Will Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton be a Celtics draft pick?

Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton could dribble down a similar career path as former Boston Celtics player and current President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge. Both excelled as athletes at the collegiate level, both successful in baseball and basketball. For Ainge, it was baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays followed by a lengthy NBA career. Connaughton was drafted by the Orioles last season with a fastball clocking in at 96 mph and made his professional debut with the Class-A Aberdeen IronBirds (2.51 ERA); however, despite his success on the diamond, Connaughton has put baseball on the back burner and set his sights on his own lengthy professional hoops career.

Via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, Connaughton said:

“I’m here. It’s all basketball. I’m trying to get the word out there that I’m two feet in. I’m 100 percent in. If I was one foot in I wouldn’t be in because I’d be trying to make millions and millions of dollars playing baseball right now. Until I don’t make an NBA roster, I’m looking to be an NBA basketball player.”

Connaughton is committed to making a run at the NBA even with the lingering question he dealt with at the NBA combine in Chicago: ‘are you destined for baseball or basketball?’

Connaughton added:

“I heard that a lot in the meetings (with teams) this week. But all you can do is tell everyone that you’re here for a reason. I am here because I want to be an NBA basketball player.”

Connaughton’s passionate words and physical ability proved to go hand-in-hand as demonstrated by his combine vertical leap performance, measuring 44 inches -- this year's highest and tie-ing the record for second best of any player having completed the combine. His leap tied with Shane Larkin (combine 2013), who stands a half foot shorter at 5’11, 176 lbs than Connaughton (6’5, 218 lbs). The two are only bested by 2001’s participant Kenny Gregory who recorded 45.5 inches. In addition to his notable leap, Connaughton’s combine accolades included 18 points in 26 minutes of play.

Connaughton averaged 12+ points and 7+ boards last season with Notre Dame. In their NCAA tourney win over Butler, he made plays on both sides of the ball with a key block in regulation and a clutch three in OT. Though his performance at the combine still came as a surprise to many (maybe even, most), Connaughton wasn’t among those surprised.

Better yet, the Celtics weren’t among the non-believers either. Remember when Ainge scouted a Notre Dame v. Boston College game earlier this year? Maybe you wouldn’t believe me, if I had told you he was in fact looking at Connaughton back then but…and this is awkward, I kind of told you.

Look at the serious work he put in over the last couple of months, leading up to the combine.

That extra work proved rewarding, propelling Connaughton from under-the-radar to above the rim in pre-draft conversations.

Connaughton hails from Arlington, MA and played high school ball for St. John’s Prep where ESPN Boston presented him with the 'Mr. Basketball' award and ESPN RISE honored him with 'Gatorade Player of the Year' for Massachusetts in ’11, when he led the team to their first D1 State Championship title. Being a local guy, Connaughton followed the Celtics over the years. He even kicked off his Celtics combine interview by playfully throwing his hometown weight around with a special greeting for Assistant Coach, Walter McCarty. We all know what he led with – he loves ‘Waltah.”

Via Bulpett, Connaughton admits:

“It wasn’t as loud as Tommy Heinsohn or anything, but, yeah, I did. He [Walter] probably had no idea I knew who he was, but I grew up watching him and I grew up watching the Celtics when they were bad and grew up watching them in the (most recent) Big Three era.”

So will Connaughton be a target for the Celtics on June 25th? With four total picks (1st round: 16th and 28th and 2nd round: 33rd and 45th) -- I say, yes. It’s entirely possible.

From Sean Deveney at Sporting News, a league executive said:

“He hustles, he’s tough, he can shoot it, he is impressive in interviews I don’t know that there is a coach out there who would not want him on their team...I think he has a spot in the second round, he has earned that. He’s not going to any All-Star games, but he could have a long NBA career if he gets into the right situation."

Sounds like more motivation for Connaughton to keep his game up and his spirits high – just like his vertical leap.

Steph sidebar: For comparison’s sake, my vertical leap – wait for it -- is a whooping 22 inches at 5’8 and 125 lbs. Yep, I won’t be contesting his (or likely anyone’s) shots – or reaching the top shelf in my closet without a stepstool -- anytime soon. What’s your vertical leap?

Photo credit: Randy Belice 

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