Bucks' Connaughton takes pride in athleticism, dunking ability
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Birthdays don’t always go as planned, which was exactly the case for Milwaukee Bucks guard and 2020 NBA Dunk Contest hopeful Pat Connaughton.
Connaughton was resting a sore thigh and was inactive while he turned 27 on Jan. 6, as he helplessly had to watch the Bucks suffer their worst loss of the season, a 126-104 defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. To make matters even worse, he has yet to receive his promised present from a fellow member of the Milwaukee's Bench Mob.
“Speaking of which, I still have to talk to Dante (DiVincenzo). He still owes me a birthday song,” said Connaughton Friday night while a smirking DiVincenzo was just feet away dishing up a postgame Mexican meal in the Golden 1 Center visiting locker room after a 127-106 win over Sacramento.
In the victory over the Kings, the Bucks’ bench scored 54 points, but Connaughton only contributed four of those and missed all four attempts from 3-point range. He shot 2-of-7 overall, but those two made baskets were scored the best way he knows how -- by letting Pat dunk (#LetPatDunk2020).
“I know, if I don’t show out, I’m kind of letting people down,” said Connaughton on his recent dunk contest support. “I wouldn’t say it’s pressure; it’s fun. I’ve always took pride in my ability to dunk, so it’s fun that my athleticism is getting noticed, it’s fun that people are starting to see it, it’s fun that the dunks are getting some recognition finally.”
Connaughton then went on to reminisce on his first-ever dunk, but not just the actual dunk itself; he also explained how his drive, work ethic, aspirations and mindset collectively helped mold him into the athletic Planet Pat in which we are now accustomed.
“Clean dunk eighth grade, I remember it vividly. But the first one in a game might not have been until freshman year in high shool, but yeah eighth grade, that was my goal,” Connaughton recalled. “I set the goal at the end of my sixth grade and I worked really hard at it. Honestly, I think that’s what sparked me into seeing when you work really hard at something you can accomplish something, and it jump started me into trying to find ways to accomplish my dreams of playing in the NBA.”
As a youthful student of dunking, Connaughton would examine dunk reels of former and current NBA players and, in fact, while he was just a 12-year-old sixth-grader drawing up that two-year plan to start dunking, one of Connaughton’s high-flying heroes was in his seventh NBA season and averaging 24.5 points per a game. And, oh yeah, that player is still playing and dunking.
“I used to always watch Vince Carter, that was my go-to,” Connaughton said. “But at the same time, I used to watch guys like Allen Iverson and guys that were smaller and could still dunk. I always thought that was really cool. I also used to watch guys like Brent Barry and that I could relate to a little better.”
The Bucks are currently 2-1 on a four-game road-trip with their only loss coming on Connaughton’s birthday, but with the last stop being in Portland where Connaughton started his NBA journey and where he is still a fan favorite, we may just see a few more dunks to finally help nudge an All-Star Saturday night invite from the league … well, if the Bucks can stay away from one of their team favorite pastry shops while visiting, that is.
“Voodoo Doughnut might end the Let Pat Dunk circuit,” said a laughing Connaughton. “I’m going to enjoy it. I’m really close with the coaches there (in Portland), and some of the guys that are still on the team like C.J. (McCollum), Dame (Lillard), and to be able to get back there and see them and play versus them and most importantly compete versus them. I’m close friends with a lot of those people, but during the 48 minutes, obviously I want is to win the game like we did in Milwaukee. But before the game and after the game, it will be great to see those guys and to be back in the Moda Center.”