Passion for basketball fuels Bucks’ Connaughton on and off the court

LAS VEGAS — What does it take to be the perfect NBA teammate? Well, it helps to be selfless, competitive, dedicated, hard-working, likable, teachable, athletic and adaptable … or you could just be Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks.

There are NBA players who perform their season duties and then decompress, taking time away from the game in the offseason. Then there’s Connaughton, who takes no time off away from the game. In fact, he goes out of his way to soak up extra basketball.

During a Bucks season that ran from mid-October to the end of May, in which Connaughton contributed career-highs in points (6.9), rebounds (4.2), assists (2.0), steals (0.5) and blocked-shots (0.4), he still found time to attend practices for the girls’ basketball team at Whitefish Bay, a suburb just north of Milwaukee.

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After the Bucks’ lengthy playoff run, Connaughton showed up for NBA Summer League — not as a player, but to support Milwaukee’s summer squad as a spectator. Weeks later he joined USA Basketball on the select team roster to help the USA National team prepare for the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Championship in China.

“I love basketball. It’s something that I’ve loved since I started playing,” Connaughton said. “I’ve been fortunate to play multiple different sports and some at high levels and basketball has always just been something that has always brought me together with family, friends, competition, hard work and all the things I embody in my own personal brand.

“To be around the game as much as possible is something I thoroughly enjoy, and for it to be able to help further my career and to help benefit me moving forward as well as the Milwaukee Bucks, and I’m going to continue to do so.”

Connaughton does love basketball, but not just the playing the game. He also loves being a teammate and the comradery that comes with it and he shows it in a variety of different ways, such as wearing the white/gold Nike Zoom Freak 1’s at USA basketball training camp to support Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first signature shoe, training with and learning from Khris Middleton in the offseason or just by simply hanging out with teammates during the season.

“On the road we spend all the time together and that’s been great,” Connaughton said. “We’ve done events together, dinners together … we do things on the road together because you have to enjoy the process is what I’ve always said. There’s hard work that goes into it, there’s 82 games a year, but at the end of the day, if you don’t enjoy the process it’s going to be a long season. Enjoying the process along with coupling the team success first that brings about winning makes it a hell of a fun season and it flies by.”

Most recently, Connaughton joined Bucks teammates and close friends Middleton and Brook Lopez at USA basketball training camp. Being on the USA select team roster, Connaughton had to go up against the two on defense. He was even part of a scheme trying to prevent Lopez from knocking down 3-pointers during a scrimmage, which was drawn up by select head coach Jeff Van Gundy and assistant coach Mark Few, the Gonzaga head coach.

“We were very intent on not letting Brook get a 3,” Few said. “We were running around like crazy trying to switch all his ball screens. It’s been really enjoyable to coach him. He’s really smart, tough (and a) quick learner. If you have all those attributes, as a coach it’s fun to be around. I’ve been able to watch him the last couple of years and it’s been fun to watch his development.”

The Bucks were no surprise last year and are heavily favored in the Eastern Conference going into the 2019-20 season, and rightfully so. They have an abundance of talent with 2019 MVP Antetokounmpo and All-Star Middleton leading the way. They also have plenty of players at all positions that can spread the court and shoot 3-pointers in Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer’s high-tempo style.

It’s not that simple though, of course. The system wouldn’t work if the Bucks had a roster full of egos. Instead they have a selfless locker room that buys into Budenholzer’s strategies of sharing the ball and playing together. The Bucks understand that no single player is bigger than the team; from the starting five all the way down the bench, the latter of which includes Connaughton.

“It starts from the top down,” said Connaugton on the Bucks’ selflessness. “I think our ownership and front office has been great, coach Bud has been the best, since we deal with him on a day-to-day, about putting the team first. Team success can breed individual success, and that was something that quite frankly I always tried to instill in my Notre Dame teams back when I was in college.

“Everyone trying to get individual success makes it harder for anybody to get any individual success. When the team is winning and we’re playing well and we’re playing together, individual success comes along with it. The better we can do for our team, the better we’ll be in turn throughout our careers. Coach Bud has done a great job, I think Giannis has done a great job; Khris has done a great job. Those guys in the leadership roles have done a really good job of making sure the team comes first at all costs.”