When you look up and down NBA mock draft boards or look back to see who the four and five star recruits have been over the years, you will see a ton of current Arizona Wildcats players listed. However, the most important and valuable player on the roster this season will not appear on either.
Sean Miller has done an incredible job bringing in some of the most elite talent the nation has to offer but after Saturday’s big Pac-12 win over Utah, he went on to say that the most important addition to his program is the one that may be the least heralded of the bunch, TJ McConnell.
“You guys follow recruiting in a rabid way,” Miller said after the game. “It’s about acquiring talent. It’s the lifeblood of college sports. TJ came here with very little fan fare, but I could make the argument that no player that we have brought here during my time has been more instrumental toward winning than him. I don’t care where he’s ranked, where he’s from.”
It is funny to think that just a month ago, the story around McConnell was the fact that he just couldn’t seem to knock down his shot with any consistency. McConnell said he was going to keep at it and Miller said he knows what kind of shooter his point guard is and the percentages will work themselves out. Now after five conference games, McConnell is averaging 13 points, just under five assists and shooting 57% from the floor. None of those performances proved more important than the first half of the Utah game where the Wildcats offense came out flat and he basically took over the game.
“To a certain extent you almost want him to be more aggressive because in all honesty, he is one of the most talented offensive players I’ve seen in my whole entire career,” mentioned junior forward Brandon Ashley. “But at the same time he is so unselfish, he always wants to get everyone else involved. It is definitely one of those things…he can do just about every single day.”
“Coach uses the analogy that he sometimes drives the car of the team,” added Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson. “He’s our heart and soul. When his face gets red and he’s pumping his veins, that’s everyday for him. He wants to win every competition, every game, he hates making mistakes and he does it because he loves all of us the same. He’s a great teammates and he might actually better person than a better teammate.”
McConnell has put his stamp on this program long before he was able to step foot on the floor at McKale Center for a game in a Wildcats uniform after transferring to the Wildcats spending two previous seasons with Duquesne. In fact his first ever collegiate game in 2011 was in Tucson where they gave the then #16 ranked Arizona Wildcats a scare winning by just 12 but the game was closer than that throughout. The year he was forced to sit out and practice, made a huge impact for the team and just set the tone for what was to come when he was finally eligible.
“He’s been here for three years and in the year he didn’t play, he made our team so much better by his practice habits,” stated Miller. “And then obviously, the last two years speak for themselves.”
McConnell and the Wildcats are back on the road this week and face big tests in Stanford and Cal up in the Bay Area on Thursday and Saturday.