Robert Morris’ Matty McConnell is no stranger to the spotlight. Growing up in Pittsburgh’s first family of hoops, McConnell has played with a target on his back from an early age.
He carved his own legacy into the family lore during high school, leading Chartiers Valley to the 2015 WPIAL Class AAAA championship while averaging 29 points a game. The younger brother of Philadelphia 76ers’ TJ McConnell, Matty finished his prep career with more than 2,000 points and was named the 2015 Player of the Year by both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
He received a scholarship offer from Robert Morris during the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, and immediately became enamored with the coaching staff, committing in early September.
As a freshman for the Colonials, McConnell logged 26 starts and led the NEC in steals per game (1.97), but his offensive contributions were fairly limited on a team led by first-team All-NEC selection Rodney Pryor. McConnell only reached double-figures five times all season and registered just a single point in the team’s season-ending loss to Wagner.
Through the first 14 games of his sophomore campaign, McConnell failed to score a point in four games, but his 11 point performance in a narrow road loss to Fairleigh Dickinson seemed to turns things around. He would score 10 or more points in four of the team’s next six games.
After a slow start in conference play, the Colonials found their stride in February, ripping off six wins in their final eight regular season contests. McConnell’s scoring output again saw a slight uptick during that stretch before breaking out in the NEC postseason tournament.
He erupted for a career-high 20 points in the quarterfinals, helping the Colonials knock of Long Island, and followed it up with a 19 point showing in a semifinal loss to top-seeded Mount St. Mary’s. McConnell credits a change in mindset for his performance during the team’s postseason run.
“I just went out and played,” McConnell said. “I told myself in the conference tournament to just go out and play, and let the chips fall where they may.”
“That was my mindset in those two games, and obviously it made me play a little bit better. I have to take that mindset into every game next season.”
In an interview with Pittsburgh Sports Now in March, head coach Andy Toole revealed after the season he challenged McConnell over a text message to take the next step in his development as a player.
“Becoming a better leader was the main thing,” McConnell confessed. “And just trying to get in the gym everyday and get as much better as possible.”
Robert Morris suffered heavy roster turnover once again, including the sudden departure of leading scorer Isaiah Stills, leaving McConnell and sophomore Dachon Burke as the only returners with significant playing experience.
Junior walk-on Seth Rouse played three total minutes last year, and freshman forward David Cole redshirted, using the year to shed 60 pounds and work his way back into playing shape after suffering a back injury to end his high school career. The Colonials are without a returning senior.
McConnell said the offseason roster shuffle doesn’t affect him and added he’s excited about the incoming group. The Colonials will add a five-man recruiting class and four incoming transfers to the returning pieces.
“I thought we had a really good summer,” McConnell said. “Even the young guys, they came in and kind of showed what it’s going to be like this year. I’m really excited about that group.”
“I think this has been the best summer for the young guys since I’ve been here.”
McConnell is prepared to step into the leadership role coach Toole has demanded and set a goal to be among the team’s top scorers in 2017-18.
“Now that I know our young guys are looking at me, I’m ready to take on that challenge coach has given to me and take this team to where we need to go,” McConnell said.
He remained on campus this summer, enrolling in classes and focusing on developing into a more consistent player.
With a reputation of a shooter, opposing teams concentrated on taking away McConnell’s shot during his first two years at Robert Morris. He looks to be more aggressive this upcoming season, attacking the basket and creating opportunities for his teammates, a dynamic he displayed in the conference tournament last year.
“I got to the hoop more last year than my freshman year,” McConnell assessed. “But just really taking my game to another level and getting to the rim and getting other guys shots.”
Robert Morris opens the season at Ohio State in what McConnell dubbed a “tone-setter” for the team’s season. Once again, the target will be on his back. Expect the Pittsburgh native to rise to the occasion.