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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

T.J. McConnell’s last stand

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Tyler Baker

Arizona men’s basketball guard T.J. McConnell (4) gestures toward the crowd during Arizona’s 80-52 victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament Championship Game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., on March 14. McConnell’s last game as an Arizona Wildcat could come on Thursday or Saturday.

Rarely do the words “The End” incite feelings of happiness and positivity. Sometimes a sense of completion arises in oneself, sometimes it’s more sadness in knowing that the run is over and other times, anger boils over.

For athletes, the end comes sooner than they would like. Even the most talented professional athletes see their athletic careers end the closer they get to the age of 30. Collegiate athletes see their careers end much sooner, often at the age of 22 or 23.

As Arizona men’s basketball kicks off the Sweet Sixteen with a Thursday matchup with Xavier, several Wildcats could see their collegiate careers end. Of the bunch, no one will miss it more than T.J. McConnell.

“You think about these guys leaving and I ask the question to myself all the time, ‘will he miss it?’, whoever that ‘he’ is,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after Arizona’s Senior Day victory over Stanford on March 7. “When he leaves, will he miss this? I don’t think there’s a doubt in anybody, fans, anyone who’s ever watched us play, that you wouldn’t say ‘absolutely’ when you look at T.J. He cares.”

McConnell has had a memorable senior season to date. He leads the Wildcats in assists and steals, is fifth in rebounds and fourth in points and 3-point makes.

Even more impressively, McConnell has put together as dominant of a two-year stretch as any point guard in program history. Not only has McConnell started all 74 games Arizona has played in that two-year stretch, he is closing in on several school records.

He is third all-time over a two-year stretch in assists with 430 and fourth all-time in steals with 144 over his two years at Arizona. McConnell is also the program leader in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.11 (430-138).

In classic McConnell fashion, he deflected the praise from himself and instead thanked those around him for his performances.

“What we’ve accomplished in two years is nothing short of remarkable,” McConnell said. “I just got to thank my teammates for having my back each day and the coaching staff, and especially the fans. We couldn’t have done [it] without them.”

More so than most players, McConnell has taken advantage of his opportunities at a major college basketball program like Arizona. McConnell completed his sophomore season at Duquesne, just three years ago, by averaging 11.4 points per game, 5.5 assists per game, 4.4 rebounds per game and 2.8 steals per game.

Miller said McConnell has led Arizona and Duquesne on both sides of the ball.

“You always want those two-way players,” Miller said. “… T.J. epitomizes that two-way player where he does it on both ends and he just does it every game.”

McConnell had to sit out a year upon transferring to Arizona before the 2012-2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but was able to practice. McConnell ran the scout team and played against Arizona guards Nick Johnson, Mark Lyons, Jordin Mayes and Gabe York.

According to coaches and players alike over the course of the season, during that period, McConnell was one of the best Wildcats on the floor at times.

“What he’s meant to this program … during my time, you can make the case he’s been as important as any player we’ve brought here,” Miller said. “Considering where he came from, I’m happy for both him and his family.”

The 6-foot-1 senior point guard from Pittsburgh has already had his fair share of collegiate lasts — his last opening night, last road game, last home game and last Pac-12 Conference tournament game. The lone last remaining is his last game as an Arizona Wildcat.

Unfortunately for McConnell and Arizona, the run will end sooner rather than later. The only thing left to decide is when and where McConnell will have his last stand.

When the dust settles, no one will miss Arizona more than T.J. McConnell will.

“I love this place,” McConnell said after Arizona’s Senior Day victory. “Like I said before, I truly don’t want to leave. This will always be my home, and I’m going to come back as much as I can.”

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