ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was easy to spot Tim McConnell in the middle of the sea of red.
He was the man with the permanent smile and pride beaming out of his eyes.
Wearing a red T-shirt with Zona across the chest, McConnell was on cloud nine during the UA’s pregame pep rally at JT Schmid’s restaurant, across the street from Honda Center.
Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell’s father couldn’t hide his excitement as he was about to watch his son play in a Sweet 16 game.
“I’m living the dream right now,” Tim said. “I really mean that. This is a dream come true. To be here watching my son, who is two wins away from a Final Four, is just unbelievable.”
McConnell, who is a coach at Chartiers Valley High School in Pennsylvania, flew to San Diego last weekend for the Wildcats’ first two games of the tournament against Weber State and Gonzaga.
After the UA’s win over the Bulldogs, Tim stayed out West rather than return to Pennsylvania.
Traveling with his younger son, Matty, a junior at Chartiers Valley, and two of Matty’s friends, Tim rented a car and drove to Tucson on Monday to see T.J. The group celebrated T.J.’s 22nd birthday on Tuesday and then drove back to Anaheim on Wednesday for Thursday night’s game.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Tim said. “He’s in such a great situation at Arizona playing for Coach (Sean) Miller and for such a great team. This has been such a joy to follow him this year.”
Tim was at McKale Center for the UA’s first two games of the season against Cal Poly and Long Beach State. He also traveled to Michigan for the UA’s game against the Wolverines.
Other than that, Tim had to take in most of the Arizona games on television.
It was something he prepared himself for when T.J. transferred from Duquesne to the UA before the 2012-13 season.
“When he made the call to transfer, it was a tough decision for the family, but it was the best decision for him and a great opportunity,” Tim said. “It’s certainly not as easy to watch him play as it used to, but that’s not most important. What’s important is that he’s happy and he is.”
Once Tim, Matty and the McConnell traveling party made it back to Anaheim, they were treated by a special guest, Pauline Beattie. Beattie was T.J.’s English teacher during his senior year of high school.
They were all in the stands to watch T.J. reach a notable achievement Thursday night. The junior guard came into the game with 999 career points in his three seasons between Duquesne and Arizona. McConnell reached 1,000 points when he scored the first Arizona bucket of the game at the 18:17 mark of the first half.
“Matty scored his 1,000th career point in high school earlier this season and now T.J.,” Tim said. “It’s been amazing.”
Once inside the arena, the McConnell crew contributed to an electric atmosphere in the packed Honda Center.
For the first time in a long time, the Wildcat fans were outnumbered in a neutral setting, though it wasn’t by much. San Diego State had a few more fans and made a lot more noise.
Of course, that didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of UA fans in the arena for the game and surrounding Honda Center before it.
Frank Vasquez and his wife Jackie, who drove to Anaheim on Tuesday for the game, took in the pregame festivities at JT Schmid’s. Vasquez graduated from the UA in 1959 and scored seats near center court in section 222.
“You don’t miss games like this,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez doesn’t have season tickets to UA home games but still finds his way to a lot of contests.
“My neighbors always try to hide when I come scratching on their door for tickets to games,” he quipped.