February 12, 2023
“I just try to be everywhere”: Megan McConnell is making her mark at Duquesne
How the member of local ‘basketball royalty’ is charting her unique path in Pittsburgh
When Duquesne head coach Dan Burt says “Smile at ‘em Meg” he knows exactly what will come next.
Megan McConnell will go after the ball handler and disrupt the play, usually against the opposing team’s best player. All with a smile.
Similarly, McConnell’s teammate Tess Myers knows when she sees McConnell’s look of determination, the opposing team is in trouble.
“You just see her body language change and she’s so focused, and I just feel like that is Megan’s signature,” Myers told The Next. “She’s going to go out there and you’re going to feel her.”
Megan grew up going to the gym with her brothers Matty and TJ McConnell, who are 5 and 10 years older than her respectively, and tagging along with her dad while he coached the Chartiers Valley High School boy’s team.
She would often join her brothers when they played basketball in their driveway, but they wouldn’t take it easy on her.
“They would block my shot, I’d go inside crying to my mom, like, ‘they won’t let me score,’” McConnell told The Next. “But then I honestly think that’s what made me stronger and tougher as a player. And it’s all paid off now.”
Always wanting to play with her brothers and eventually seeing them succeed in college, and for TJ, the NBA, Megan wanted to be just like them. Being around basketball from such an early age led to McConnell starting to play the sport in first or second grade. Because she had a ball in her hands so early, ballhandling came easy to her. But, shot development took longer with the help of her dad.
Her brothers and father aren’t the only ones in the family with connections to basketball. McConnell’s aunt Suzie McConnell-Serio was the head coach at Duquesne (2007-2013), as well as an All-American at Penn State, played in the WNBA, won an Olympic Gold medal, was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008, and currently coaches at the high school level.
Her aunt Kathy McConnell-Miller played at Virginia and coached at the high school and Division I levels. Megan’s uncle Tom was the head women’s basketball coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and previously coached both men’s and women’s basketball at the Division I level.
Though she grew up surrounded by family ties to basketball, McConnell was determined to pave her own way and make a name for herself.
“She is her own person and she’s a great basketball player,” Myers said. “And she’s proven that time and time again. … I just associate Meg with Meg being Meg and giving 150% … I’ve never focused on anybody other than Meg when Meg is playing.”
Megan’s McConnell lineage made her stand out to Burt during the recruiting process. “She’s a McConnell… She’s a kid that very frankly, comes from basketball royalty here locally” he told The Next.
But her success and winning ways at the high school level, and the joy she plays with, was also important to him.
“You can see the joy that she plays basketball with is incredibly high,” he said. “When so many kids don’t smile, or they just kind of play like robots, she plays with a great joy every time she’s on the floor.”
McConnell chose Duquesne to remain close to home so her family could be in the stands at every home game.
“It means everything to me, I just love every home game, looking up and just seeing my whole family there,” McConnell said. “And our family friends being able to come and my cousins and aunts, it just means a lot. And I just think I play really hard when I see them there.”
Her brother Matty comes to every game, and although TJ can’t make it to every game, they both support her and have let her carve her own path. Her brothers always told her that she can’t let what others say impact her and she needs to just put her head down and keep working.
“I’ve always lived by that because my brother is living proof of that,” McConnell said. “And so many people have told him he won’t be able to do this, he won’t be able to play in the NBA. And I think he’s just living proof of that. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And no matter what people say, I just keep working and let my game show for itself.”
Winning a state championship as a high school junior with her dad as her coach was the most memorable moment in her career so far. Though she had concerns when he took the job as head coach that season, playing under him helped their relationship develop.
“We have such a strong connected relationship now,” she said. She later added, “And so now that he’s not my coach anymore, and he’s just my dad in the stands it still means the world to me, but he’s definitely a big reason [I am] the player I am today.”
Her number one goal was to get a Division I scholarship, something she achieved when she committed to Duquesne in June 2019. She found success throughout high school, averaging 14.0 points, 4.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds as a senior in high school.
The versatility she displayed in high school translated quickly at Duquesne and McConnell averaged 7.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals during the COVID-19-impacted 2020-21 season.
Now in her third season at Duquesne, she is averaging 11.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Her versatility comes from her desire to do all the little things needed to help Duquesne win, from scoring to rebounding, defense and getting her teammates the ball.
“I just try to be everywhere,” McConnell said. “And I just try to put my teammates in the best position to win. And that’s the most important thing.”
McConnell is third in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding as a 5’7 guard. That is something she’s worked hard to achieve. Her rebounding has increased each season, and this season’s improvement was fueled by a dedication to the weight room over the summer.
She’s continued her lifts during the season to maintain her muscle, something she believes helped her increase her rebounding role. McConnell knows that her rebounding helps the team because it gets the Dukes out in transition where there are best. It allows her to push the ball down the court and generates open shots early in the shot clock.
McConnell leads the conference in assists and Myers believes that McConnell’s ability to create for the team generates energy.
“She gives 150% every single day in practice, leading off the court, on the court and I think we all — just that energy, we all just all absorb it and we just become a better team with Megan on the court,” Myers said.
Myers believes that McConnell has led the change in culture and helped return Duquesne to what Myers remembers watching as a child.
“I think all of my teammates encompass being tough and gritty, but we’ve all sort of bought into that and Megan as our leader keeps us in check,” Myers said.
McConnell has exhibited these leadership qualities on and off the court. Burt noted that McConnell’s commitment to excellence helps make the team better in practice every day.
“She’s very even-keeled,” he said. There’s no peaks and valleys and she’s someone who works incredibly hard every day in practice, with a smile on her face. And her effort is consistent across the board. I can’t think of Meg ever having a bad practice.”
He believes this sets an example for the younger players who learn from McConnell about how to identify their weaknesses and work to improve them. McConnell grew up wanting to be just like Skylar Diggins-Smith, but her favorite player to watch now is Kelsey Plum.
“She just has that same intensity as me when she plays, she has a passion for the game,” McConnell said. “She’s also a point guard. And she’s really good at what she does. She’s a great teammate, and just overall a good person. I see what she does outside of basketball and that also inspires me. And she just has a dog mentality. And that’s just something that, I want to be looked at as.”
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McConnell’s favorite part about playing basketball is the friendships she’s made. Myers described McConnell as her “soulmate in friend form” and believes their off-court connection helps them on the court, from communication to McConnell pushing Myers to be more efficient.
Though, the biggest thing Myers has learned from McConnell is confidence.
“[When] shots aren’t falling she’s always [telling me to take the] shot and [that] instills a lot of confidence in me,” Myers said. “And I think that’s just her vibe that she gives off on the court is that confidence and that grit.”
Burt believes that McConnell has helped him to experience joy every day.
“I know that when I go to practice if I’m feeling down because we didn’t play well in our last game or had some tough meetings or anything like that, I know that Meg’s always there with a smile and a level of joy that is what it should be when you get on the floor and you get on the basketball court, it should be about enjoyment,” he said. “As coaches, sometimes we forget about that. And she certainly gives that to each one of us coaches every day.”
As the regular season comes to a close, McConnell hopes to stay consistent with her shot to continue to help her teammates win games. Duquesne is 15-9 with five games to go in A-10 play with aspirations of an A-10 Tournament title.
Looking forward, Burt hopes that McConnell can improve her three-point shooting into next season. He believes that shooting above her 33.3% clip from three would allow her to have more success professionally after she is finished playing at Duquesne.
“If she’s able to increase her ability to shoot the three at a consistent level, and she continues to add muscle to her frame [then] she’s going to have a professional career that lasts as long as she chooses,” Burt said.
Myers’ hopes for McConnell’s future are simple. “To keep that love for the game. Because I think she makes the game a lot better, and a lot more fun to play. And a lot more fun to watch.”