Photo By: Town Crier file photo
Brett McConnell’s amazing transition from high school volleyball player to community college basketball standout probably wouldn’t have happened without karate.
The Mountain View High graduate isn’t a student of the martial arts, but a karate exhibition in the Foothill College quad last March led to a fateful meeting with Owls basketball player Dave Fullenwiley.
“We were both watching and laughing, but I didn’t really know him,” McConnell recalled. “Then he said, ‘You’re tall – do you play basketball?’”
Although McConnell had only played recreationally beyond the eighth grade – turning to volleyball after being cut from the Mountain View basketball team as a freshman – he accepted Fullenwiley’s invitation to join a three-on-three game with Foothill players later that week.
“I had a lot of fun and I guess I played well, because they asked me to try out,” McConnell said.
Less than a year later – after a lot of hard work and coaching – McConnell leads Foothill in scoring and rebounding through 27 games. He’s the lone Owl averaging double-digit points (11.8) and has grabbed 194 rebounds – 42 more than any of his teammates.
“He just blew up,” Owls coach Shanan Rosenberg said. “Brett dedicated himself and has become a phenomenal player. He’s on pace to be an all-league player and a scholarship player.”
That scholarship won’t come from an NCAA Division I college, though, because of McConnell’s academic status. The post player is not your typical freshman – he’s a 22-year-old who has been taking classes on and off at Foothill since spring 2008. McConnell said he has the grades and credits to transfer, but NCAA rules prohibit him from playing at a Division I school because too much time has lapsed since he started college.
However, McConnell is eligible to play for a Division II or III school, and he said several have shown interest in him. The Mountain View resident has spoken to coaches from eight Division II colleges, including Cal State Monterey, Chico State and Dominican College.
“Basketball has almost been like a backup plan,” said McConnell, who had been trying to get into a respiratory therapy program at Foothill limited to 30 students per year. “I hope to play ball somewhere in the fall and get some sort of scholarship.”
Rosenberg, highly successful in getting his players to four-year schools, is doing what he can to make that happen for McConnell. The Owls’ 10th-year coach raves about his freshman phenom.
“Brett’s a natural athlete who’s done a marvelous job training his body physically,” said Rosenberg, a St. Francis High graduate. “Being new to (college) basketball may have actually helped him – some guys who don’t know any better are better learners, and he’s taken to heart what we’ve told him.”
After joining the offseason strength and conditioning program, McConnell played on Foothill’s summer league team. Well, played might be an exaggeration.
“I didn’t play at all – it was more for the experienced players,” McConnell said. “But afterward, I worked with the assistant coach, Jimmy (Herrera), and he gave me tips and things to work on before the preseason started.”
McConnell, who last played organized basketball at Graham Middle School in Mountain View, was determined to improve. He wasn’t about to get cut like he did as a 5-foot-8 freshman at Mountain View, prompting him to try out for volleyball that spring. Although volleyball had been his favorite sport – he played all four years in high school – McConnell said he was beginning to embrace the physicality of basketball.
“It was more of my type of sport, and I really tried to work hard at it,” McConnell said. “I realized over the summer that I needed to be more aware and comfortable on the court.”
That realization – and his dedication – led to McConnell’s rapid rise from summer-league spectator to opening-game starter. Rosenberg said he was impressed with McConnell’s diligence, aggressiveness and 37-inch vertical jump.
McConnell said pressure usually doesn’t get to him, but he admitted to being nervous in the Nov. 7 opener against Monterey Peninsula.
“I had to guard Andrew Young, a guy who scored 40 against us in summer league,” McConnell said. “I did all right – and we won.”
Five weeks into the season, the coach deemed McConnell “our best player.” With the Owls off to a blazing 9-2 start, McConnell averaged 12 points and nearly eight rebounds per game. He shot 58 percent from the field and 70 percent from the foul line.
In just his second week, McConnell put up 24 points and 11 rebounds against a Diablo Valley team ranked third in the state.
At the Quinn Henry Memorial Tournament that Foothill hosted – and won – three weeks later, McConnell averaged three blocks per game and shared MVP honors with frontcourt mate Fullenwiley.
“It’s been a slow, gradual process,” a humble McConnell said of his progress. “I learned the little things as I played, and I feel I’m still learning.”
While McConnell is learning, the Owls are winning. Foothill is 18-9 and destined for the playoffs.
“I think we can make a pretty good playoff run,” McConnell said. “We can hang with any team in the state, if we play our game.”