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Former Arizona interim head coach and assistant coach Kevin O’Neill was the most vocal about what he perceived were T.J. McConnell’s shortcomings last season, but others in the NBA believed it, too.
Otherwise, why did McConnell go undrafted?
“I’m not sure T.J. McConnell is anything but an average defender at the point,” O’Neill, who has head coaching experience in the NBA, said last season as a Pac-12 Networks analyst.
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When the debate raged on whether McConnell should be Pac-12 Player of the Year last season, O’Neill said: “T.J. McConnell is not one of the top eight players on his team. He is the seventh, maybe eighth most talented player on that roster.”
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If that was the case, it would put him in the category of freshmen reserves Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Gabe York, Elliott Pitts were the top six scorers from last season other than McConnell. Ristic and Jackson-Cartwright followed.
After achieving a triple-double in his first NBA start last night, McConnell is presently among the top five players in the NBA in assists. From being the “seventh, maybe eight most talented player” at Arizona to being one of the top five point guards in the NBA?
No wonder Sean Miller Tweeted this the other day:
They said… "he couldn't play in the NBA" https://t.co/Cqv9eQI6FL
— Sean Miller (@UACoachMiller) November 3, 2015
McConnell tied for the team-high with 35 minutes and finished with 12 assists with only one turnover in Philadelphia’s 91-87 loss at Milwaukee last night. He scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field, including a swish of his only three-point attempt. He also gathered nine rebounds, topping teammate and fellow rookie Jahlil Okafor, who had six.
“He played phenomenal,” Okafor told the Philadelphia Inquirer of McConnell. “We are a great offensive team when he is in there. He’s naturally a great offensive leader. I enjoy being on the same team with him and it’s fun being on the floor with him.”
No surprise: McConnell did not bask in the statistics. Instead, he was disappointed about losing another game — his four losses already with Philadelphia in one week equals his total with Arizona from last season.
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) November 5, 2015
“I’m not really looking into all that,” McConnell told the Inquirer about his near triple-double. “We couldn’t come up with the win. So I’m just looking forward toward Cleveland (on Friday) now. It stings that we didn’t get the win, but we’ve got to move on.”
Speaking of Cleveland, McConnell gets another shot to play LeBron James’ team. McConnell made a highlight-reel steal off James and fed the ball to Nerlens Noel for a dunk last week. Not bad for an “average defender”.
He has almost as many steals (six) as turnovers (seven) so far. He has 32 assists.
Arizona fans and Miller hope McConnell can have a lasting impact on the Wildcats, most notably Jackson-Cartwright, this season.
Remember when McConnell said this …
T.J. McConnell on Parker Jackson-Cartwright: "Way better than me. Tucson is in great hands with Parker." http://t.co/3BKvu76PWJ
— Anthony Gimino (@AGWildcatReport) March 29, 2015
Arizona followers hope McConnell’s words ring truer than O’Neill’s.