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NBA PM: Pat Connaughton Focused on Basketball

Pat Connaughton was an MLB draft pick, but he wants to prove to NBA teams he’s focused on hoops.

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Basketball Insiders caught up with Andrew Harrison at the 2015 NBA Draft Combine.

Pat Connaughton Focused on Basketball

Players coming out of college need a certain set of skills to be drafted by a professional sports team. They must show prospective teams that they belong in the league and can ultimately help them win games. Trying to prove that they can compete in one sport is hard enough, but to show the ability to play in two different sports takes a completely different set of skills.

It’s not entirely uncommon to see players out of college drafted into two different sports. Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson and Michael Vick are just some of the recent athletes who have been drafted into a secondary sport (all baseball). Of course, Bo Jackson is often the first name that comes to mind as one of the best athletes to star in different sports. Michael Jordan tried his hand at baseball, but lasted less than a season in the minor leagues before returning to the Chicago Bulls. Deion Sanders also famously played professional football and baseball at the same time. With the exception of Jackson, these athletes all had one sport that was clearly their specialty.

But for former Notre Dame star Pat Connaughton, the weeks leading up to next month’s NBA draft will be spent convincing teams that he is committed to basketball and deserves a shot on an NBA roster. Connaughton played baseball (as a pitcher) and basketball (as a shooting guard) during his time at Notre Dame and was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 MLB Draft.

Despite getting drafted into the Orioles organization, Connaughton returned for his senior year in basketball and turned in one of his best seasons on the hardwood. He averaged 12.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, earning Third-Team All-ACC honors and helping Notre Dame win its first ACC Championship as well as reach the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

Connaughton became a reliable starting pitcher during his three seasons at Notre Dame. He finished his career with a 3.03 ERA in 32 pitching appearances (including 30 starts) while striking out 105 batters in 154.2 total innings. Arguably his best season came during his junior year, when he had a 1.71 ERA while compiling a 4-2 record in 47.1 innings.

He appeared in six games with the Orioles’ Single A minor league affiliate and posted a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings while racking up 10 strikeouts. His time in the minor leagues proved why the Orioles selected him in the fourth round as his fastball reached 96 miles per hour on the radar gun. He could have possibly been selected somewhere in the first two rounds had he not been so adamant on playing basketball during his senior year. His success in baseball means that he’ll have to prove to NBA front offices that basketball is his main focus.

“I’m trying to get the word out there that I’m two feet in [to playing basketball],” Connaughton told reporters last week at the NBA draft combine. “I’m 100 percent in. So that’s the goal for me: to come to these things to show them, ‘Look if I was one foot in, I wouldn’t be in because I’d be trying to make millions and millions of dollars playing baseball right now. I’d be wasting my time.’ … I’m in this for the long haul and until I don’t make an NBA roster, I’m looking to be an NBA basketball player.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s something I kind of have lived with my whole life. Everyone has assumed that I played baseball just because I had more potential at it, or I even played football before basketball because of the athleticism and my arm strength at quarterback. For me, because it’s been something I’ve kind of lived with, I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy proving people wrong. It’s not obviously the sole reason that drives me, I do it for myself, but at the same time it’s not bad to be able to get a laugh or two along the way when people aren’t expecting you to succeed.”

Connaughton proved in college to be a great defensive rebounder for his size and that could translate to the next level with his athleticism. His three-point shot improved in each season at Notre Dame and he finished with a 42.3 percent mark in his senior year. Connaughton certainly helped his case to get into the NBA at last week’s combine. He placed among the highest out of all of the prospects in various drills and recorded the second-best max vert in combine history at 44 inches. The 6’5, 215-pound guard had the best standing vertical at 37.5 inches, the fourth-best NBA shuttle time and was tied for first in the lane agility drill and ¾ court sprint.

“It’s kind of fun raising some eyebrows when all of sudden you jump up and you get a tip-dunk or you dunk on Jabari Parker and everyone’s like, ‘Where did that come from?'” Connaughton said. “It’s something that my teammates and my friends, people around the teams that I’ve played on know what I can do. I was willing to sacrifice making some of the highlight-reel plays to get to the Elite Eight, to win an NCAA championship. Winning has always been the most important thing to me and so it makes it that much more fun when you come out here and everyone’s like, ‘I had no idea you could jump. I thought you could just shoot.’ It makes it that much more fun when everyone all of a sudden sees it and all of sudden is taken back by it.”

Connaughton grew up watching the Boston Celtics in Massachusetts and admitted he would enjoy playing in his home state, but knows anything can happen next month. He’ll continue working out for teams in hopes of moving up the draft board. His biggest goal is just being drafted.

“The biggest thing for me is to be able to be a 22-year-old kid and being able to say I’ve been drafted into two professional sports,” Connaughton said. “I’m pursuing the NBA and it would be a dream come true. At the same time, I’m realistic enough where I know that’s not where it stops.”

Calipari Denies Interest in Coaching in the NBA

As quick as the report surfaced that Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari would be interested in coaching the New Orleans Pelicans, the coach quickly denied any interest in the open position.

“Even though Anthony [Davis] and Tyreke [Evans] are in NOLA, I have no interest in the Pelicans or any other job,” Calipari tweeted. “I have a great job and I’m happy at UK.”

Calipari’s tweet was in response to a report that surfaced earlier this afternoon from the New Orleans Times-Picayune that stated Calipari would be interested in coaching the Pelicans. The report mentioned that the two sides have had “exploratory conversations” in the position, but the Pelicans would ultimately be unable to pay the price tag attached to Calipari’s demands.

The Pelicans opted to let head coach Monty Williams go last week after coming off of a first-round elimination to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. The team is reportedly willing to pay their next head coach between $4 and $5 million per year, but that range falls well short of Calipari’s $8 million annual salary at Kentucky.

In addition to Calipari, the Pelicans have been linked to Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry and Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Gentry was granted permission from the Warriors to discuss the position, while Thibodeau remains under contract with the Bulls and would need to be relieved of his duties, which reportedly could happen.

There is said to be mutual interest between the Pelicans and Thibodeau, but the team remains cautious with the compensation that will likely be needed to land Thibodeau. In addition to the Pelicans, the Orlando Magic have also been linked to Thibodeau’s services should he become available.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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