Arizona Basketball

T.J. McConnell and the near triple-double

T.J. McConnell

Pretty much nobody thought T.J. McConnell could play in the NBA.

Too small. Too slow. Can’t shoot it well enough.

And then the former Arizona Wildcats point guard made the Philadelphia 76ers roster in the 2015 training camp. Then he started 17 games. Then he averaged 6.1 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds while averaging about 20 minutes per game.

Yeah, he can play in the NBA.

Even when the Sixers brought in more competition in the offseason — former UA guard Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez — McConnell clutched to his roster spot (with the help of Bayless’ wrist injury).

McConnell has backed up Rodriguez this season, but he’s always ready. He sure was Sunday night. McConnell nearly delivered a triple-double.

Moral of the story: Doubt T.J. McConnell at your own peril.

He made his first start of the season Sunday night — Bayless is out again with a wrist injury and Rodriguez was ill — and came up one assist short of his first career triple-double. He had 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Sixers won at the Detroit Pistons 97-79.

McConnell nearly had the late assist he needed, but Robert Covington‘s layup rimmed out as he was fouled in the final two minutes.

“The guys come up to me and told me that I was one assist away,” McConnell said his postgame interview (which you need to watch below for some shenanigans from a teammate).

“I didn’t really care about it. They wanted me to get it more than I did. I was just worried about getting us a W, and we came out with one. But I told Rob — because he wanted me to get it so bad — that if he wanted me to get one, why didn’t he just finish that last layup?”

McConnell entered the game averaging 3.3 points, 4.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds.

“How tough was he?” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said of McConnell in his postgame press conference. “We truly talk about it a lot, that edge and Philly heart. Although he is from Pittsburgh, he is also Pennsylvania, and he really brought that edge tonight.”

As Arizona fans know, what else did anyone expect?

McConnell just keeps defying expectations.

“I think it gives you more confidence knowing that you are going to play more minutes,” McConnell told reporters afterward. “We want Sergio here and I just tried to step in and hold down the fort. I just knew I had to go out and play like I have been since I got here.”

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