Ever since he became a starter during his sophomore year, it was clear that senior point guard Dustin McConnell was on track to be a great player. In his senior year, he was recognized as such, by more than just Whitworth and the conference. After earning Northwest Conference First Team honors, as well as being named conference MVP, McConnell was voted First Team All-West Region by both D3hoops.com and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). The NABC also named him a Division III Third Team All-American. And now, The Whitworthian Male Athlete of the Year.
However, none of the accolades were on the agenda to begin the season, McConnell said.
“Knowing it’s your last year of college and playing a team sport, I just really wanted to make the most of every opportunity and not take it for granted,” McConnell said. “I wanted to enjoy the whole experience.”
McConnell did it all for the Pirates, averaging 13.4 points while leading the NWC with 3.6 assists per game and leading the team with 1.5 steals per game. He did so while shooting an efficient 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from beyond the arc and 84 percent from the foul line.
McConnell said he sees himself as that Swiss-Army-knife type of player.
“My focus was to be the best point guard that our team needs,” McConnell said. “So if it was a game where I needed to distribute the ball more and get guys open, then it was my goal to do that to the best of my ability. But if it was a game where I needed to get some shots up and be aggressive, then I tried to do that.”
In the postseason, McConnell enjoyed even greater success, increasing his averages to 16.8 points and six assists while playing 163 out of 165 possible minutes in the four games.
“He was obviously valuable, but we were only able to [play him so much] because of his commitment to conditioning,” head coach Matt Logie said. “We didn’t have to take him off the court because he was in such tremendous shape and we will always put the guys out there who give us the best chance to win.”
McConnell said his favorite moment of the season was when the Pirates won their eighth consecutive NWC tournament championship over Puget Sound, during which McConnell scored 15 points, recorded seven assists and grabbed six boards.
“It was a lot of fun winning that last game at home. It was the conference tournament championship and the conference tournament is a really important thing to set you up for the NCAA tournament,” McConnell said. “It was a tough win against UPS who’s a good team and our guys played hard. It was a really fun way to end out my career and get a last win at home.”
McConnell, along with senior Colton McCargar, will have an opportunity to further his basketball career at a combine for professional overseas teams in Los Angeles at the end of May.
“[McConnell] definitely has the talent and drive to play after college,” Logie said. “I am looking forward to him having an opportunity to showcase that ability.”
Despite his Whitworth basketball career ending in March, McConnell continued his athletic career for the school until recently playing for the tennis team. Due to the overlap with the end of the basketball season, McConnell missed the first month or so of the season, but finished with a 3-1 singles record and a 1-0 doubles record.
Sophomore Drew Adams, also a basketball-tennis dual athlete, who knows McConnell from their time at Clarkston High School together, said he has gained a respect for McConnell as a teammate over the years.
“I don’t think it mattered where he was, he always has that will and that fire to compete,” Adams said. “He’s always very positive but he’ll get on guys if he needs to. But he gets on himself just as much as he gets on a teammate.”
Whether he ends up playing basketball in Europe, or putting his kinesiology degree to use in the United States, McConnell said he will always be thankful for the four years he spent as a Pirate.
“It was incredible. I couldn’t ask for a better college experience. The groups of guys I got to play with day in and day out are unbelievable players and great guys,” McConnell said. “Guys that push you every day and that’s really what made it so fun is playing with guys that are at such a high level. It really brings you up and I’m just so fortunate to be a part of the teams I was with.”
James Silberman Staff Writer