T.J. McConnell left Duquesne for the chance to win big things at Arizona, but he'll have to be forgiven for having no clue what to do after that actually did happen Sunday.
McConnell had the ball in his hands during the final seconds Sunday in UA’s Pac-12-clinching win over Stanford, and could have passed or run a play or done just about anything.
He stood there frozen for a bit, and eventually cradled the ball and turned to look up the west side stands at McKale Center, grinned until time ran out, and finally gave the ball a light spike.
“I just picked up the ball and looked at the crowd,” McConnell said. “I don’t know why I did it. It just happened.”
Then, after the Wildcats made a victory lap through the Zona Zoo, and held a Senior Day ceremony, they began snipping the nets.
“It was probably one of the best feelings in my career,” McConnell said. “I never cut down a net before.”
“He didn’t know what to do,” teammate Nick Johnson said, later noting: “He didn’t know, like, where to cut it. So he had to wait.”
Johnson said teammate Aaron Gordon, who won two California state titles with Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, offered a few pointers.
When told about it afterward, Miller smiled. McConnell had led his Chartiers Valley (Pa.) team to a Western Pennsylvania title once but never celebrated like the Wildcats did on Sunday.
“That’s funny,” Miller said. “I’m surprised T.J. in high school didn’t win something there. But part of what drew T.J. to Arizona is to be a part of something where you could cut down the nets someday.
“He experienced being the best player on a team (at Duquesne), an all-conference player but March was always a time for him where he watched others. Now March is where he’s in the thick of things. That’s a big difference. It really is. I’m as happy for T.J. as I am for anybody.”
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Johnson is projected as a second-round pick by Draft Express in the June NBA draft but here’s a postgame comment from Miller that might be of interest:
“What I hope is that anybody who would leave early would never be a second-round pick,” Miller said. “That’s a devastating blow to the next 50 years of their life. If they leave I think it should be for an opportunity to be protected, to be invested in where their future is well spoken for. “
You can “come back to have a chance to get better and improve like Solomon Hill did. If Solomon had left after his junior year, who knows where he would be? But right now the Indiana Pacers are so invested in him, he’s a first-round pick, that he’s set for the next decade of his life. That’s what we hope happens.
“Will it always happen like that? No. But to this point we’ve been a group of players and coaches and a team that’s been focused on what we can control and that is our journey as a team right now. All that other stuff will work itself out.”
With the Pac-12 title already in place, Arizona heads to Oregon for two more games this week. Yet both Johnson and Miller said their focus would not change.
“We’re going to play this next week if we were fighting for the Pac-12 championship, and practice the same because again you take your eyes off of that and you’ll be vulnerable,” Miller said. “Oregon State is always difficult to play there and Oregon is playing for a lot, and they’re playing excellent basketball right now. That trip’s always difficult for us and I’m sure it’ll be difficult for us this time.”
Miller also said the Pac-12 Tournament will also be “very meaningful,” especially after the Wildcats lost in the semifinals last season.
“We have a chance to compete for another championship,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting tournament. A lot of teams have a lot at stake, and after last year I think we all felt utter disappointment. When we get back there to me, I think we’ll have a fire inside of our team that we’ll need to be able to compete for that championship as well. But first we have to have a great week and see what we can do in Oregon.”
Lots more of Miller’s comments on potential early departures are in our game story, while we also have a sidebar on the scene over UA’s title, Greg Hansen’s column, seen-and-heard notes and a photo gallery.
Here's the official box score.