Last season was considered to be a success for Arizona basketball. Granted, the Wildcats fell short of the Final Four, but their 33-win season might not have been if it was not for senior point guard T.J. McConnell.
Now that McConnell is headed into his final season, he has set some personal goals for himself. However, like he normally does, McConnell chooses to defer to the team goals.“I have a couple of goals set for myself,” McConnell said. “It is important to stay focused on the team aspect of things, but I am sure that if we do what we’re capable of, my personal goals will be accomplished.”
The Pittsburgh native really spent some time in the gym, fine tuning his game and improving his weaknesses.
“I put a lot of work into my perimeter shooting,” McConnell said. “I know Rondae and I wanted to make strides in that area, so we both really put in the time.
“From a defensive standpoint, I worked to become quicker and stronger so I can be more up on players I’m guarding. Looking at last year’s team, it will be hard to top the defensive effort we put out on the floor every game.
"We were the number one defensive team in the country, but we are working every day to try and be just as good and potentially better.”
One of the aspects about this team that has McConnell excited is the potential to be one of the deepest teams in the country. All the new pieces are fighting to show their worth and the 6-foot-1 McConnell loves the intensity.
“I’ve been asked about the depth a lot, and right now it’s hard to tell what this team will be,” McConnell said. ”I’ll say ask me in about a month and I can give you a better answer or you can see for yourself.
“Again, the potential to be great is there. We have all the pieces, but it is on us to get in the gym everyday and work toward becoming great. If everyone does their part, everything should fall into place.”
Out of the six newcomers, McConnell has been working closely with Parker Jackson-Cartwright. He has had nothing but high praises for the 5-foot-8 point guard.
“To be completely honest, he is the best point guard I have ever played against,” McConnell said. “Him and I are like brothers. People always underestimate him and that’s when he kills you on either end of the floor.“He’s a great shooter, a great defender and he’s incredibly fast. I know for a fact that when he steps on the court, he will make a lot of people regret overlooking him and I’m glad he’s on my team. He’s great to play with and be around.”
McConnell's legacy in Tucson after everything settles is something he thinks about, and he wants the fans to know he gave it his all every night.
“I want to be remembered as one of the best point guards that ever played for Arizona,” McConnell said. “I want the fans to say that guy came out here every night and gave it his all.
“I don’t think I am close enough to be considered one of the Arizona greats yet, but it’s great to have big dreams and aspirations. There are a lot of great guards that played here and I am trying to live up to that.”
As far as Sean Miller is concerned, McConnell has already come close to those high expectations.
"T.J. has played three years of college basketball," he said. "His first year I believe he was the Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year and those of you that really know college basketball beyond Arizona, the Atlantic 10 is a tremendous conference from a basketball perspective.
"He was an excellent player before he even showed up here. A year ago he was second team All-Conference, so if you look at him now from an experience perspective, very few are more experienced than him. Very few are more productive than he has been through the first three years of his career.
"I have seen him play against the best teams and best players in the country and we as a staff and his teammates believe in T.J. I think he is one of the best players that plays his position in the country.
"How tall he is, how long his arms are, how high he jumps, how much he shoots, that’s people’s opinion, but I know the impact he has here for our team and I don't know if there is a more important player in our program than him."