by Jessie Butler, UA Communications Services
Arizona basketball, ranked No. 5 going into the 2013-2014 season, lost three important seniors from the 2012-2013 squad, which advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wildcats will fill the void at the point guard position with DuquesneUniversity transfer T.J. McConnell.
The anticipation for McConnell to get on the McKaleCenter court is now gone as the junior made his debut in the exhibition game against Augustana. As expected, he came through for the Wildcats with eight assists and 12 points without a turnover. McConnell was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
“I knew it was a process and that I wouldn’t be able to play for a year, so I kept working hard everyday,” McConnell said. “I didn’t take one day off. That’s how I stayed positive in the offseason.”
Since stepping on the Arizona campus just a year ago, McConnell has been working towards the moment that he could play in front of the McKale crowd.
“I feel great,” McConnell said. “It was tough sitting out last year, but I got to work on my game every day. I thought it would be a long season for me sitting out, but it actually went pretty fast, so I’m excited.”
With the season beginning, McConnell is expected to make a large contribution to the team. While watching his teammates last season, he was able to learn valuable lessons from the bench.
“I learned a lot,” McConnell explained. “Mark (Lyons) and all the seniors and every one that is returning this year taught me a lot of things. Not one thing really sticks out. Everyone was always in my ear just telling me to keep working hard, and that’s what I did.”
During McConnell’s ineligible season, he witnessed the Wildcats make it far in the NCAA tournament. While he was able to support his teammates, he also used their experiences to learn the routines required to be successful in Arizona basketball.
“I really learned a lot watching the games and practices,” McConnell said. “I didn’t get as many live segments as I do now, so I learned from the mistakes that the guys made last year. It also helped being able to talk to my teammates and the coaches about everything from the game to what I needed to improve on.”
McConnell’s skills on the court were inevitably proven through his statistics and performance while at Duquesne. He was named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, among other career honors.
At Arizona, he hopes to help the team with his physical ability, but also wants to take on a strong leadership role.
“I want to be a great point guard and a great leader,” McConnell said. “If I work hard and people follow, we will do some good things.”
As McConnell begins a new era in his career at Arizona, he has enjoyed playing for a Pac-12 team and under a coach that he has admired.“Coach Miller is one of the best coaches in the country,” McConnell said. “He teaches me so much about the game. I’m honored to play for him here. When I was I was at Duquesne, it was a great experience and I thank them for that, but it’s a whole different world here and I love being here.”