Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2021

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

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62 PRESEASON 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED IRISH IN THE PROS BY TODD D. BURLAGE T he social media photo of Pat Con- naughton posing in his Milwaukee Bucks uniform while holding the re- cently earned NBA championship tro- phy neatly summed up the culmina- tion of hard work, perseverance and confidence this former Notre Dame two-sport star has shown along every step of his athletics journey. "Just a kid from Arlington, MA … with a dream …" was the simple cap- tion Connaughton put with the photo. And what a pleasant dream it was. The Bucks had to overcome a 0-2 series deficit to the Brooklyn Nets and a 0-1 deficit to the Atlanta Hawks to even reach The Finals. And then after again falling behind 0-2 to the Phoenix Suns in the best- of-seven championship series, Con- naughton's Bucks responded with four straight wins to the claim the first NBA title for Milwaukee in 50 years. "It's set in more and more as it's gone on," Connaughton told Boston. com. "Because it's something that will never get taken away." Connaughton averaged 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, and shot 42.3 per- cent from three-point range, while playing 30.0 minutes per game in the NBA Finals. His defensive presence — Connaughton guarded every posi- tion from the Suns' point guard to its power forward — along with his ath- leticism and a knack for hitting clutch shots were all key components during the title run. "Every playoff game is kind of like its own movie," Connaughton said. "We had to make the necessary adjust- ments, look at the film and see where we could get better, stick to having each other's backs, and come together to overcome adversity. That's what championship teams do." Because Connaughton spent the summer of 2014 pitching for the Bal- timore Orioles' Class A minor league team, he is now one of only seven ath- letes all time to win a NBA title and also play pro baseball. Michael Jordan and Danny Ainge top that short list. Connaughton also became one of only six Irish players all time to win either an ABA or a NBA title. The road from high school star at St. John's Prep, followed by terrific base- ball and basketball careers at Notre Dame, and now to a NBA champion- ship with Milwaukee has always stayed on course for Connaughton. It's rare that a high school kid knows exactly what he wants out of life and works hard enough to achieve it, but that's Pat Connaughton. "It was an organic love, desire, passion for sports that always drove me to be better," he said. "And it was always something I just worked hard to accomplish." That said, when Connaughton be- gan his NBA career in 2015-16 with the Portland Trail Blazers, he averaged only 4.2 minutes per game and rarely recorded any stats. Connaughton went to work to be- come a more versatile athlete and a better long-range shooter. And once he was traded to Milwaukee in 2018 after playing three nondescript seasons in Portland, his plan and tireless work began to take hold. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," Connaughton said of his gradual but marked improvement. "You've got to run your own race." Next up for Connaughton is to try to join Bill Laimbeer (Pistons) and John Paxson (Bulls) as the only former Irish players to win multiple NBA titles. ✦ Connaughton, who spent the summer of 2014 pitch- ing for the Baltimore Orioles' Class A minor league team, is one of only seven athletes all time to win a NBA title and also play professional baseball. PHOTO COURTESY MILWAUKEE BUCKS Pat Connaughton Helps Bucks Win NBA Championship CLASSY MOVE, CLASSY COACH With former Irish guard Pat Connaughton (2011-15) playing as the sixth man for the Milwaukee Bucks and former Irish forward Monty Williams (1989-94) working his second season as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, this year's NBA Finals had a distinct Notre Dame flavor when the two faced off through July. Connaughton was looking to become only the sixth former Irish player to win an ABA or a NBA title, while Williams — who finished runner-up in the NBA Coach of the Year voting — is only the second Golden Domer ever to become a NBA head coach. Bill Hanzlik — a talented Notre Dame guard from 1976-80 — coached the Denver Nuggets in 1997-98. In a move that was considered classy by many but classless by some, Williams entered Milwaukee's locker room the night of July 20, imme- diately after the Bucks claimed the NBA title, to briefly congratulate the team that just beat him. "You guys deserve this and I'm thankful for the experience. You guys made me a better coach and you made us a better team, congratula- tions," was the simple message Williams delivered. Williams initially faced some criticism for the move with many fans calling it inappropriate to interrupt the Bucks' championship celebration. Those jeers came before Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo explained that he actually approached Wil- liams postgame and invited him inside the locker room to say a few words. "I had the people stop the music and stop the champagne," Antetokounmpo said. "I told him, 'I feel like there's a good chance we might be running back again next year.'" — Todd D. Burlage Monty Williams, only the second Golden Domer ever to become a NBA head coach, guided the Phoenix Suns to the brink of a title this season. PHOTO BY PHOENIX SUNS NOTRE DAME'S NBA CHAMPIONS Name Team Year(s) Billy Hassett Minneapolis Lakers 1950 Bill Laimbeer Detroit Pistons 1989 and 1990 John Paxson Chicago Bulls 1991, 1992 and 1993 Pat Connaughton Milwaukee Bucks 2021 * Jay Miller (1970) and Bob Arnzen (1973) won ABA championships with the Indiana Pacers

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