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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Transfer guard lands at Arizona after little recruitment out of high school

Janice Biancavilla
Janice Biancavilla/ Daily Wildcat UA defeats Duquesne 67-59 on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

On Nov. 8, 2011, T.J. McConnell stood in a McKale Center hallway talking about his upcoming Wednesday night game against family friend Sean Miller.

Sporting red and blue Duquesne warm-ups, the point guard discussed his road to Duquesne and the longstanding friendship between Tim McConnell, his father and coach, and UA head coach Miller.

His admiration for Miller and his program was apparent in McConnell’s every word, yet the floor general had never had the chance to play for Arizona’s coach.

Despite averaging 34.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.1 assists while leading Chartiers Valley High School in Bridgeville, Pa., to a 29-2 record and a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League title under his father’s coaching, McConnell received just one scholarship offer.

Recently fired Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart was the only coach to call McConnell and offer him a roster spot, and the 6-foot-1, 185-pound point guard had no choice but to sign on.

McConnell always dreamed of playing big-time college basketball, but that wasn’t going to happen at Duquesne. He said that because of that lack of recruitment, “I go out there every night and play like I have something to prove.”

McConnell has proved his worth to Miller.

After he took the Atlantic 10 Conference by storm his freshman year and turned 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game into Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors, Miller raved about the point guard.

“I think he’s one of the best point guards in the country,” Miller said at the time. “He’s the consummate point guard. He makes his team better. Just my familiarity with Duquesne and the success they have in the Atlantic 10, he’s a really good player that will test our point guards.”

Although Arizona defeated Duquesne 67-59 that night, Miller was yet again impressed with McConnell, who finished with nine points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes.

“I really appreciate him as a player,” Miller said.

After a brief embrace following the game, the Western Pennsylvania natives parted ways. Miller continued on with his team, and McConnell continued on with his.

But when McConnell announced he was leaving Duquesne after the season, the two collided yet again. Miller pursued the point guard and ended up in a competition with Virginia’s Tony Bennett for McConnell’s commitment.

On Tuesday morning it was official that Miller had won the battle, and McConnell would no longer stand in that McKale Center hallway wearing Duquesne warm ups.

After taking an unusual path to big-time Division I basketball, McConnell is now a Wildcat and all he can think about is winning.

“Obviously I’ve never played in the NCAA Tournament,” McConnell told the Daily Wildcat on Tuesday. “Arizona made that Elite Eight run. I think we can do that here at Arizona.”

But what about Josiah Turner?

“I heard there was Josiah, but you know, I think that’s about it at the point guard position,” McConnell said. “I’m just here to get people the ball, play defense and win. I’m all in.”

McConnell said he “fell in love” with the campus on his visit last weekend, “loved everything about the players, school and program” and was finally able to get to know Miller.

“Once I broke that seal and got to know him on a personal level, that made my decision that much easier,” McConnell said.

When Miller called McConnell one of the best point guards in the country last year, McConnell never thought he’d end up playing for Arizona. When McConnell stepped into McKale Center just over five months ago, he never predicted he would put on an Arizona jersey, but he was giddy about the mere thought.

“I wasn’t always thinking about it then but the experience is something that I’ve never experienced before,” he said. “Having 14,500 fans every night. They’re right on top of you, one of the best fan bases in the country.”

McConnell doesn’t have to imagine that feeling anymore. He’ll sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules and then most likely join forces with whoever remains from Arizona’s loaded 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes.

Unlike with Duquesne, McConnell has a chance to win on a national stage in Arizona, and he’s planning on doing exactly that.

“I just came here to win and I think we can do that here,” he said. “I’m going to bring the will to win, a tough mindset and unselfishness — just an all-around hard worker.”

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