Dance or dribble. The dilemma confronted Megan McConnell at an early age when she had to choose between the family’s forte–basketball–and her personal passion–pirouettes.
“When I was little, I danced. That was my thing. I loved the recitals, tutus and flowers,” she said.
McConnell also enjoyed watching her dad, Tim, coach. For 25 years, he guided the Chartiers Valley High School boys basketball team to more than 500 victories, five WPIAL titles and two state championship finals. She marveled as her brother, TJ blossomed into an NBA guard for the Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers. She also developed a strong bond with another brother, Matty, who excelled at Robert Morris University.
During CV practices and games, she would do dribbling drills on the sidelines or shoot baskets at halftime.
“I loved basketball,” she explained, “but I loved to dance, too.”
When her mother, Shelly, told her she must “decide” what she wanted to do, McConnell selected basketball. However, she kept a toe in tap. As an option to gym, she participated in dance classes and showcases. She continued the practice until this semester.
“So in school, I was able to do both,” she said enthusiastically.
“Probably,” she added thoughtfully, “going into (basketball) has to do with the family but I fell in love with the game.”
The game, in turn, reciprocated.
Before the 2019-20 campaign commenced, McConnell inked a letter of intent committing to Duquesne University, where her brother once played and her aunts, Suzie – a two-time Olympian and gold medalist – and Kathy, once coached.
With a chuckle her father said, “I am sure glad she decided to play basketball because I don’t hear many people getting dance scholarships.”
Besides Duquesne, McConnell had several other offers. While St. Francis (Lorreto), Niagara and Bryant were in the running, McConnell narrowed her college visits to St. Bonaventure, Loyola of Maryland and Duquesne, where she plans to major in education in the hopes of becoming an elementary teacher and high school basketball coach.
Of Duquesne, where she attended many summer camps and games as a youth, McConnell said the university was “a perfect fit” because she is a “stay-at-home” body and her family can continue to see her play. Plus, she can call her mom. “Duquesne felt right. I felt like I belonged.”
For the past four years, McConnell has belonged in the starting line-up at Chartiers Valley High School. She entered her senior season with more than 1,000 career points and every accolade from all-section through all-state. She’s also a reigning WPIAL and PIAA champion after last winter’s undefeated 30-0 season.
“Last year was a dream come true,” McConnell said.
It’s more than just victories, the 2018-19 season underscored McConnell’s statement as she played under the direction of her father. Last winter, Tim McConnell took the position as girls head coach. Coaching the Colts has been a thrill for both daughter and dad.
“I really enjoyed coaching her last year and look forward to coaching her this year as well,” Tim said.
“Coaching her has been a joy,” he continued. “Not that we didn’t have a great relationship already but coaching her has brought us closer together because of all the time we have been spending together. She’s like a coach out on the floor. She reminds me a lot of TJ.”
McConnell agreed with the analysis.
“TJ and I have similar basketball IQs. We know where to put the ball,” said McConnell, who led CV in assists with 4.3 per game. “We are always going to the gym or playing outside.
“My brothers,” she continued, “helped make me the player that I am today but my dad has been the biggest influence on me. He pushed my brothers but I could say, ‘hey dad, shoot with me. Help me with my form. My ball handling. What am I doing wrong?’ All those things.
“Having him as my coach has improved our relationship,” McConnell added. “It’s always been great but it has brought us closer than ever before.
“Sure, he’s hardest on us but that’s because he knows what all three of us can go with basketball. He brings out the best in us.”
While McConnell was good for 10.9 points and 4.4 rebounds a game last winter, she also managed nearly three steals a game. Plus, she was a general on the court, running the team’s offense.
“Megan’s biggest attribute as a player is the way she runs the team,” Coach McConnell said. “She knows when and where to pass the ball. She is a true point guard and she also is a great defender.”
Practice has produced such results. In addition to playing AAU basketball and traveling the country since she had been in third grade, McConnell has focused on fundamentals. While she practices her long-range shooting “almost at every practice,” she works on her ball handling and passing skills daily. She dribbles through cones as well as her legs. She practices picking and rolling as well as moving off the dribble.
“You have to work on everything,” she explained. “That’s okay because it’s something you have to do in life anyway because nothing comes easy.”
Nothing will come easy this winter as the Lady Colts seek to defend both their WPIAL and state titles. McConnell is prepared to play her role in this year’s team’s success. She says CV can duplicate last year’s season if the players “keep working hard” and do what her dad “teaches us” because every team is going to play “10 times harder” against them.
“Everybody wants to beat us and give us our first loss so we have to be ready,” she said.
“We have so many good players so I will be looking for them more than myself, but I know they will be looking for me to be a leader. My role is to be aggressive on the floor and my teammates will take on that. I’ll look for the better pass first, then look to score second. But most of all, it’s to set an example and to anticipate that every team is going to give us their best every night. There are no cakewalks.”
McConnell knows that all too well as she anticipates making the jump from high school basketball to playing the Division I women’s game in the Atlantic 10. It will not be a “cakewalk” as the Dukes already have a point guard and McConnell is expected to be red-shirted next year.
“I’m taking that mindset with me to Duquesne. I want to play but I know that I am going to have to prove my spot. I’m happy to be going there and while I don’t know where my career will go after that, I’ll take any opportunity that arises. I’ll see where it takes me.”
Coach McConnell predicts a bright future for his daughter.
“My hope for this year is for Megan to have a great senior year and to go out with a bang,” he said. “For the future, I want her to keep growing as a person and a player and really enjoy her college experience. To me, as a person, her greatest attribute is how genuine and sweet she is.”