Draft Workout: Pat Connaughton Puts Baseball on Hold to Pursue NBA Career

WALTHAM, Mass. – This summer, Pat Connaughton had the opportunity to live out a dream. The 2014 Baltimore Oriole draftee could have been pursuing a professional pitching career, after being selected in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. He signed a $428,000 signing bonus with the O’s at around this time last year, then played minor league ball and dazzled with his 96-mph fastball.

But Connaughton has put his baseball career on hold. Wednesday morning, the Arlington native was busy chasing another dream, while he worked out for his beloved Boston Celtics in Waltham, Mass.

“I was a little bit giddy, a bit excited to be here and compete in front of guys who I’ve grown to know over the years,” said the 6-foot-5 guard/forward.

“I was a Celtics fan when Antoine Walker was doing “The Shake” (aka “The Walker Wiggle”) and when the Big Three were winning championships.”

Connaughton was a three-sport star at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., starring in football, basketball and baseball. He pursued the latter two sports at the University of Notre Dame, and after his junior season he declared for the MLB Draft. However, just because he had made it as a professional baseball player, did not mean he wouldn’t return to South Bend for his final basketball season.

“I was very clear before the baseball draft that I wanted to go back to school to play basketball and whoever drafted me had to know I was going to do that,” said Connaughton, who graduated in May with a business degree. “I think both the Orioles and myself wasn’t sure how far basketball would go.”

But during the last several months, he has certainly made his case as an athlete with NBA potential.

Connaughton helped guide the Fighting Irish to a 32-6 record as their second-leading scorer (12.8) and top rebounder (7.4). They made it all the way to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to unbeaten Kentucky by two points.

He displayed grittiness, fearlessness, the versatility to guard players of any size and position and the ability to shoot the rock (he led the Irish with 93 3-pointers).

At season’s end, he was considered by many to be a destined undrafted free agent.

Then, at last month’s Draft Combine, Connaughton and his draft stock took off – literally. He astonished coaches, players and media alike when he notched a 44-inch vertical, the highest recorded leap at this year’s Combine and tied for the second-highest in the history of the event.

Suddenly he’s in the conversation as a potential mid-second-round pick.

However, if he does not get drafted, don’t expect Connaughton to call it quits and immediately reach back for his glove.

“I don’t think the Draft is necessarily a do-or-die point for me with basketball,” said Connaughton. “I think I’ll probably be able to compete in summer league, I’ll be able to fight for a roster spot regardless of if I’m drafted or not drafted. And then if I don’t make an NBA roster, then I’ll consider baseball instead.”

If he does make the NBA, we still may see him don a baseball uniform at some point down the road.

“Whether it’s after a 10-year NBA career or whether it’s after a two-year NBA career, when I put my mind to baseball I can succeed at it,” he said.

“I’ve been harping my whole life that you can do two sports at the highest level, to kind of be a role model for those kids that are pressured into choosing one.”

There haven’t been many who have made it in both leagues, but if Connaughton does, he certainly would not be the first to do so. In fact, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge suited up for three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays before embarking upon an All-Star career with the C’s.

“It’s kind of cool that the guy who’s in charge of the team that I grew up rooting for had a similar situation as myself,” said Connaughton. “I hope that with the success he had in basketball, he thinks that I can have the same.”

And there’s no hiding his hope to jump from the Irish of the NCAA, to the Irish of the NBA.

When asked if he can see himself fitting in with the Celtics, Connaughton quickly replied with a grin, “Of course. I think I look pretty good in green.”

Also in attendance

Kentucky 7-footer Dakari Johnson worked out with the C’s on Wednesday. There has been concern regarding his body type: he measured in at 265 pounds and had the highest body fat percentage (14.90%) at the Draft Combine. However, he was noticeably slimmer than when he was last seen in Chicago a few weeks ago. Johnson said he spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles “doing a lot of conditioning, working on my skills, my overall game,” and claims to have lost about 10 pounds … Big 5 Player of the Year Darrun Hilliard (Villanova), NCAA Tournament icon Matt Stainbrook (Xavier), senior small forward Royce O’Neale (Baylor) and Italian small forward Simone Fontecchio were also at the workout.