You might not hear too many athletes confess that they’re not the best, that they don’t have what it takes to be a superstar in their sport.
But hearing that can be pretty refreshing at times. T.J. McConnell hopes it’s refreshing to the ears of NBA executives.
The guard, who’s looking to get selected in this month’s NBA Draft after wrapping up his senior season at Arizona, talked about his approach at last month’s NBA Draft Combine, making it clear that he’s looking to do anything that will get him on a roster.
“I’m here to be a team guy, a locker-room guy. I’ll know my role. I’m not going to try to come into a team and be something that I’m not," McConnell said. "I’ll come in and run a team, play hard and hit open shots.”
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He also said that being the type of player who wants to be a superstar can be detrimental to certain guys. Sure, there are those who have the ability to be one of the league’s top stars. But every championship team needs role players, too.
That’s what McConnell wants to bring.
“I think sometimes players get lost in the shuffle because sometimes they don’t accept their role. It kind of messes with their head," he said. "But for a guy like me, I know I’m not going to be superstar kind of guy. I’m going to go in and do what my team needs me to do and play hard.”
Don’t let McConnell’s humble approach fool you, though. He isn’t just some guy you’ll run into at your local rec center.
McConnell spent two years in Tucson and served as point guard, running the show on a team that made back-to-back runs to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. Each time, the Wildcats lost to the Final Four-bound Wisconsin Badgers, but that shouldn’t tarnish the accomplishments of a team that won Pac-12 regular-season championships in each of the past two seasons.
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McConnell himself, though surrounded by great talent, stood out, as well. He was an all-conference selection this past season and had a terrific NCAA tournament, averaging 15.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds in four tournament games. His 19- and 17-point performances in NCAA tournament wins over Ohio State and Xavier, respectively, were his third- and fourth-highest scoring outputs of the season.
In addition to taking a team-first attitude toward his NBA future, prospective employers ought to like the fact that McConnell has not just played on basketball’s big stage but that he’s thrived there.
“I think in the NBA, every game’s a big game," McConnell said. "The NCAA tournament is the biggest of big in the NCAA, so those Elite Eights and Sweet Sixteens really prepare you for the type of games you’re going to be playing in the NBA.”
McConnell might not be superstar material, but he’s not trying to be. Fellow Arizona alums Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Sean Elliott and Jason Terry might not have ever been the best players on their NBA teams. But they all have NBA championship rings, 10 of them between the four, to be exact.
See? Championship teams need role players, too.