoffs in two of McConnell’s three seasons there.
It’s a reoccurring theme in McConnell’s basketball career – always the underdog. During his childhood, it was his older brother, Matt, two years Mickey’s senior, showing him how to play with poise and intelligence. Then it was Bayless. Then in college, it was Australian guard Patty Mills.
“That was one of the things at a disadvantage for Mickey,” says Rick. “When he got to Saint Mary’s, he didn’t play a lot of AAU ball. There really wasn’t that much exposure for him. It has turned out to be an advantage for him because he has been able to go head-to-head with so many great players.
“Sometimes he’s the underdog.”
He played little his freshman year of college, apparent proof by other colleges that told McConnell he’d play second fiddle to Mills. An athletic scoring point guard, Mills, now playing with the Portland Trail Blazers, kept McConnell in his shadow until an injury thrust the then-sophomore into the Gaels’ starting lineup midway through the season.
It was the blossoming of McConnell’s career. Those practice battles against Mills helped McConnell develop against the Aussie who grew up playing in under-18 tournaments and, according to Rick, had more than 100 international games under his belt.
“If you’re going to sit behind anyone, it’s kind of nice to sit behind someone like him,” says Mickey. “The way he was on the court, he never got rattled. He always knew he was good enough to be out there. Just the way he carried himself on the court is something I took away from it.
“No matter what the situation was, he was pretty in control with his emotions.”
That rubbed off on McConnell, but of course, onlookers make the easy comparison of he and Steve Nash, another unheralded pass-first point guard from a West Coast Conference team. McConnell, being from Phoenix, can’t get around it.
Now, he looks toward a future of basketball. NBA, Europe, it doesn’t seem to matter. Just basketball – just like high school.
Adds his father: “The good thing for Mick is, the style he plays he won’t have to change. His main thing is getting the ball to people and getting them better.”
To do that, he doesn’t need to jump any higher or impress anyone with his highlight reels. McConnell will do what he always has done – stay calm and have confidence, even as the underdog. Winning will sort itself out.
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