In the second of a two-part story on Notre Dame two-sport standout Pat Connaughton, Irish assistant basketball coach Anthony Solomon talks about what made the Irish captain so special and why he can succeed professionally in basketball or baseball, and, ultimately, in the business world.
The following is Solomon’s viewpoint of Connaughton as spoken to Irish Illustrated Senior Editor Tim Prister. For a look at why Connaughton can pitch in the big leagues check out Tim Prister's interview with Irish pitching coach Chuck Ristano.
Pat was a pro’s pro in whatever he did as soon as he arrived on campus. That young man has been balancing both sports since his high school career, so the transition from high school to college was very smooth for him. He was always one that could balance his education along with his athletic pursuits. He pursued both immediately in college.
The kid has a lot of winning qualities. As you achieve things in life, there are a lot of intangible things that go with your success. Pat’s very steady mentally and emotionally, and he’s smart. Winning qualities flow through and around him. He’s a great connector of people and I think he can play a role within a championship basketball organization.
The young man came to campus and he got it from somewhere, and from what I observed over those four years, he certainly got that from his mom and dad. His parents are great parents of a child that’s involved with sports. His parents are great parents of a student-athlete in college. As great as Pat has been as a student-athlete at Notre Dame, his parents have been All-American parents.
In terms of the connector of people part, Pat can talk for 10-to-15 minutes, and you may feel like you’ve known him for five years. He’s a wonderful teammate because he’s a very giving person. He understands things needed to have great team camaraderie, things that are needed to become champions. He has his own way of leading that he’s very confident in.
I remember last summer talking to him about his role, how he could help our team going forward. With conviction, he said it differently than I did and he said it in a respectful way, but he knew how he felt he could be the best leader he could in assisting us with some of his teammates.
He’s able to recognize how he should communicate with this individual versus another individual. With one guy, he’ll choose to talk to him away from the court, away from the competition of practice. He may need to bring him to his place of residence, may have to go out and eat dinner or lunch with him, may have to make sure that it occurs halfway or three-quarters of the way through the season. It may come down to when he sits at a particular table during meals.
I don’t think any of us really knew all that we were getting when Pat came to Notre Dame. We got on him quite late. The summer before we got involved with him, we saw the basketball aspects and we communicated quickly with him and his parents.
Speaking for myself personally, I felt like it hit me that there was something special in that young man the first semester. After his first start against Syracuse, I was able to collect all my thoughts. He was really effective, knocked down five or six threes, and the way he did it, he did it like he had been playing in the Big East for a long time.
When he made the shots, there was no celebration. You looked in his eyes in the huddle and it was like, ‘Okay, no big deal.’ He handled it all like an experienced, veteran, third-year conference player, even though he had just made his first start.
He could have thought, ‘I should have been playing more leading up to that,’ but I never saw any of that. He was just Pat. Steady Eddie, and after we won the ACC tournament three years later, it just hit me, ‘It’s Pat’s world. Pat can do anything.’
So whenever anybody asks me if Pat can play in the NBA, yeah, sure he can. By the same token if you ask me if Pat can pitch in the big leagues, my answer would be the same. Sure he can.
Being in the right organization at the right time would help him. The qualities he possesses, you need that organization to value that. Some of the things he does are small. Subtle, very subtle things, but they add up to the end result, which is championship, high quality success.
He recently played in that NABC all-star game. This was relayed to me third-, fourth-hand. A young man was being interviewed and he was asked, ‘If you were to play with anyone from this team again, who would you like it to be?’ And he said, ‘Pat Connaughton.’ I heard that and I was like, ‘That’s Pat.’
It’s not about doing it for one day, one week, one month, not even one season. It’s the consistency that he goes about it over time. With him, it’s consistency. He did it all on a consistent basis, and that’s the challenge we all face because we want this and we want that, but it’s the journey and striving for what you want to achieve over the long haul.
I always ask our players: on a regular basis, can you be alert and aware on a daily basis? That doesn’t mean you’re the loudest guy in the room, and with Pat, he’s in tune and he’s engaged daily.
Those qualities can translate in a lot of areas, whether it’s a ballpark, an arena, or in business. It’s going to take an organization really valuing those subtle things that he does on a daily basis because it can fit and blend in anywhere.
His poise, his coolness, his competitive spirit came from being on that mound where you’re solo. In basketball, with four other guys on the team, that’s nothing to him. When you’ve got to throw the ball in the 90s, that’s a different mindset, and he’s a cool customer.
During our post-season run, Pat – who is a Red Sox fan -- was quoting Derek Jeter and he said, ‘Winners win.’ He was asked, ‘How do you think you’re going to beat Kentucky?’ And he said, ‘Well, winners win.’
By then, him and Jerian were running things. I was like, ‘Whatever Pat and Jerian say, I believe it.’ I was sold. I was convinced. That’s Pat Connaughton.