Arizona basketball: NBA combine beckons McConnell

McConnell has chance to prove himself against odds

T.J. McConnell received a last-minute invitation to the NBA combine on Monday night, and maybe it was fitting.

The departing Arizona Wildcats guard always has been something of an underdog.

Lightly recruited out of high school, McConnell started his college career at Duquesne and was probably the least heralded of the Wildcats’ starters last season – until he became arguably the team’s most valuable player.

Now he has another chance to prove himself against the odds, after he was initially left off a 62-player NBA combine participant list that included former UA teammates Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley.

McConnell boarded a plane in Tucson at 7 a.m. Tuesday to reach Chicago, where the combine will take place from Wednesday through Sunday.

“It’s going to be a good opportunity this week and he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” said McConnell’s agent, Scottsdale-based Chris Emens. “He wants to show people he shouldn’t have been a last-minute invite, that he should have been on the first list.”

Emens said it also should help McConnell that five-on-five games are mandatory for all but the first-tier invitees, giving him a chance to show off what he does best.

“T.J. will do well in drills but first and foremost, he’s a basketball player,” Emens said. “Playing five-on-five gives him chance to showcase his strength and value to the NBA, which is running a team, facilitating for others, defending and competing.

“Some guys will wow people in a workout and in our business we call them “workout wonders’ … T.J.’s not exceptionally sized and he doesn’t have exceptional athleticism, but he’s got an off-the-charts basketball IQ, intensity, competitiveness and desire to win.”

Draft Express said McConnell ranked first among college players last season with 8.0 assists per 40 minutes and had the second-highest “pure point guard” rating. Draft Express president Jonathan Givony said McConnell was the best player not on the initial invite list.

“I think they made a mistake. I really do,” Givony said before McConnell was invited on Monday night. “He’s not going to run through drills or hit three threes in a row. But he’s a leader and an unbelievable teammate.”

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