Pat Connaughton ready to prove himself ready for NBA: 'I think I look pretty good in green'

Mike Petraglia
June 10, 2015 - 11:32 am
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WALTHAM -- Pat Connaughton didn't lack confidence when he was setting school records at St. John's Prep in Danvers, and he didn't lose that swagger while leading the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame to within a breath of the Final Four this spring. The Arlington resident always has had a swagger about him, and a wicked good sense of sarcasm and wit for a 22-year-old. Maybe it's the fact that he is a legit two-sport pro prospect. As a sharpshooter, he was a key part of Notre Dame's ACC basketball title this spring. He also can throw a baseball consistently in the mid-90s, which made him an MLB prospect, drafted by the Orioles last year in the fourth round while making his professional baseball debut with the Aberdeen IronBirds of the Class A-Short Season New York-Penn League. His fastball was clocked at 96 mph. "The way the baseball draft works is if you don't sign someone you draft in the first 10 rounds, you lose that slot money. I was very clear before the baseball draft that I wanted to go back to school to play basketball," Connaughton said. "So, whoever drafted me had to know I was going to do that. I think both the Orioles and myself weren't sure how far basketball would go. I think they were hoping it would end after college. I was just playing it every single day like I normally do and taking it day-by-day because that's the only thing you can do with two sports. I found myself here and excited to pursue the opportunity. "I had a great time in Aberdeen. I thought that down the road, whether it's after a 10-year NBA career or a two-year NBA career, when I put my mind to baseball I can succeed at it. But I wasn't ready to give up one of the sports. 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. It would be kind of hypocritical of me to just be like, 'By the way, there's some money in baseball. I think I'll go do that.' " At the end of July 2014, he informed the Orioles that he was indeed going to leave the IronBirds to return to the Fighting Irish basketball team. On Wednesday, after working out for the Celtics, he explained why his priority now is focused on the NBA, not MLB. "For me, I try to take it like I may not get drafted," Connaughton said after his workout. "I try to work as hard as I can every single day. It's been such a whirlwind over the last few months. I hope to be drafted. I'm working as hard as I can. I have some confidence in myself that I have a chance to, but we'll see what happens on June 25. "I don't think the draft is necessarily a do-or-die point in basketball. I think I'll be able to compete in summer league. I'll be able to fight for a roster spot, regardless of whether I'm drafted or not drafted. If I don't make an NBA roster then I'll consider baseball instead of going overseas. Having a business degree from Notre Dame, I think that will be the financially sound decision to make." "I'm not going to lie to you, I'm not a kid that gets nervous very often. However, in the beginning, I was a little bit giddy, shall we say. I was excited to be here. I was excited to compete in front of some of the guys and some of the people in charge that I've grown to know over the years." Connaughton knows the legend of Danny Ainge and that he was in the same boat between basketball and baseball early in his career. Ainge has two sons that Connaughton knows well, Cooper and Crew, and another, Austin, just happens to have the job of evaluating Connaughton, along with the father, of course. "Yeah, actually his son played in my AAU [basketball] program," Connaughton said. "He was a few years younger than me, Cooper. Crew, I've been playing with a little bit [Tuesday] night. He was out there today. I've grown to know them pretty decently well. It's kind of cool that the guy whose in charge of the team I grew up rooting for had a similar situation as myself. So, I think that's pretty cool and I hope with the success he had in basketball, he thinks I can have the same. "It's a little different when they're evaluating you. You can be less the personable kid. You've got to be a little more focused and a little more honed in. But it's still fun. You've got to have fun with it. After the beginning of the workout, I figured I would go back to what I usually do, have fun with it. That way you play better and it's more fun that way. "Of course [I was a Celtics fan]. No doubt about it. I was a Celtics fan when Antoine Walker was doing 'The Shake' and when the Big Three was winning championships." Connaughton, a 6-foot-5 sharpshooter who projects as a guard in the NBA, also had the chance to play for (and tease) Brad Stevens. "It was great to play under him for an hour and a half," he said. "We had our jokes about the Butler-Notre Dame game this year. He's 1-0 when he's faced Notre Dame. I let him know that that's because I wasn't there when he faced Notre Dame. So, it was fun. It's always fun to have a little talk with the coaches, the guys you could possibly play under in a year. "Of course, I think I look pretty good in green. What do you think?" Connaughton said the workout was enjoyable, except for a three-minute conditioning run that was challenging. "It was good, it was fun," Connaughton said. "I've played in this gym quite a few times over the years. So it was really nice to be back, drive over and be familiar and be in a comfortable setting. This is my seventh. Six more, I think, give or take. "They're all similar. There's always six guys. There's always a version of one-one-one, three-on-three. There's always some shooting, some dribbling. There's not always a three-minute run. Those things kind of get you. But it's fun. You get to compete in every aspect, from the basketball to the conditioning side of things. I assume that's how it's going to be in order to make it at this level." What does he bring to the table? "I think just toughness in my mentality," Connaughton said. "There are days where I don't shoot the ball well. No one shoots the ball well every single day unless it's maybe Ray Allen or Steph Curry, except for Game 2 [of the NBA Finals]. "The toughness, even when I'm not shooting the ball well. Like at the beginning of the workout, I still made sure my team on the three-on-three was on the wing side each and every competition. I don't think it's a coincidence that happens. At the same time, there's still things I have to work on. There's still things I think when I focus to basketball full-time I can excel at, and the best is yet to come."