Arizona Basketball

Celebrating T.J. McConnell’s 26th birthday

On the popularity scale in Arizona basketball, T.J. McConnell belongs in the same sentence with Arizona greats Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott.

McConnell could run for mayor in Tucson and win in a landslide.

Much like Kerr did after his Arizona career ended in 1988, McConnell has battled against the odds to establish himself in the NBA when many never gave him a chance.

Today, McConnell turns 26 and he appears to be capable of staying in the NBA into his 30’s. Only three short years ago, he went undrafted.

He is a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year award candidate for the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers for his inspirational and efficient performances off the bench. He has a triple-double this season. He averages 6.6 points and 4.2 assists per game and also shoots 42.4 percent from 3-point range — remember when shooting was a knock on him at Arizona?

He has overcame that impediment through countless hours of shooting. Go figure — McConnell working hard for something.

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Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, who has taken part in workouts with McConnell, lauds the young guard’s potential.

“He’s a playmaker, he’s creative and skilled at taking up spaces to put pressure on the defense and create openings for his teammates,” Nash told Sports Illustrated.

Say what you will about Sean Miller, and think what you want, but Miller is responsible for bringing McConnell into the hearts of Arizona fans. Miller welcomed McConnell as a transfer from Duquesne and as a former point guard himself, Miller nurtured McConnell into who he is today.

“I don’t think I would be sitting here, playing in the NBA, without Sean Miller at Arizona,” McConnell said in the accompanying NBA video. “He’s the main reason why I’m sitting here talking to you guys today.

“I was at Duquesne when we played against Arizona. I got to play against him and see the way he operated and it was pretty special.”

Some of McConnell’s Arizona highlights:

— Second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2013-14 and All-Pac-12 selection as a senior in 2014-15.

— Two-time selection for the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team

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— Ranks only behind Russell Brown on Arizona’s season assist record chart. Brown had 247 in 1978-79 and McConnell had 238 in 2014-15.

— His 83 steals in 2014-15 rank only behind Mike Bibby (87 in 1997-98) and Jason Terry (85 in 1996-97).

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