After six, unprecedented years in the NBA, former Wildcat TJ McConnell is continuing to prove doubters wrong, as he finds success.
It does not happen every day when someone admits that they are wrong. Especially outspoken players like Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. However, yesterday the three-time NBA Champion (2015, 2017, and 2018) and three-time NBA All-Star (2016–2018) power forward playing for former Arizona Wildcat Steve Kerr, admitted publicly on Twitter that he underestimated TJ McConnell.
As the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers last night, Green had the night off, apparently catching the game. As he was watching the game, he noticed a player who was playing out of his mind and the announcers couldn’t say enough good things about him. Yep, it was our own TJ McConnell. Green was reminded of his first interaction with the former Wildcat.
McConnell is playing in his sixth year in the NBA and is averaging 6.8 points, 6.6 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 25 minutes so far this season.
It hasn’t been an easy road for McConnell. First, he needed help in just getting an invite to the NBA Combine. McConnell looked good in the Combine, but then didn’t get drafted.
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Eventually signing with the Philadelphia 76ers and playing in the 2015 NBA Summer League, he impressed the organization and signed on for the following NBA Season.
During his rookie season, he took on players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James like they were ASU players, and both commented on how impressed they were with his intensity.
At one point, during a Lakers game, the then 23-year-old TJ and Kobe tied up the ball and had to jump for possession. It made national attention. “The jump ball at the end was interesting,” explained Bryant, “We line up and he [TJ] goes, ‘I cannot believe I’m about to line up with you right now, this is crazy!'” This was in McConnell’s rookie season.
TJ signed with the Sixers for the subsequent Summer League in 2016, then again joined the team for the season and stayed in his home state of Pennsylvania until 2019 when he was traded to the Pacers.
This season, TJ is leading the league with the most steals. His 65 steals are five more than the next highest ranking player with Nikola Jokić at 60, and it is seven more than former Bruin Lonzo Ball. TJ now owns the NBA record for most steals in a half. Against the Cavaliers, TJ racked up nine steals in one half (10 total) in their 114-111 win in March 2021.
Last night, in the first game of the second half of the season for the Lakers, it was against TJ’s Pacers.
The announcers couldn’t get over his height with respect to his ability, especially when commenting on his recent triple-double against the Cavs once again. McConnell earned a triple-double with franchise-record 10 steals (Along with 16 points and 13 assists) and was a perfect 8-8 from the field. On top of that, the Pacers were on the road!
After six, productive years in the NBA, the savvy and feisty veteran is only getting better!
TJ married his high school sweetheart Valerie and recently the couple has added a little boy to their family. “I tried to take it to another level, I had some extra motivation being a dad and playing for my son and my wife. Some extra motivation to play harder” said McConnell at a press conference following his first game back after being at the birth of his son. As if he could play any harder, he’s proving it to his family, his fans, and NBA Champions like Draymond Green.