McConnell named Almanac MVP
Versatile Colt causes problems for opponents
Matty McConnell must love mysteries for the Chartiers Valley junior puzzles opponents on the basketball court. He can shoot. He can dribble. He can distribute. And, at only 6-feet tall, he can rebound.
This season, McConnell led the Colts in every statistical category. He averaged 20.8 points per game. He dished up 116 assists or 4.5 per game. His defense produced 124 steals, 4.7 a contest. He cleaned the glass 220 times for an 8.0 average. Plus, he blocked 38 shots.
McConnell, himself, cannot determine what it is he does best. But, he’s certain he befuddles people.
“My drive with the ball,” he said in reply to a question regarding his strength. Then he paused, adding, “and getting the ball to the people that are open.”
“Actually,” he concludes, “people don’t know how to guard me. I can be a guard and shoot the three, be a forward and get the fast break going or easily make the drive to the basket. It seems to come second nature to me.”
Basketball should for McConnell comes from the first family of hoops in Pittsburgh. Everybody knows his aunt, Suzie, won medals in two Olympics and coaches the University of Pittsburgh women. His other aunt, Kathy, is an assistant at Pitt after years as a head coach as several other Division I programs.
Closer to home, his father, Tim, serves as his varsity head coach. His older brother played the point position for Arizona. T.J. averaged 5.5 assists, 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for the Wildcats, who lost in overtime to Wisconsin in the Western Regional final of the NCAA Division I tournament. His younger sister, Megan, even excels at hoops though just a sixth grade middle school student. Even his mother, Shelly, has influenced McConnell.
“The main thing I have learned and has helped me a lot is even when you lose, my mom tells me ‘keep your head up.’ I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and no one has a better father. He’s a great guy,” McConnell said.
So is his brother, who behind his father, has had the greatest influence on McConnell. While competitive, there is no sibling rivalry between the pair. T.J. has set some unreachable standards for all, not just Matty, with over 2,000 career points as well as 52 points in a single game against West Mifflin. Matty has come close this winter. He tossed in 46 tallies against South Park.
“[T.J.] teases me, but as of right now, I’m a better player as a junior than he was. And, it’d be tough because he’s out there and taller and stronger, but I can give him a game of one-on-one,” McConnell laughed. “He would beat me but it would be a close game,” he admitted.
“But he’s a great brother and I’ve learned a lot from him. In eighth grade, he set me down and told me what to expect and what I’d be doing. That helped my confidence and me tremendously.
“His best advice was to be my own person and not worry abut what other people think or say. Make your own path he told me.”
So far, McConnell has paved a path to success for himself and his teammates. In the past two years, the Colts have won two straight section titles and appeared in back-to-back WPIAL championship contests. The Colts dropped a double-overtime decision to Central Valley in this year’s Class AAA final at the A.J. Palumbo Center and they lost in the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament to finish 25-3 overall.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted but we had a successful run,” said McConnell, who earned all-section acclaim. “When I look back on it, I feel we were one of the top teams in the state. We worked the hardest.”
Few work harder than McConnell at honing his skills. At around age 4, he picked up a basketball. By third grade, he was playing up a level on a fourth- and fifth-grade team. “I always loved the game,” he said.
McConnell’s passion for hoops superseded his love for baseball. He stopped playing that sport right before he entered high school. McConnell said that he quit because he wanted to focus on basketball. “[Baseball] was taking time away from basketball,” he said.
In addition to playing AAU ball with Team Adidas throughout the summer months, which will play a big part in his college recruitment, McConnell, indeed puts time into the sport. After a warm-up, he trains daily, sharpening his jump shot, dribble moves and pull-ups. Routinely, he shoots 500, 3-point field goals. He has buried as many as 285 in one session. After additional dribble workouts, McConnell concludes a practice session with foul shots. Out of 100, his best has been 82, sinking between 20 or 25 in a row tops.
“Matty is very focused,” said Tim McConnell, who also indicated that Pitt-Johnstown, St. Francis and Seton Hill have expressed interest in his son. “I’ve never forced my children into the game. When they ask to work on things, we do. I show Matty routines and ball drills and he will do them.
“So, next year, I know it will be a better one for him if this year is a reflection on what he can accomplish because of his work ethic. With work, he’ll get better on his pull-up and he’ll become more explosive. He’ll need to be strong with the ball and get better with the lead,” Coach McConnell said of the areas his young son could improve.
Because his cousin, Jerrad Tuite, graduates, McConnell understands his ball-handling responsibilities will increase. Next season, he is tabbed as the Colts’ point guard.
“One of his best attributes was his rebounding and Matty was our leading rebounder and big scorer. This year, we weren’t a very big team,” McConnell said. “But next year he’ll likely play the point.”
McConnell is ready for the responsibility. He says that he will work “two times” harder to prepare for the 2014-15 season because the Colts have unfinished business.
“I’m going to work on all aspects of my game and get better because I want to help out the team as much as possible. I’m only worried about winning games. The goals are to win the section, WPIAL and state title.”
Those objectives may be challenging as CharValley moves from Class AAA up to Quad-A basketball next winter. The Colts will compete in a section against Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Canon-McMillan. McConnell welcomes the opportunity.
“Quad A is always tough. The gyms are packed and no game is easy,” explained McConnell, “but I want to be in that division from a standpoint that it’s the best.”
Quad-A is getting and will see the best for McConnell has been named Almanac MVP. It is a distinction that his older brother earned as well.
“I’m happy,” said McConnell. “But, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Coach McConnell is equally enthused. “As a father, to have two sons as MVP is an honor. It makes me proud.”