One-on-One with T.J. McConnell

Point guard T.J. McConnell discusses why he decided to sign with the Pacers in free agency, what he can bring to the floor, and his amusement at now having two other teammates who are also named "T.J."

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One-on-One with T.J. McConnell

Point guard T.J. McConnell discusses why he decided to sign with the Pacers in free agency, what he can bring to the floor, and his amusement at now having two other teammates who are also named "T.J."
Aug 6, 2019  |  02:11

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Highlights: T.J. McConnell

July 29, 2019 - The Pacers have signed guard T.J. McConnell to a contract. Check out some of McConnell's best plays from his first four NBA seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers.
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July 29, 2019 - The Pacers have re-signed guard Edmond Sumner. Check out some of Sumner's best plays from the past two seasons with the Pacers and Mad Ants.
Jul 29, 2019  |  00:58

McConnell Still Aware of His Role for the Pacers

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

The June 14, 2015 pre-draft workout on the Pacers' former practice court within Bankers Life Fieldhouse was essentially a showcase for two players. Others were participating, but only two seemed under serious consideration.

Myles Turner and Frank Kaminsky, two big men with similar skill sets but disparate experience levels, went head-to-head in a halfcourt scrimmage while Pacers president Larry Bird and his scouting staff watched intently from the courtside bleachers. Every play was run to one of them, while the other defended.

Someone had to pass the ball, though, and some others had to set screens or provide passing targets, so the court was busy with bodies. The nearly invisible guards in that focused audition were Penn State's D.J. Newbill, UC Davis' Corey Hawkins, Villanova's Darrun Hilliard, and Arizona's T.J. McConnell.

McConnell recalled that lifetime-ago Sunday afternoon session after formally signing a contract with the Pacers on Monday that will extend his unlikely NBA career. Meeting with media members across the street from the former Fieldhouse practice court, off to the side of on one of the courts in St. Vincent Center, he joked about his role in making Turner look good — so good that the Pacers took him with the 11th overall selection in that year's draft.

"I was going to text Myles and say, 'You're welcome. That's why they drafted you, because I was your point guard in that workout,'" McConnell said.

McConnell has no hard feelings about his limited role in that workout. He recalls it as the 18th in his pre-draft journey ("I was probably delirious") but also one of his better showings. Not good enough to be drafted by the Pacers or any other NBA team, but still not a complete waste of his time.

Besides, McConnell knew even then why the Pacers ran the workout as they did. Turner and Kaminsky were under consideration for their first-round pick, and therefore the focal points.

"You have to be pretty self-aware," he said.

McConnell used that term more than once on Monday, and it's been the hallmark of his NBA career. He knows his place. He was a high school sensation who averaged 34 points a game while playing for his father, Tim, in the Pittsburgh area, and made himself into a player worthy of draft consideration after transferring from Duquesne to Arizona for his final two college seasons.

He had no delusions about the 2015 draft, hanging on to a sliver of hope that his name might be called late in the second round, but fully aware of the reality.

"I didn't expect it," he said.

He caught a break, though, when Philadelphia invited him to training camp. The 76ers were neck-deep in The Process then, gathering a roster meant to earn another high draft pick rather than win a lot of games. It was the perfect opportunity for an undrafted free agent such as McConnell to find employment, and it worked out as everyone intended. The team managed just 10 victories that season but he played in 81 games, started 17, and established himself as a fan favorite.

T.J. McConnell

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images


Bio Blast

Born: March 25, 1992
Full name: Timothy John McConnell Jr. He is named after his father, his high school coach. He becomes the third T.J. on the Pacers' roster, following Ty Jacob Leaf and Anthony Warren Jr.
Size: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
College: Played at Duquesne as a freshman and sophomore, averaging about 11 points, 5 assists and 2.8 steals over those two seasons. Transferred to Arizona, where he was a first-team all-conference selection as a senior and a two-time all-defensive team member.
Number: Wore No. 12 and then 1 with Philadelphia. T.J. Warren had already claimed No. 1 with the Pacers, so McConnell will switch to No. 9. It recognizes his wedding date of 9-9-17.
Stat: Averaged career-low 19.3 minutes per game last season but had career-best field goal percentage of .525.


He sprinkled plenty of highlights throughout his four seasons, such as a 17-point game against Boston in January of 2017, a 15-point, 13-assist game against Orlando in November of 2017, a triple-double with six steals against New York while playing off the bench in February of 2018, and a 19-point, seven-rebound, five-assist game against Boston in Game 4 of a playoff series in 2018.

He had options in free agency this summer, but says he jumped on the Pacers' offer because of the fan environment and team culture.

"They're young and disciplined and that starts with (coach Nate McMillan)," he said. "I just wanted to be a part of it."

McConnell said Victor Oladipo reached out to him following the reports that he would sign with the Pacers, and the two participated in a group workout in Las Vegas during Summer League play. Turner, his pre-draft teammate for a day, has reached out as well, as did Doug McDermott.

McConnell said he hasn't been promised a particular role, and expects to have to fight for whatever minutes he can get at point guard. Free agent signee Malcolm Brogdon will start, barring injury. But last year's first-round draft pick, Aaron Holiday, hopes to earn more playing time and Edmond Sumner, who also signed a contract on Monday, is in the mix as well.

It's a crowded field, but McConnell has battled odds before.

"We'll just get to work and see what happens and go from there," he said. "I'm going to work my butt off and try to get on the floor."

The fate of the other guards in that 2015 pre-draft workout help measure the success of McConnell's career to this point.

Newbill also went undrafted. He got into four Summer League games with the Clippers that year, but was not invited to training camp and has played professionally in six countries since then. Hawkins, the Big West Conference Player of the Year in 2015, went undrafted as well. He's played Summer League games with Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Golden State, and in preseason games with Miami, but has not played in an NBA regular season game. His career has been spent in the G League and with overseas teams. Hilliard was drafted 38th by Detroit. He played in 91 games with the Pistons and San Antonio over three seasons, but has mostly played for EuroLeague teams the past two seasons.

McConnell, meanwhile, is a veteran of four NBA seasons with a new contract guaranteed to pay him for two more. He has a solid highlight reel and, at 27 years old, reason to believe he can add to it regardless of the competition for playing time.

His career might have received a jump-start by The Process in Philadelphia, but now he gets a fresh start as part of a new process. "A "way different one," as he puts it, with a restructured team hoping to win immediately. He maintains reasonable expectations, but also has set a higher bar for himself. That's part of self-awareness, too.

"I think five years ago if you told me I'd be standing here going into my fifth year and second contract, I probably wouldn't have believed you," he said. "But crazier things have happened. I've worked extremely hard to get where I am and I think I've earned the right to be here."

Edmond Sumner

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Sumner Enters the Fray

Sumner's contract represents a major step forward for the guard who's battled injuries since he enrolled at Xavier in 2014. He earned the Pacers' faith by averaging 22.1 points over 26 games with their G League affiliate in Fort Wayne last season, and showed potential in 23 games with the Pacers.

He had to sit out most of the practices leading up to Summer League play earlier this month and played in only the first game in Las Vegas before a sore foot forced him out of action. He says he's completely healthy now.

"Training camp is going to be a competitive one," he said. "Nothing is really locked. I have to make sure I'm ready to go, make sure I'm healthy."

Sumner laughed when asked his current position. He joined the Pacers two summers ago as a point guard, but has played the "two" guard as well.

"Combo guard," he said.

"This is the first time I started playing the two more than the one. At Xavier I never played the two. I'm going to play whatever position gets me on the court."

He'll have plenty of company at either one, particularly after Victor Oladipo returns.

"I like to compete," Sumner said. "That just raises my bar. If someone is better than me I can live with that. I just have to get better."


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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