Mickey McConnell, the ascendant senior point guard for the Saint Mary's basketball team, doesn't answer to his given name. In fact, it makes for an interesting story.
"We wanted to name him Mickey," his father, Rick McConnell said. "We liked the name. And his Gramps, my father, had played against Mickey Mantle in the minor leagues.
"But we were getting such negative vibes from the family. People I worked with were like, 'Mickey?' So to be on the safe side, we named him Richard, then decided we'd call him Mickey. So he became Mickey immediately. At one point we were going to change it legally, but we decided to leave it alone."
The story where Mickey McConnell developed an intuitive feel for basketball, evolving into the epitome of the oft-referenced coach on the floor? Not quite as interesting. But it's far more revelatory.
"Ten thousand hours," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "That's the deal. If you're around (the game) all the time, you get so many hours at an early age. And he did."
McConnell, you see, is the son of a coach. Rick McConnell recently won his 500th game in a 27-year tenure as basketball coach at Dobson High in Mesa, Ariz. Rick had a little Mick in him, too -- he played on Arizona's 1976 College World Series-winning team.
And Rick McConnell was the son of a coach. Dick McConnell, whose Topeka Owls tangled with Mantle's Joplin Miners in the class-C Western Association in 1950, is the
Bennett completes the circle. Yet another son of a coach, he became acquainted with the McConnells during his formative years in the Mesa area.
"They saw their dads cared, and that's what they were doing for a living," Bennett said. "So (it affected) their level of caring about being successful, and how (much) basketball matters to them. I think that affects how good they are, and how good of leaders they are, how much they win."
When you think about it, Mickey McConnell's life journey seems almost preordained.
"I think the day I was born, my grandpa was coaching the McDonald's (High School) All-America game," he said after a recent practice at Saint Mary's. "So from day one something was kind of going on."
It's going on for the Gaels these days. Heading into what could be a telling three-game stretch (road games at Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Portland) they've won 11 consecutive games and crawled into the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 for the first time since they finished last season at No. 19.
McConnell is averaging career highs in scoring (a team-high 15.0), assists (6.4), rebounds (2.7), as well as field goal (.529) and free throw (.911) percentage. He was named West Coast Conference Player of the Week two weeks running.
You're unlikely to be overwhelmed by anything he does on the court. Well, maybe you'd be impressed by his step-back (and back, and back) 3-point set shot, which he'll occasionally launch from just inside the volleyball line.
"Until I get yelled at, I'll probably push it as far as I can," he said with a mischievous smile.
But you're bound to be impressed by the way he does everything. He's a cool head, a steady hand and a calming influence.
"I try to play how coach Bennett wants it, just try to do things to help our team win," said McConnell, who played for his dad (and with his older brother) at Dobson. "From early on, all my coaches, my dad, would just tell me little things here and there that maybe at the time didn't make sense. But as I got older and more mature they kind of kicked in."
Some of McConnell's earliest memories of basketball involve waiting for his father to come home from a game so they could watch film together.
"I'd always come home and put the games on," Rick said. "We'd be eating dinner about 10 o'clock. We'd make sure the boys had their homework done. We watched a lot of film."
Bennett already can see the day when he'll regard McConnell as a colleague instead of a pupil.
"As long as I'm coaching here, he's got a job offer," Bennett said. "Do I think he's going to be a coach? He already is. I mean, who do you think is running this team?"
Well, maybe not McConnell entirely. But it makes for an interesting story.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.
Saint Mary's (17-2) at Vanderbilt
(13-4), 11 a.m.