The second installment of our Arizona Wildcats Top 10 Hoops Badasses includes two players from the Sean Miller era as well as the best defensive guard in the Lute Olson years.
These three players take us through No. 4 on the list. You can view the Nos. 10 through 7 selections by clicking here.
The list was inspired by the popularity of our ranking of Arizona’s Top 10 Football Badasses.
Check back for the last installment soon.
No. 6 — T.J. McConnell
T.J. McConnell is a coach’s son who played for a coach’s son and both are from the Steel City — Pittsburgh.
By that alone, he must have a toughness about him befitting of a badass.
“T.J. has the personality of a winner,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said a couple of years ago. “He has a resiliency, a toughness that isn’t fake. If you watch us practice he’s our hardest worker and he brings it every day. It’s one of the reasons why I think Parker (Jackson-Cartwright) is getting better, because he plays against a tireless worker every day.
“He sets the tone for a lot of good things that happen for our team.”
All a teammate has to do is look at McConnell to gain a certain energy. That’s happening now in McConnell’s second year with the Philadelphia 76ers.
At Arizona, he screamed and got in the faces of teammates. He dives after loose balls with reckless abandon. His face gets beet red from the heat of the competition. How can anybody play without passion after watching him?
After McConnell recorded eight steals against Oregon State as a senior at McKale, Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle was amazed how much McConnell’s effort rubbed off on the Wildcats.
“Arizona is tough,” Tinkle said. “McConnell is my player of the year. He is everything to his team.”
My colleague Anthony Gimino made a point earlier that season that McConnell compares favorably with Scooby Wright, who has excelled at an elite level in college despite having a two-star recruiting status out of high school. “TwoStarScoob” as his Twitter handle reads, made this site’s top 10 Arizona football badasses with his unrelenting style.
McConnell was also a two-star recruit out of Chartiers Valley High School in Bridgeville, Pa. Nobody from the power conferences recruited him, including nearby Pitt (then of the Big East). He decided to stay close to home and play for Duquesne.
“T.J. came here with very little fanfare, but I can make the argument that no player that we’ve brought here during my time has been more instrumental toward winning than him,” said Miller, who is known for his ability to recruit five-star recruits.
An Associated Press story in the 2014-15 season labeled McConnell the “Mayor of McKale”.
Here’s an excerpt from that article that describes McConnell appropriately:
Typically holding court near center court, he greets players like a first baseman chatting with opposing baserunners, bantering about how well they’re playing, how much he respects them, maybe saying something to make them laugh. Occasionally, he’ll wander in front of the opposing team’s bench, praise the coach or chat with a player. Once the game goes live again, Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell transforms. He spits fire, not compliments. Hounds opponents relentlessly. Howls at the crowd with a red-faced fury. Puts every ounce of his being toward winning.
“He’s the heart and soul and when his face gets red and he’s pumping his veins, that’s every day for him,” said former Arizona teammate Stanley Johnson, who felt the brunt of McConnell’s no-nonsense style many times.
McConnell told Johnson to “shut up” loud enough for the ESPN cameras to pick up when Johnson was jawing with a Kansas State player during the Maui Invitational two seasons ago.
A badass has his way of making himself be heard and understood. McConnell has that characteristic about him.
Coach McConnell has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
No. 5 Reggie Geary
Ask former Cal coach Todd Bozeman if Reggie Geary, one of the most fiercest competitors to wear the Arizona Wildcats uniform, deserves to be on this list of badass hoops players.
As a sophomore with the Arizona Wildcats, Geary was undaunted going against Jason Kidd and Cal in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 13, 1994. Geary’s brazen demeanor on the court was what Arizona Wildcats coach Lute Olson needed from a leader in the din of Harmon Gym against the 18th-ranked Golden Bears.
Three Arizona Wildcats scored 20 points or more, led by Khalid Reeves’ 26 points, in their resounding 96-77 win over Bozeman’s Bears in a marquee Pac-10 matchup.
What did not show up in the box score — but had more to do with the outcome than anything — was Geary’s ability to win the mind game against Bozeman and his players. Geary, highly confident dating to his Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School days, did not back down from anybody, and he could tell you about that on the court.
“Geary got into a lot of people’s heads,” Kidd told the Associated Press after the game. “I think he got into Coach’s head.”
Geary was such a defensive presence that he guarded Kidd and off-guard Monty Buckley flawlessly for most of the game when he replaced Reeves and Damon Stoudamire in the lineup.
When Arizona went on a 13-4 run to take a 74-65 lead and force Bozeman to call timeout, Geary openly celebrated toward the Bears’ bench. Bozeman accused Geary of cursing at Buckley, which Geary denied. Bozeman grabbed official Charlie Range’s wrist, asking for a technical foul.
He got what he wanted, but Range called the technical on Bozeman, not Geary. The Wildcats pulled away to a 87-65 lead.
“That was the best psych job of my life,” Geary told the AP. “I know what the boundary is. I never crossed the boundary.”
Bozeman’s frustration reached a boiling point near the end of the game when he and Olson got into a heated exchange. With 1:38 left, Olson interrupted Bozeman’s complaints to officials by yelling, “What’s your problem?”
“What’s your problem?” Bozeman shot back.
“Oh, sit down!” Olson screamed.
“No, you sit down, you sit down!” Bozeman shouted.
“He’s just ornery enough to thrive on the pressure situations. You should have seen him when we played at Arizona State. He loves the added challenge of having all those people on his back. He’s feisty.”
— Lute Olson commenting about Reggie Geary in a 1993 Los Angeles Times article
If Geary was not openly smiling, he must have been grinning inside. His job was complete.
Since Geary’s freshman season, Olson claimed the guard was the best defender he coached.
“He can go out and play in a guy’s face and still be in the right place when someone needs help,” Olson said in a 1993 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
In that same article, Olson said of Geary: “Reggie is the strongest team leader for a freshman as any player I’ve ever coached.”
“He’s just ornery enough to thrive on the pressure situations,” Olson continued. “You should have seen him when we played at Arizona State. He loves the added challenge of having all those people on his back. He’s feisty.”
Geary is now sharing those competitive instincts with his players as a successful head coach in a Japanese professional league.
When his Arizona career came to an end in 1996, Geary told the Arizona Daily Wildcat that he used his “verbal skills” on the court differently as he matured.
“I’ve just placed the focus in a different area,” Geary said. “I don’t talk as much to other players and refs, now it’s to the team, giving words of encouragement and instruction.”
That is working in Japan.
No. 4 Kevin Parrom
Kevin Parrom went from not knowing anything about the Arizona Wildcats’ rivalry with ASU in 2009 to immediately becoming one of the most discussed players in the series.
The freshman lived up to his Bronx toughness by closing in on ASU’s Ty Abbott in transition and fouled Abbott before he reached the basket. Parrom did not knock Abbott to the ground but he fouled him hard coming across the body, which prompted Abbott to turn toward him and get in his face.
Parrom squared up to Abbott and flashed a big smile while nodding. He did not have to say a word.
He saved his thoughts publicly for Twitter after the game, won by Arizona 77-58 to end a five-game losing streak against the Sun Devils.
“ASWho?!?!?” he wrote. “I’m from tha Bronx, New York. No Easy Buckets.”
The last part of that sentence became a popular hashtag for Parrom and Arizona fans: #NoEasyBuckets
A year after that episode with Abbott, Parrom and former ASU guard Derek Glasser got into a heated exchange as the buzzer sounded at the end of the game won by the Sun Devils in Tucson. Parrom and ASU just did not mix.
Parrom’s toughness allowed him to work his way through some very difficult times at Arizona. He endured more in one year than any other athlete could imagine.
In 2011, his grandmother and mother passed away from illnesses. He was also shot in his right leg and left hand by an intruder at an apartment complex in the Bronx. At a time when he could have given up, Parrom kept fighting.
That kind spirit, of one who never backed down and persevered like a badass, makes Parrom one of Arizona’s most popular players with fans.
“I can’t dwell on what’s happened to me,” Kevin told ESPN.com in 2011. “My mom wouldn’t want me to. I’m grateful that I’m still here. All I can do is keep living my life and moving forward.”