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From Beaver to Don, McConnell verbally commits to USF


by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Beaverton's Dagny McConnell was a shot-blocking force for the Beaver girls basketball team this season and will be counted on for her defensive abilities when she suits up for the University of San Francisco in 2015-16.

Rarefied posts such as Dagny McConnell are seldom seen in the modern world of girls’ basketball.

Bigs like the 6-foot-3 McConnell who are not only cagey and long to block shots, but then get out quickly, outrun the opponent in transition and finish a fast break at the tin are few and far between.

Fuse McConnell’s guard-like athleticism with an expanding offensive repertoire that’s only going to get better with time and an unselfish mentality based on making the right basketball play for the team, not her own stardom and it’s crystal clear why the University of San Francisco came calling early in the recruiting process.

The Dons — coached by former 1996 Gold Medalist and 2009 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Jennifer Azzi — saw what the Beaverton to-be senior brings to the table, and more importantly what McConnell could potentially blossom into.

Initially, McConnell told the horde of college coaches from St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, Portland State, Pepperdine chasing the all-Metro selection that her collegiate choice wouldn’t be finalized until after the AAU summer season. But, Azzi and USF were ahead of the curve, offering McConnell the full ride she’d sought since the beginning of her high school career. And, after visiting the city campus and taking an official visit, McConnell pulled the trigger and verbally committed to the Dons for the 2015-16 season.

“At the end of the trip I was like ‘Why not come here? This is the most amazing place I’ve been’,” said McConnell. “I’m really excited to be a part of this team and program. The coaches really got to know me personally and as a player. They knew my family and were able to touch base with me.”

When Azzi began courting McConnell, at first getting recruited by an all-time great “was a little intimidating”, the Beaver said. But, the young head coach was down to Earth and upfront with McConnell when it came to mapping out her future.

And, though McConnell was quick to point out how much she enjoys playing for Jay Ego at Beaverton, competing for a female coach at the collegiate level took on important precedence. Azzi made McConnell one of the Dons’ top priorities, flying up to Beaverton twice to watch the Beaver in the pivot.

“(Azzi) has the best interests in me, and I think that was really big confidence booster for me,” said McConnell. “(Azzi’s) played with phenomenal basketball players. She sees what needs to be done in her own program and thinks I’d be a great asset to the team. It’s great that she sees a lot in me and knowing she has a lot of experience on and off the floor.”

McConnell is Beaverton’s long arm of the law and last line of its trumpeted 2-3 zone defense. She’s a rock who emphatically erases perimeter mistakes with well-timed vertical leaps and a wealth of length that encompasses the paint.

A willing passer who finds open teammates by absorbing double teams on the block and doles out the rock accordingly, Beaverton head coach Jay Ego said McConnell is sometimes too unselfish with the ball on offense, turning down her own offense to get her teammates involved. But, Ego noted it’s McConnell’s selflessness that spreads to the rest of the Beavers and promotes a sense of “we not me” on the floor.

“She’s a consummate team player,” Ego said of McConnell. “She possesses the physical attributes to be a really good college player and obviously that translates to college as well. To have someone with her size and athleticism makes her unique in Oregon. She’s the ideal post player.”

Ego said it takes post players a little bit longer to mature, because the position is so demanding physically. And, while the veteran head coach expects a big season in terms of offensive and defensive production from McConnell, he sees brighter days ahead for the long post.

“She’ll play her best basketball in college,” said Ego. “We’re hoping to run more things through offensively, and already it’s evident this summer she can score. Having her makes us hard to guard because we can space the floor so well. She’s not a players you can double team. If you double her, she’ll find someone who’s open. If you don’t, she’ll score on you.”

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Beaverton head coach Jay Ego said he anticipates McConnell will have a huge impact and another breakthrough season for the Beavers as a senior.

McConnell recognized USF was losing most of its top post players to graduation in the next year or two, and hopes to fill that void with her vaunted shot-blocking and rebounding abilities. The chance to get on the court early and see substantial playing time as a freshman was something that peaked McConnell’s interest as she leafed through possible suitors. Plus, the Don coaching staff said they can help the defensive anchor develop her skills on the perimeter and add different dimensions to her offensive game. Ego’s encouraged McConnell to step outside the paint and become comfortable hoisting mid-range jumpers in order to add another tool to the tool box.

“I play most in the post (at Beaverton), but (USF) sees me more of an outside shooter as well,” said McConnell. “Even though I’m a skinnier post and I’m not a big, burly person, (USF) thinks I know how to use my body and get to the basket the way I need to.”

When McConnell touches down on the USF campus, few posts will have the same foot speed to run rim-to-rim on the fast break and also get back quickly in transition defense, which is essential at the collegiate level.

“I just bust it to get to the other end of the floor as fast as I can,” said McConnell with a smile. “It’s important because my teammates know I’m back to block a shot if they get beat. I try to be in the right place and be there for them when they need to. And, at the same time I can run the floor and they look for me on the break if they need to. I think that’s a huge advantage because it’s hard to have all five players down the floor at the same time.”

McConnell noted playing in Ego’s pedal-through-the-floor two-way attack when most high school teams like to slow down the pace accelerated her understanding of the game and what it’ll take to be successful at the next level.

“Transitioning from offense to defense is huge,” said McConnell. “The game in club is super fast. You walk on the floor and you’re out of breath in a second. You’re playing with some of the best players, and that’s how it’s going to be in college, too.”

The advantages of making an early commitment are numerous. With McConnell’s future secure, the sinewy center can fine tune and polish that evolving post arsenal without having to look over her shoulder at the by-standing college coaches. The burden of impressing talent evaluators and getting an offer is gone. McConnell is free from the hassles of the occasionally me-first, get-mine AAU circuit and can now prepare accordingly for her final season - one that’s filled with promise and state title dreams - in a Beaver uniform.

“Now, it’s just a weight off my shoulders, it feels so much better now,” said McConnell. “Being able to play and not have (recruiting) in the back of my mind and knowing I go out and play my hardest is a big relief.”

by: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Beaverton post Dagny McConnell hopes to develop her offensive game even more this coming basketball season and extend her shooting range out to 15 feet at least.

Beaverton is coming off its best season in nearly a decade, tying with Westview for first in Metro, and reaching the 6A state tournament for the second season straight season. The Beavers were one possession away from beating South Medford in the 6A semis, but couldn’t get the ball to one of their big scorers in the final 30 seconds of action. That included McConnell, who blocked four shots and scored seven points, but battled foul trouble throughout and fouled out in the fourth. Beaverton finished fifth in 6A after losing to Westview in the consolation final.

“I’m definitely hungry for that redo,” said McConnell. “You step on the floor every time hungry for more and hungry for that win. Losing just drives you to dig in and play as many minutes as you can. As long as you’re on the floor, you want to go as hard as you can and go balls out.”

A co-captain last season as a junior, Ego said McConnell has a good intensity in her game, but helps keep her team relaxed by keeping her emotions in check.

“Dagny’s a confident voice on the floor and in the locker room,” said Ego. “She does a lot of things on and off the floor that are super valuable to us. Each year she’s progressively gotten better. My only regret is she’ll be gone next year.”

If McConnell can be more of a “dominant scorer” Ego said it’ll open the game even more for the likes of Alyssa Christiansen, Gigi Stoll, Lexus Miller-Moylan and the rest of the returning Beavers next year.

“We’d like her to be that player where it’s the last 30 seconds of the game, we’re going to go to her and she’s going to finish the shot,” said Ego. “Being that go-to player and finisher is hopefully something she can take on for us this year.”

“We’re a really young team, but we have a lot of talent and skill,” added McConnell. “Having teams know that I’m committed to a D1 school could intimidate teams a little. We have good guards who can shoot, so I can kick the ball out if I get doubled for them to shoot and drive. We have good positions on all sides of the floor that we can utilize.”

During the summer McConnell plays for Oregon Elite — one of the country’s more renowned AAU programs that’s coaches by former Lake Oswego head coach Gary Lavender — which helped highlight her strengths on the floor and garner attention from Division One schools.

“I knew people were watching me, and I knew this could be it, this could be my future,” said McConnell. “So, just going out and playing hard and practicing as hard I could and applying everything I learned into the games really helped. I left it all out on the floor.”

With a seemingly bottomless well of potential and five more years of hoops to grow under the tutelage of a Hall of Fame player who experienced wild professional success, McConnell said she’s been inspired to see if playing pro ball in Europe can become an actuality. Not bad for a former middle school volleyball player walked into Ego’s “Beaverton Basketball Clinics” as a willowy seventh grader and never looked back.

“I’d love to explore the world thorugh basketball,” said McConnell. “That’s something that I love and why not take it to the extreme? But, that’s still just a possibility. I’m still thinking about it.”