Former Dobson High guard Mickey McConnell isn’t just leading Saint Mary’s on a Cinderella trip through March Madness, he’s reconnecting old friends at the same time. MORE: NCAA Challenge | Bracket and stats
Mickey McConnell isn’t just leading Saint Mary’s on a Cinderella trip through March Madness, he’s reconnecting old friends at the same time.
The former Dobson High guard scored 23 and 15 points, respectively, in upset victories over Richmond and Villanova in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament last weekend. With those points came plenty of national face time, and two elderly men in the midwest knew his name and features looked familiar.
“My dad (Mickey’s grandfather, Dick McConnell) had two players that played for him in 1957 in Kansas who are probably in their 70s now,” said Rick McConnell, Mickey’s father and Dobson’s boys basketball coach. “They were watching and they said, ‘There’s got to be a connection.’ So they called someone in Topeka who led them to my dad, and he told them (Mickey was his grandson). Stuff like that has been amazing.”
It’s been a wild ride for the McConnell family.
Mickey was a standout player for Rick at Dobson from 2004-07. He originally committed to play basketball at New Mexico, but switched his commitment to Saint Mary’s after New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay was fired.
He plays for coach Randy Bennett, who has his own ties to the East Valley. Bennett played at Westwood and then Mesa Community College for his father, Tom, who is a coaching legend in the Valley.
Mickey played in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, but for only three minutes as the Gaels got knocked out in the first round.
He’s a key cog this season, averaging 14 points and 5.2 assists per game and shooting 51.7 percent from 3-point range, which is tops in the nation. He banked in a 3-pointer with 1:16 remaining to give Saint Mary’s a 68-65 lead over Villanova in the second round, and the Gaels went on to win by seven.
“We were just happy to get in (to the tournament) last time,” said Mickey McConnell, now a junior. “This time we said, ‘Let’s try and win some games.’ It makes you greedy to get there again, and you want to go farther.”
Rick and Pam McConnell attended the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas earlier this month — where Mickey won MVP — but couldn’t work out the logistics to fly to Providence, R.I. for the opening rounds of the NCAA South Regional.
But with the Sweet 16 game in Houston, the McConnells have their flight booked.
“It was a little more doable for us to get there,” Pam McConnell said. “I know he’s excited that we can go. We’re thrilled to death.”
Mickey said he’s looking forward to playing in front of his parents because they do not get to watch him play very often.
While Rick was Mickey’s coach in high school and continues to coach the Mustangs, he takes a back seat now that Mickey is in college. Instead, Rick can sit back, relax and take in the game as a fan.
“I don’t say anything to him,” Rick McConnell said. “We just talk about the games. It’s been a really enjoyable couple of weeks.”
Said Mickey: “I think he’s enjoying this as much as I am.”
Mickey excelled at both basketball and baseball in high school, and high-profile schools such as Arkansas, Oregon State and Arizona were interested in his baseball skills.
But basketball has always been Mickey’s first love, and he eventually decided to stick with the hardwood.
“I considered (playing baseball) pretty seriously at the time,” Mickey said. “I just felt basketball was my best option. I had the best chance at doing well.”
McConnell has plenty of followers on campus who agree with him, including the 200 people that showed up to greet the Saint Mary’s players following the plane ride back to California.
“It’s been unreal at times,” Mickey McConnell said. “I wouldn’t change this for anything.”
Saint Mary’s will play Baylor on Friday at 4:27 p.m. local time with a chance to advance to the Elite Eight. One more win would then send them to the Final Four.
“It’s been kind of hard for this to sink in,” Pam McConnell said. “You grow up watching these games. To have your son on TV is an unbelievable experience.”