Arizona ‘brothers’ hope for busy draft night
TUCSON, Ariz. — Former Arizona guard T.J. McConnell will be watching Thursday’s NBA draft with his family in Pittsburgh, hoping at some point his name is called by a team that thinks he’s worthy of a roster spot.
Same goes for former teammate Brandon Ashley, who will be waiting for his name to be called at some point after declaring for the draft after his junior year with Arizona.
While McConnell and Ashley sit and wait — and possibly wait some more — their former teammates Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, ready to take their ceremonial handshakes with commissioner Adam Silver.
"We’ve kept a group check on all four of us, and we’re all just happy for one another," said McConnell in a telephone interview before his final workout with San Antonio this week. "I’m going to be proud to hear their names called.
"Stanley, Rondae and Brandon . . . I know all three guys are going to get drafted, and I’ll be a proud teammate when it does happen. Those guys are like my brothers, and it’ll be like a family member getting drafted. Hopefully all four of us get drafted."
If all four end up being drafted, it would be the first time four Arizona players would be picked in a draft since 2001, when Richard Jefferson (13th overall), Gilbert Arenas (31), Michael Wright (39) and Loren Woods (46) were selected.
Arizona coach Sean Miller said it would be "utopia" if all four were called.
Johnson looks to be a lock for the lottery on Thursday — there’s been a lot of speculation about the Pistons, who pick eighth — which would make him the eighth lottery selection in Arizona history. Johnson’s appeal, in addition to his already apparent talent, is his tremendous upside, something NBA teams crave.
"This season he played at 18 years old," Miller said earlier this month. "There aren’t many freshmen playing college at 18 years old, let alone having the role that he had. So where he will be in a few years from now will be nowhere near where he would have been this year."
One of the biggest question marks about Johnson’s game has been his ability to finish near the basket.
"It’s very overblown. People got to write stories, they got to make money, so they want to nitpick at people’s games," Johnson told reporters in Detroit recently after his final workout. "Everybody has one or two things that are not true that they put out there that’s oversold. I’m 6-7, 240. There’s not many people that are going to jump over me and block my shot at the rim.
"Through my whole career through high school to even before college, I was one of the best finishers at the rim through contact situations and stuff like that. It makes no sense to me. It’s more of a media thing, by the way. No team has even talked about that."
The knock on Hollis-Jefferson is the lack of polish on his offensive game. But defense will be his calling card.
"They know my shot is already broke, but it has gotten better," Hollis-Jefferson told reporters recently after one of his many workouts.
"They know I can get better at it," he said.
Hollis-Jefferson, a 6-foot-5-1/2 forward, is projected anywhere from No. 15 to late in the first round. Hollis-Jefferson recently worked out for Atlanta, which has the No. 15 pick.
"Rondae has a special skill that right away no matter where he goes," Miller said, "he’s going to bring to the table being a lockdown defender and rebounder, allowing his offense to grow as he gets older."
Ashley took a risk in coming out early in as much as he didn’t have a great college career, although he was set back months after suffering a broken foot near the end of the 2014 season. It seemed to hamper him early last season before he came on strong later in the season.
He’s shown the ability to hit the jumper from the perimeter with enough size to hold his own inside.
"I need to prove that I can shoot the ball pretty well," Ashley told reporters after a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers. "I think I did a good job of that today.
"Whatever my path is, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get out there and prove myself."
Said Miller: "There are 30 teams in the NBA, and in all of our guys’ cases, especially Brandon’s, you only need one to really like him."
Same goes for McConnell, who last month received a last-minute invite to the Chicago NBA Combine. He did well enough to get invited to 16 NBA workouts.
"It’s been a grind, but it’s been an honor to work out with all the different teams," McConnell said. "It’s been a long process, but a very good one."
What he’s learned from the workouts and Chicago is "that I can take my game to another level . . . there have been a lot of doubters who have said I can’t play at this level. I’ve been trying to prove them wrong."
Miller said McConnell’s team-first mentality along with high basketball IQ is a much needed/appreciated one. He referenced Cleveland Cavalier guard Matthew Delavedova, who went undrafted out of college, as a player with a common theme as McConnell.
"They play very hard on both ends and I think they have a way of blending in with great players,’ Miller said.