T.J. McConnell will be remembered as one of the most loved point guards in program history.
Arizona men’s basketball’s starting lineup was loaded with stars, but it’s the least touted one that many UA fans loved most.
The Wildcats’ starting lineup in 2015 featured five players who are expected to leave early for the NBA. All were five-star recruits — except for one: point guard T.J. McConnell.
He received three stars when he graduated in 2010, and he signed with Duquesne.
However, it was McConnell who received the biggest cheers in McKale Center and the most tears when his career ended.
McConnell played for two seasons at the UA, went 33-5 and 34-4, went to two Elite Eights, won two Pac-12 Conference Championships and never lost a home game. His Wildcat teams were always in the top 10, and they were ranked No. 1 for eight weeks.
“I think what he brings to the table is just comprehensive in its ability to make his team win,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “That’s what we love about him. To me, that will be his legacy at Arizona, really. From the moment he stepped on our campus, a lot of great things happened in large part because he’s on our team.”
McConnell kissed the ‘A’ at center court as he was subbed out of his last home game in McKale Center to show his love for the school. It became a famous photo that fans posted again on social media when his career ended last week.
“I love them all to death, and I’ll always remember them, and I’m going to miss them, and thank you,” McConnell said, choking up, when asked for a message to Arizona fans after his career ended. “They’re the best fans in the country, and I’m going to miss them more than anything, and I love them.”
After McConnell didn’t win the Pac-12 Player of the Year award, Arizona fans serenaded him with chants of “MVP” in McKale Center, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore.
McConnell made a serious dent in Point Guard U’s record books in just two seasons.
His 238 assists this year is the second most in school history and most since 1979. Last season, he had 202 assists, which is sixth all-time in UA history.
His 83 steals this season is the third most in school history and most since Mike Bibby had 87 in the late ’90s.
“The guy that stands out most to me is T.J. McConnell because of all the things that he brings, that you might not see in the box score,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said when asked about the UA’s lineup.
McConnell had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.01 in the 2014 season, good enough for third all-time in school history. He had a an assist to turnover ratio of 3.05 in his senior campaign, the second best in UA history.
“We all know how T.J. is and the type of basketball player that T.J. is,” Arizona guard Gabe York said. “He’s a floor general, and he does everything to the best of his ability, and he makes offense easy. Not having him next year is going to be something that all of Arizona is going to miss, not just the team.”
As of Wednesday, McConnell is sixth in the country in steals (83), 11th in assists per game (6.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio and 14th in steals per game (2.18).
McConnell starred at Duquesne for two seasons. He impressed Arizona coaches and fans in his first appearance in McKale Center in 2011 when Arizona beat the Dukes 67-59, and McConnell had nine points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
After the season, he transferred to Arizona, and Miller said he helped make them better when he sat out his third year due to NCAA rules. Miller is also a point guard from Pittsburgh.
Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said when the Wildcats did something, Miller always looked to McConnell first.
“As a point guard and as a former point guard, they have that bond,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
McConnell is not in NBADraft.net’s mock draft or Draft Express’ 2015 projection, but he may be the most remembered Wildcat from the 2015 run, and in recent history.
“I get a kick out of him, because he doesn’t look like a special player, but he is a special player,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said, “and he’s got a toughness about him that is really special.”
McConnell started at Arizona, also known as Point Guard U, after a succession of less-than-popular shoot-first point guards.
McConnell is so much a pass-first point, he changed his Twitter handle to “@iPass4Zona.”
“Just want to thank literally everyone in Tucson!” McConnell tweeted after his last game. “You guys are the absolute best and it was an HONOR to be your Pg I love Arizona basketball.”
McConnell changed his Twitter picture to him hugging Miller at the end of the Wisconsin loss. The point guard often said Miller was like a second father to him.
He said he apologized to Miller for not getting him to the Final Four.
“It was emotional,” McConnell said about the hug. “He’s like my dad, and I’m going to miss playing for him. It sucked; I just wanted to be able to get him and this team to a Final Four.”
McConnell wore No. 4 at Arizona, but he was No. 1 in many Wildcats’ hearts.
“There are a lot of players [you miss] when they walk out the door,” Miller said. “I don’t know if I’ll miss anybody more than him.”