Duquesne’s TJ McConnell is underrated, but there’s more to him than just hoops


CINCINNATI – Ron Everhart knows a thing or two about underrated point guards.

When he was at Northeastern, he had a 5-10 point guard running his team that was averaging 21.0 ppg and 8.4 apg. But that was Northeastern, which, like Duquesne, is a bit off the beaten path for NBA scouts. Everhart thought he deserved more attention nationally, and he ended up being right: that 5-10 point guard played a major role in dethroning King James back in June.

“I used to tell people back in Boston, I think you should come and watch this JJ Barea kid play, I think he’s a legitimate NBA player,” Everhart said after Duquesne lost to Xavier at the Cintas Center on Wednesday night. “People would laugh at me and say ‘there’s no way, there’s no way.’ Well, the kid ended up playing his way into a World Championship. I feel exactly the same way about TJ McConnell. I think he’s very similar.”

And it didn’t take Everhart long to notice it, either.

He became convinced that McConnell was going to be a great player when he saw him hit three straight threes and steal the ball from Terrelle Pryor, the former Ohio State quarterback that was a pretty good hooper in his own right back in high school. No one really knew about McConnell beyond his last name; at the time, he was just a freshman in high school.

“We had offered him during his freshman year and I think his dad thought I was crazy. I know everyone else did. He was about 5-8, 145 pounds,” Everhart said with the smile of a man that knew he found a diamond in the rough. “Maybe 135 pounds.” McConnell laughed when I told him his coach said he was 5-8 when he made the decision to offer the youngster a scholarship.

“5-5 at the tallest.”

So what did Everhart see in McConnell that made him offer the soon-to-be sophomore a scholarship?

“I come off of four years of coaching JJ Barea up at Northeastern,” Everhart said, “so when I saw him play, I saw right away to court instincts, I saw the vision, I saw the natural get his teammates shots kind of things, he’s great defensively. I just thought he was going to be a really good player.”


The McConnells are a basketball institution in Pittsburgh.

His father, who coached TJ in high school at Charters Valley, has run one of the most successful programs in the history of the WPIAL. One of McConnell’s aunts, Suzie, is an Olympic gold medalist, a former WNBA all-star and currently the women’s coach at Duquesne. Another aunt, Kathy, played at Virginia and was a head coach at Tulsa and Colorado. A third aunt, Maureen, played at Pitt while one of TJ’s uncles, Tom, played for Davidson and is now the head coach at St. Francis (PA).

Hoops is in his DNA. And that’s part of what helped Everhart land the point guard.

“I relate to them real well,” he said. “My three brothers in West Virginia, we all grew up and played basketball in college on scholarship. Its just one of those things where its important that everyone in your family is involved with it and they’re good at it. Sometimes it means a little bit more.”

Having basketball in his blood is part of the reason that McConnell is able to be so successful. McConnell wasn’t blessed with the kind of physical tools that guys like John Wall and Derrick Rose have. He’s not going to dunk on anyone. He’s listed at 6-1, which may be a bit generous. He’s doesn’t have the kind of quickness that makes him a terror to try and defend.

Where McConnell succeeds is that he understands the game. Its a cliche, I know, but he’s a coach on the floor.

“He understands how to lead a team and to get people to do the things they need to do. Everybody listens,” senior guard Eric Evans said on Wednesday. “He can do a lot as a point guard. He can rebound, he can make plays for other people, he can also score.”

You can see that in the numbers McConnell puts up. This season, he’s averaging 11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 6.1 apg, which leads the conference. He’s already posted a triple-double this season, going for 15 points, 11 assists and 10 boards against UDC. He’s also shooting 47.1 percent from three, which is third in the conference.

But perhaps his best attribute as a player is his ability to defend; McConnell is second in the country in steals, averaging 3.0 spg. He’s one of the few players in the country where you can legitimately say he does everything well.

The Atlantic 10 is deep at the point guard spot this season, but the best of the bunch is Tu Holloway, the guy responsible for shutting down McConnell on Wednesday night. And even Tu is a McConnell fan.

“I’m a big fan of basketball, and I watch guys like him,” Holloway said after holding McConnell to four points and four assists on 2-7 shooting in Xavier’s 78-50 win. “The way he can shoot so efficiently from the field, I think to myself ‘wow, I want to be able to shoot like TJ McConnell.’ The way he controls things, he goes at him own pace.”

“You could see the maturity in his game and how he’s always poised and goes out there and let’s things happen the way he wants it to. He doesn’t let guys speed him up. ”


Basketball may be the lifeblood of the McConnell clan, but so is Pittsburgh, which is why it was so easy for McConnell to make the decision to accept a scholarship at Duquesne.

“To see my dad, my mom and my brother and sister and grandparents at every game,” McConnell said when I asked him why he wanted to stay home for college. “Not many people can say that they have that. It makes me feel that much better a home cooked meal when I’m having a bad day.”

For all the numbers that he puts up and all the adulation he will surely get before his basketball career is over, at his core McConnell is just a kid that wants to win basketball games. Players at the Division I level — especially those that face media scrutiny every day of their career — are programmed to be media friendly. Give bland quotes, stay humble and don’t say anything that will end up on the locker room of your next opponent.

Its almost as if ‘Interacting with the Media 101’ is the first class that players take when they get to school.

McConnell was no different.

I asked him if he thought he was underrated nationally, and he simply said “people probably don’t think that after tonight.” I asked him if he hears the rumblings that he’s one of the top point guards in the country, and he said “some people have said that. I’m just worried about winning. I’m not worried about rankings, if I’m the best point guard in the nation or the 20th best. I just want to get the W.”

Hell, I even asked him if he thought his family was Pittsburgh’s basketball royalty — something Coach Everhart believes to be true — and his answer was no.

“I don’t think there is one family that rules Pittsburgh, there’s a lot of great players out there in Pittsburgh. There’s a lot of good people that come out of there that play basketball.”

But what set McConnell apart was that every word that come out of his mouth seemed sincere. This wasn’t McConnell posturing for the media. This wasn’t a player that was annoyed he had one of the worst games of his career when a writer showed up to do a story on him. He was clearly devastated by the way his team lost — when asked to describe his team’s performance in one word, he immediately said “embarrassing” — and he even needed some convincing from me to actually do an interview.

That’s just the kind of kid he is.

The only press clippings he reads are the league standings.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”