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T.J. McConnell Q&A: Inspiration for dance moves, love for Philly fans and more

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Paul Hudrick

T.J. McConnell Q&A: Inspiration for dance moves, love for Philly fans and more

When I asked for fans to send in their questions for T.J. McConnell, they came pouring in! 

Hope you enjoy our fun Q&A.

SW: What do you call your pregame dance where you look like you’re dipping both hands in cookie jars? 

T.J.: I call it the … well, I don't have a name for it, but Richaun (Holmes) started it with the dancers that come out and we're just imitating it and obviously I don't have a lot of rhythm so it probably looks like I'm putting my hands in cookie jars, but that's not what I'm going for.

SW: So what are you going for? 
T.J.: 
I think whatever the dancers are trying to do, and I'm not doing it very well.

SW: What music do you like to listen to on game day?
T.J.: 
So, I'm actually not a big player where before games I will put on my headphones and get into a zone. I've never done that.

SW: What do you do?
T.J.: 
I'm just relaxing. After I'm on the court, I go have a meal back there and I talk to a lot of people. I text friends. Text my wife, call her, my family. But since Jimmy (Butler) has gotten here, he's really put me onto country, and that's what I listen to when I'm home or in the car, so kudos to Jimmy for helping me out with that.

SW: Since you’re a Pennsylvania native, do you eat scrapple?
T.J.: 
Eat WHAT?

SW: Scrapple.
T.J.: 
I have never heard of that in my entire life. 

SW: Me either. I had to look it up after a fan asked, it's basically scraps of meat with cornmeal that's shaped into loaves for slicing and frying, and is apparently tied with Eastern Pennsylvania ...
T.J.: 
That sounds foul. 

SW: How do you keep your hair so immaculate under such extreme circumstances?

(
Sidenote: Remember when Dario Saric said it was like plastic?)

T.J.: I don't really agree with that statement, because I would say, my second year in the NBA was better because I would put gel in it, and then hairspray it, but then I started breaking out in acne and you just can't keep getting acne at 24, 25. 

So now, I don’t know, I guess water and a great comb. 

SW: How do you feel about the change in the city over the past few years, and not just with the Sixers, but with the Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers?
T.J.: 
In professional sports, you are obviously about winning, but when your front office as a whole, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Eagles, us, when you're about winning and you make moves even more, like each organization has to take it to the next level, its special, and this city deserves it. The Eagles winning the Super Bowl last year, us making that jump to the second round of the playoffs when we haven't been there in awhile, the Phillies going out and getting Bryce Harper, and the Flyers as well, it's just an exciting time to be in Philly and I say this all the time, the fans deserve a winning product and I'm glad they get to see that.

SW: Who was your favorite player growing up?
T.J.: 
I loved Steve Nash, watched him all the time and I've gotten to know him a little bit from being on the Sixers. We've gone out to LA to work out with him, so it's really been like a dream come true. 

SW: Most impactful thing you’ve learned from him?
T.J.: 
He gave me so much information that one thing was not more important than the other. It all was just so important. The thing I learned from him and the reason I think that he was as great as he was, was just his attention to detail and the way he takes care of his body and his movements on the floor to gain an advantage and you kind of see that and you're like OK now I know why this guy won back-to-back MVPs.

SW: All-time favorite or least-favorite, depending on how you look at it, players to defend?
T.J.: 
Ironically, they both play or played on the Celtics. My rookie year, and I haven't had to defend him since my second year, I think, was Isaiah Thomas. He just literally abused me every time we played. And I'd like to consider myself a decent defender where I have enough pride where somebody is not going to abuse me everytime, I'll kind of figure something out, but he did. And Kyrie (Irving), his handle is just, you can't even see where the ball is at half the time, it's on a string. Those two guys have been incredibly difficult, but I mean, as a point guard in the NBA, I don't think you really have a night off guarding anyone. They are all really difficult.

When you're guarding guys like Steph (Curry) and Kyrie and Dame (Lillard), and all the great point guards it's like, you're so locked in, in trying to stop them, they're so good, you're not going to shut anyone down.

SW: How do you feel about the “White Iverson” nickname?

T.J.: I think it's funny. Obviously it's a joke, because that guy was one of the greats, one of the best to do it at his size and will obviously be a legend in Philadelphia forever.

SW: But I think it’s also about what you represent to Philly fans …
T.J.: 
I mean there are similarities, like obviously his talent is just like another galaxy better than mine, and that's not putting me down, but how passionate he was about the game, I am. I think the same thing. His love for Philadelphia. In that regard, I think me and him are similar. I love playing here, I love playing in front of these fans and with my teammates and playing with the heart that I do and he did every night.

SW: Do you live in Sixers sweats?
T.J.: 
Oh yeah, I hate dressing up, but there are times when I'm like, I'm going to try to impress myself because I never really dress up, but other than that I love wearing sweats. 

Unless it’s when he wear his wedding suit to his exit interview:

Obviously you've got to take care of your body a little bit, but at that age I wasn't exactly worrying about my diet. I feel like I've always had a lot of heart, and I feel like having that and a mindset to never give up and never quit will take you a long way.

SW: Are you saving slapping the hardwood for the playoffs?
T.J.: 
Umm, I don't know. When I do stuff like that, I tend to blackout in those situations, so we'll see if we go on a big run and the fans are really into it, then I will. 

SW: How do you like your cheesesteak?
T.J.: 
Regular cheeseteak. I'm a bit weird because I try to stay away from dairy as much as I can, so I don't put cheese on it, which is like really weird. Onions, mushrooms, and I'll mix like hot sauce and ketchup together and make this weird … almost like a Siracha. Don't knock it ‘till you try it.

SW: Something you’re afraid of?
T.J.: 
I hate snakes. Ben's Instagram post the other day. He had a snake in his pocket and that's just not for me.

I know they are a part of the ecosystem, they probably eat stuff that helps us out, but I think they are disgusting animals. Disgusting.

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The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

The legacy of Charles Barkley is present in Sixers' quest for title

CAMDEN, N.J. —  With Charles Barkley having a statue unveiled on Legends Walk at the team’s practice facility Friday, there were plenty of living legends in attendance.

Former teammates like 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Jones and the ever-present World B. Free were there. Barkley’s first NBA coach and Hall of Fame player Billy Cunningham was on hand to say a few words. 

The craziest may have been a story about Barkley almost not even being a Sixer.

When we were getting ready to draft, it was probably the best draft I can ever remember," Cunningham said. "It was Michael Jordan, [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Sam Perkins, etc. And [then-Sixers owner] Harold [Katz] loved Charles Barkley. But the story before that was we had the No. 1 pick from the Clippers and a week or 10 days before that — Bill Fitch was the coach of Houston and the reason you have the lottery today is because of this — they dumped every game, which allowed them to get Olajuwon. So Charles, you might not have been sitting here if they didn't dump those games. We might have had Olajuwon or Michael Jordan here.

The next person to speak was current Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who has plenty of experience with … well ...

I can't believe that Coach Fitch dumped games to get high draft picks. Can you believe that, somebody, to get high draft picks, dumping games? I don't know what you're talking about.

After the laughter quieted down, Brown spoke frankly about Barkley’s legacy. Brown mentioned Barkley’s impact on his current team as it came out the other side of The Process.

While the idea of the Sixers getting to draft Jordan or Olajuwon would’ve been incredible, who knows if their careers would’ve wound up the same. Barkley landed in Philly and there may not have been a better place for him or a better player for the city of Philadelphia.

Barkley was fearless, both on and off the court. He never backed down from a challenge on the floor and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind off it. 

Fierce competitor — the attitude he played with, the hustle, it screamed out Philly. It is Philly,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said. “And your DNA is still currently in this team today. When I'm thinking of team building, I'm thinking of heart. Players that don't back down, that are fierce. A player that's going to be selfless and try to win. So when I pursue a championship this season, you're still here — your DNA is still in this organization and in this current team.

Paul Hudrick

Brand, like Barkley, was considered undersized for the power forward position at 6-foot-8. All Brand did was get drafted No. 1 overall, win Rookie of the Year, become a two-time All-Star and have a 17-year career. At 6-foot-6, Barkley became a Hall of Famer and was one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game.

All of that started for Barkley in Philly as he played alongside Julius Erving and Moses Malone. Barkley credits Malone with helping mentor him and forcing the man affectionately known as the Round Mound of Rebound to lose weight. 

Barkley’s hope is that the Sixers are doing that now with holding Joel Embiid accountable for his health. He also hopes that people in the organization are doing that for Ben Simmons, who Barkley said is "going to be one of the best to ever do it" if he improves his shot the way he saw Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did.

Barkley still loves his former team and believes they’re a legitimate championship contender with their two young All-Stars leading the way.

The Sixers have everything. I put a lot of faith in Ben and Joel. Listen, let's be realistic, and you guys know this — the Sixers were probably a bounce of the basketball from being the champs last year. … Now, they're on everybody's radar. Joel was crying after the game, which let me know, hey, we all cry after games like that. But now I gotta get better. I love the addition of Al Horford. I love the addition of Josh Richardson. The Sixers got everything in place. Everything in place.

Part of the foundation Brand and Brown have built is based on the rich history of the franchise. Sure, other teams may have more titles but what the Sixers have is nothing to gloss over. This is the franchise of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Cunningham, Dr. J, Moses, Maurice Cheeks, Jones, Barkley and Allen Iverson.

None of that is lost on Brown.

The statues that you see, I use often with our players to have a look at what you pass as you enter our practice facility. To be able to come into our practice facility and look up and see the banners that this organization has had the privilege of calling a 76er is truly breathtaking for me. Some of the people in the room — Doc's not here, Wilt has passed, A.I. — you can keep going. You go to many programs and you're just not having that history right in front of you. We appreciate, maybe more than you know, your legacy and what your brought to this organization.

Barkley talked about how all of the coaches and players that helped him from the projects in Leeds, Alabama, all the way to Houston, deserve credit.

Your life isn't just about you. Every player, coach from Leeds High School, Auburn, eight years with the 76ers, four years with Phoenix, four years in Houston — every coach and player I've ever played with gets a little piece of this sculpture.

And with Barkley’s legacy still present with the Sixers, a piece of a championship would be his as well.

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Is the Sixers' new-look starting 5 better or just new?

Is the Sixers' new-look starting 5 better or just new?

The Sixers’ starting lineup will look completely different in 2019-20. It remains to be seen if the new look will be better.

Gone are Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick. In are Al Horford and Josh Richardson. Still, the Sixers have one of the most talented starting units in the entire NBA with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Horford and Richardson.

In this year’s edition of Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 NBA Players of 2020, all five players are ranked fairly … for the most part. (You can check out the whole list and criteria for yourself.)

Not only are all five starters in the top 100 but they’re also all in the top 75. 

The lowest ranked is Richardson at 71, sandwiched between Harrison Barnes and Thaddeus Young. This feels like a good spot for J-Rich, though he was listed in the same exact spot for 2019 and certainly improved. He’s an ascending player that the Sixers may be getting at the perfect time of his career as he enters his age-26 season.

Next was Harris at 49, just ahead of Gary Harris of the Nuggets. Like Richardson, this seems fair, but Harris saw a nice jump. Harris was No. 65 on the list last year. Also, like Richardson, Harris is still improving and just turned 27 this summer. The pair of Tennessee alums have had a similar rise in the NBA and it’ll be interesting to see what they can do in a full year with the Sixers.

There are teams with impressive star power on the list. Both L.A. teams have two players in the top 10 — the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard (2) and Paul George (8) and the Lakers with LeBron James (3) and Anthony Davis (6). The Rockets have James Harden (5) and Russell Westbrook (12).

But one of the most notable facts is that the Sixers have three players in the top 25, the only team that can make that claim.

Simmons rose three spots from 26 to 23 while Horford dropped two spots from 16 to 18. Embiid also rose a couple spots from No. 9 to No. 7. (Perhaps the only thing that seems out of line is Anthony Davis being ahead of Embiid at No. 6, but I digress).

When you consider that Richardson and Horford are taking the place of Butler (11) and Redick (67), it’s an interesting trade off. The departed players are ranked higher but their value to the Sixers — something that SI outlines isn’t part of the equation when making the list — is different. Sure, the Sixers will miss Redick’s shooting, but Richardson’s defense is immensely better. Butler’s ability to create his own shot was huge for the Sixers, but Horford being able to play next to and back up Embiid may prove to be invaluable. Plus, it doesn’t seem out of line to say that Horford will be better for the Sixers’ locker room.

So is the Sixers’ starting five better? According to SI’s list, no.

But games aren’t played on paper — or on the internet — so we’ll find out for real starting Oct. 23.

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