May 29, 2019
Sixers guard and professional loose ball T.J. McConnell sat down with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski for an episode of Woj's podcast, released Wednesday.
The two go back and forth about plenty of stuff, from McConnell's path to the league, his draft process, and his last four years of playing basketball in Philadelphia.
There's a lot of pretty funny stuff in there for real-deal Sixers fans, but one of the best stories comes when McConnell looks back on his first NBA game against the Boston Celtics:
"Honestly, I've said this to JJ [Redick] before: it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, and kind of one of those gut-check moments.
"You've got Isaiah Thomas, in my opinion one of the most un-guardable guys I've played against, and you've got a coach like Brad Stevens. They called a play, as soon as I checked in. Isaiah came off, scored. I come back down, Boston brings the ball back down, I look over at Brad and he goes, 'Again.' And Isaiah gets someone a lob. We go back down, don't score. I look over at Brad, he goes, 'Again.' I'm like, "Oh my goodness gracious." Isaiah scores again, and I think I got subbed out after that. I was like, 'Welcome to the NBA.'"
Outside of laughing at Stevens going full Herb Brooks on McConnell in his debut, there's also something insanely funny about McConnell calling Isaiah Thomas, of all players, one of the most un-guardable players he's ever faced. Of all the point guards in the league, Thomas -- who stands five inches shorter than McConnell -- sticks out in his mind. What a world.
You can listen to the full podcast below:
If you can't listen at the moment, or just prefer to read my delightful transcriptions, here's some other stuff McConnell touched on:
On the Kawhi shot:
"It's hard, because you've got a guy like Joel Embiid who, I think, could be the Defensive Player of the Year, contesting that shot. So from the view that I had, it hits the front of the rim and it bounces up, and I'm like, 'Okay, we have some free basketball. We're going to go into overtime.'
"And then it hits the rim again, and you're like, 'Oh, wait a minute. I'm not liking where this is going.' Then it hits the other side of the rim, and that thought creeps into your mind, like, 'My goodness, this shot's going in.' And then it falls. You're just speechless.
"You see a guy like Joel Embiid's reaction after the game, which is -- you don't see that a lot in professional sports, and it showed, in my opinion, the opportunity that we missed. It's unfortunate, but like I said, I definitely think we should [have been] playing Milwaukee, and it's unfortunate, but it just didn't work out for us."
On the upcoming offseason:
"Being in Philly for four years, I would like to see Tobias and Jimmy and JJ come back, because it's fun. Philly basketball four years ago, we were winning 10 games. Now we're a Game 7 away from the Eastern Conference Finals."
On whether he thought the Sixers drafting Markelle Fultz meant he would be gone:
"That thought definitely creeped into my mind, but I also knew the Sixers wanted to keep me. I just didn't know what to expect. I'll go back to what I just said: if Markelle can help you win a championship, then I'm all in for it. That was my mindset. Everything else was out of my control."
On his first day with the Sixers:
"I talk about this with my one of my best friends Nik Stauskas all the time. Have you ever seen the movie, 'The Replacements', with Keanu Reeves? That's kind of what it felt like. Just the guys who were there to keep the program at bay until we took off. I asked [Stauskas], on my first day, "Do you think I have a chance?" And he goes, "I don't know, man. You're one of seven point guards here. Just play really hard and see where it goes." And I kind of said to myself, screw that, I'm going to make this team and prove everyone wrong."
His favorite story from picking up a player full-court:
"I'm pretty good friends with D'Angelo Russell. Last year, I distinctly remember I subbed into the game and picked him up, immediately full court. He just looks back and goes, "C'mon, T. Not today." I always laugh about it. I don't even know if he remembers he said it. But that stuff just sticks with me."
On free agency, and having options:
"There's also a sense of gratification there where, hard work really pays off. But that doesn't mean I'm going to sit back and relax. That's just not who I am. I'm obviously going to try and improve. Quicken my release. I didn't shoot many threes this year, but I did a lot last year and shot it at a 43% clip. So just got to get my release quicker, and work on everything I can, let my agent do his job. I want to be at a place where I can make the most impact, on and off the court."