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Inside T.J. McConnell's relationship with Brett Brown and where it all began

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Inside T.J. McConnell's relationship with Brett Brown and where it all began

It is so easy to see why Philly fans love T.J. McConnell. Talk to him for a few minutes and you’ll forget he’s an NBA player, and it’s not because of his baby face and those perfectly manicured locks (though that certainly helps). It’s because there’s a certain aura about him that makes you feel comfortable when you’re around him, and that talking to you isn’t any less important. 

It’s like he’s just one of us.

There was a stat floating around out there that McConnell had the smallest hands at the 2015 NBA draft combine.

On cue, McConnell looked at his hands and spread out his fingers. 

“Have you ever seen those Burger King commercials with like the incredibly small hands?” McConnell asked with a laugh.

“I was already skeptical I was going to make the NBA, but when they did all the testing, I was like, ‘If they really care about this, I am screwed.’”

From there, you know the story. McConnell went from summer league team to Sixers training camp invitee to getting called into Brett Brown’s office on that last day of roster cuts.  

One by one, guys started to leave the facility. And, one of the guys came down and was like, 'Coach wants to talk to you.'

It felt like days going on the elevator, just going up two floors, and I walk into his office, and it’s Lloyd Pierce and Billy Lange sitting there. And that’s the cool thing about Coach, it’s such a special moment and he’s joking and says, ‘I wanted to cut you but my assistant coaches pulled my arm to keep you.' And he was like, ‘Congratulations, you made the team.'” 

I had to sit down. To actually hear the words that: You did it. I can’t describe the feeling. The room kind of just started spinning a little bit, and I had to sit down and gather my emotions.

It was one of the best days of my life.”

Fast-forward through a 10-win season, a 28-win season, a 52-win season, and a roller-coaster of roles, that playful relationship with Brown is still very much the same.  

“Sometimes, he’ll hit me in the arm," McConnell said, "and I’ll hit him back in the chest, and he’ll say: ‘Don’t break your hand before the game.’

“Because he thinks he’s strong." 

McConnell shook his head like a son after his father makes a bad joke.

“He’s great. I just can’t put into words, he’s such a good person," McConnell said. "He’s genuine and he’s always there for the players and you don’t always have that, so I’ve been told.” 

Back on the brink

McConnell has seen his minutes drop as the Sixers continue to grow Markelle Fultz and rookie Landry Shamet continues to shine. But, if McConnell had any sense of bitterness, you wouldn’t know it. 

“He’s just a great coach to play for,” McConnell said of Brown. “I think our relationship has been great ever since I’ve been here.”

McConnell’s decreased minutes are something that weighs on Brown, who admitted over the weekend his disappointment with not being able to find him more time. 

“He is a tremendous example for the things that we value,” Brown said recently. “Look at what he does now when he doesn’t get in the game. He is Markelle Fultz’s biggest fan, he is a tremendous teammate on the bench. He has sacrificed for allowing us, allowing me, to coach Markelle Fultz and try to grow him. He is one of my all-time favorites.”

Brown also mentioned that McConnell is in a contract year. McConnell’s final year of his contract becomes guaranteed on Jan. 10, 2019, and he will become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

He’ll be the first to tell you that he knows another NBA contract isn’t guaranteed.

“I find myself thinking about playing 10 years, but I don’t think I can afford to ever look ahead," McConnell said. "I have to be one of those guys that takes it day by day. If I look ahead and say I want to play 10 years, I don’t think I’m getting the best out of myself that day, so that’s my mindset.”

Life after the NBA

Living in the gym as a coach’s son, McConnell can’t imagine life without it.

“I think coaching is in my blood, but I want my family to come first,” McConnell said. “I know I want to coach, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.” 

Brown, too, is a coach’s son, but McConnell thinks a day will come when his current head coach isn’t anywhere near a gym. 

“When he’s done coaching, I don’t think a lot of us will see him ever again, because I think he’ll go to New Zealand and live in like a little house in the wilderness and go fly fishing and probably have a long beard — that’s the type of guy he is,” McConnell said with a laugh. “It’ll be like the movie 'Castaway' trying to find him.”

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Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

At 17 years old, Kobe Bryant was scrimmaging against professional athletes and Philadelphia college stars, about to embark on a 20-year NBA career.

He impressed in those scrimmages with his skill and bravado. But, according to Jerry Stackhouse, Bryant wasn’t big on passing. 

Stackhouse, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, spent the first two-plus years of his career with the Sixers before being traded to the Pistons and matched up with Bryant in those scrimmages.

What happened with Kobe was nobody really wanted to play with Kobe,” he said on The Woj Pod. “[Former La Salle star and NBA player] Lionel Simmons, you used to always see him pulling Kobe to the side, like, ‘Man, you gotta pass the ball! You gotta learn how to do this!' Because the older guys were from Philly. … These stories kind of take on a life of their own. And yes, Kobe had some good days scoring the ball, because he could handle it so well. But he had tunnel vision at that point. You had pickup games, sometimes he didn’t even get picked up. 

“But again, because he’s so been great since this, these stories go back of ‘Oh, he beat Stackhouse one-on-one.’ Come on, man. Me at 20 years old, can you imagine a 17-year-old beating me consistently? I’d have hurt him first, real talk. Just physically, that could never happen to me. Did we play one-on-one? Yes. Did he beat me, did he maybe win a game? Yes. Did he consistently beat Jerry Stackhouse at 20 years old when he was 17? Hell no. I’m putting an end to that story. … Was he super talented and everyone saw great potential in him? Yes, but those scenarios … of Kobe Bryant, they’re a little bit of a different story when you go talk to people that were actually in the gym. 

Stackhouse noted that it took a little time for Bryant to adjust to the NBA game, which is true. The Lower Merion High School graduate played only 15.5 minutes per game as a rookie. Of course, he went on to make 18 All-Star Games, win five NBA championships and become one of the best players of his era. 

Though Stackhouse wanted to set the record straight on those one-on-one games with Bryant, he was still amazed by his ability at such a young age.

“This kid was unbelievable,” he said. “Just his ball handling ability … he grew up, obviously, emulating Michael Jordan.”

However, the members of the Philadelphia basketball community who were in the gym for those scrimmages were apparently ruthless in their critiques.

“I vividly remember the old heads from Philadelphia,” Stackhouse said, “[they're] like, ‘Come on, man, you gotta pass the ball! That ain’t how you gotta play!’” 

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Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Updated, Thursday, 12:35 a.m.: The Bulls are finalizing a deal to hire Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas as their Executive VP of Basketball Operations, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. 

**** 

Sixers fans, grasping at any semblance of basketball news, received a cruise ship-sized life line on Wednesday.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the Bulls have interviewed former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo for their top basketball ops position:

This is, of course, kind of a mind-boggling decision from the Bulls, considering the way Colangelo's bumpy tenure in Philly ended. 

You know, Burner-gate. Remember that insanity? Remember when the active general manager of the 76ers was linked to Twitter accounts actively disparaging his own players? That really happened!

And yet, despite the public unraveling of his time with the Sixers, and the unsavory nature of his resignation, the Bulls somehow deemed Colangelo worthy of an interview for this position as they try to kickstart their floundering franchise.

Sixers fans couldn't believe it:

Some laughed, and laughed, and laughed:

Some encouraged the insanity, because there's nothing Sixers fans love more than watching a tire fire form in real time:

And then, of course, Sixers Twitter came with the jokes, because they are ruthless and unceasing:

Colangelo actually landing the job is, admittedly, probably a long shot. But the fact that he could even garner an interview at this point in his career, and after his last stop, is both hilarious and confounding.

And Sixers fans are here for it, entirely.

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