Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 50 of 55 APRIL 2020 51 IRISH IN THE PROS BY ANDREW MENTOCK L eading up to 2020 NBA Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend Feb. 14-16 in Chicago, Bucks shoot- ing guard and former Notre Dame standout Pat Connaughton knew he wanted to involve Milwaukee's big- gest stars. He solicited the assistance of his Bucks teammate Giannis Ante- tokounmpo and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich — both recent MVPs in their mid-to-late 20s — and then began to envision what he would do as he jumped over both superstars. As his imagination explored the pos- sibilities, Connaughton also became aware of the risk he was taking by in- volving Antetokounmpo and Yelich. "I was concerned about the en- tire state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee disliking me because I jumped over two MVPs and God forbid something to happen to either of the two," Connaughton said. "I would have never been able to set foot in the city again. "Going into the competition, I wanted to make sure I was damn cer- tain that not only could I complete the dunk, but that their health and safety was of the utmost importance." The problem? Neither MVP was available for Connaughton to practice on, so he found a variety of people who were of similar heights to the 6-3 Yelich and the 6-11 Antetokounmpo and began to work on the dunks by jumping over them. But that also meant the first opportunity he had to jump over either player was in front of a sold out United Center Arena and millions of fans watching on TV. Both dunks were executed to per- fection on the first attempt — a facet he said was very important to him — but for his first dunk, which he did over Yelich, he decided to make a statement with his outfit. Connaughton dressed as Billy Hoyle, actor Woody Harrelson's char- acter from the 1992 film "White Men Can't Jump" and wore a tie-dye hat backward to go along with matching beach shorts and a white T-shirt. This is a reference to a stereotype that has been present throughout Con- naughton's playing career. Many as- sume because of the color of his skin that he's unathletic and cannot leap. They also ignore the 44-inch vertical jump he posted at the NBA Combine in 2015, the third highest of all time. "I was born in '93 and it came out in '92, but it's a movie I had seen hun- dreds of times," Connaughton said. "It was a cool movie to watch, but I also felt that especially in today's day and age, stereotypes are such a big part of our culture, which is unfor- tunate. But if you can embrace it and you can try to disprove it, play into it and have some fun with it, you can try to inspire some kids. "The stereotype is literally white men can't jump." While he does possess God-given talent, Connaughton said he had to work hard to jump as high as he does. When he was in the seventh grade, he made it his goal to be able to dunk before he finished middle school, which he accomplished. That same work ethic has carried Connaughton throughout his career. As a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, most assumed he'd play baseball after the Baltimore Orioles drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft and signed him for a bonus of $428,000. Instead, he followed his passion and chose to pursue basketball in- stead. He was the No. 41 overall pick by the Brooklyn Nets in the 2015 NBA Draft and traded to the Portland Trail Blazers that night. Connaughton has carved out a lucrative five-year ca- reer for himself thus far with no signs of slowing down, and he's the lone former Notre Dame men's basketball player on a current NBA roster. Connaughton spent his first three seasons in the NBA with the Trail Blazers, appearing in 155 games and starting six. As a free agent in 2018, he signed a two-year contract with the Bucks worth $3.36 million. He has become a valued reserve in Milwaukee. Through 64 games this season, he was averaging 5.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game for the 53-11, Eastern Conference- leading Bucks. In the dunk contest, Connaugh- ton received a score of 45 for his first slam and a 50 for his second, which involved him jumping over Atetok- ounmpo while also tapping the ball against the backboard before dunking it. Unfortunately, his scores weren't good enough to get him to the sec- ond and final round, which lead to fans and media personalities on the internet claiming Connaughton was robbed. Miami's Derrick Jones Jr. went on to defeat Orlando's Aaron Gordon to take home the dunk contest crown. Connaughton said he's open to competing again next year, assuming he's invited. But while he may be dis- appointed in the result, the University of Notre Dame and its head men's basketball coach Mike Brey see his for- mer player's participation in the dunk contest as a major accomplishment. "Certainly, he represents our pro- gram so well and he's just loved in that league," Brey said. "I don't know how many NBA guys talk about his personality and everything he's doing. "He's as good as any businessman in the league. I loved his creativity in the dunk contest." ✦ Pat Connaughton Takes Big Risk in NBA Dunk Contest Connaughton involved two Milwaukee MVP's — Bucks teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich — to give him an assist in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest Feb. 15. PHOTO COURTESY NBA PHOTOS

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