Somewhere along the path of Arizona basketball’s perennial success, the school earned the nickname “Point Guard U” from various journalists. It was a fitting term, being that in each of the school’s four Final Four appearances, a point guard with a stellar skill set has led the team. In 1988 it was future NBA champion Steve Kerr. In 1994 it was current assistant coach Damon Stoudamire. In 1997 it was national champion Mike Bibby. Finally, in 2001 it was fan favorite Jason Gardner. In addition, NBA stars Khalid Reeves, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, and Jerryd Bayless have all pushed the ball up the floor in Wildcat jerseys.
Yet, once the Lute Olson era came to an end, the “Point Guard U” mindset seemingly faded into memory. Current head coach, Sean Miller, struggled to solidify his teams with a true point guard who had the correct mindset to carry the torch of Arizona basketball history. Players like Nic Wise, Momo Jones, Josiah Turner, and Mark Lyons all had shortcomings that included behavioral problems, school transfers, turnovers, or playing out of position. But with the recent addition of true point guard TJ McConnell, Miller may have just found the most important player to the team’s success.
It is easy for McConnell to be overlooked. He is not an exciting freshman phenom, does not have a 42-inch vertical leap, and is not 7 feet tall. In addition, many of McConnell’s strengths are in areas that do not show up on a post game stat sheet. This is because McConnell prides himself in being a scrappy defensive point guard with a pass first mentality.
“I don’t care if I score,” McConnell has said, “I am just trying to get people the ball”.
Not only is McConnell’s mindset an absolute dream for a head coach looking for a court leader, but it is also a nightmare for opponents for two reasons. Firstly, TJ McConnell rarely turns over the ball. In fact, he has the highest assist to turnover ratio of any U of A point guard in the past decade with 3.3, and is averaging over twice as many assists as any other U of A player in the Miller era with 6.7 per game. Secondly, McConnell is more than capable of shooting the ball efficiently when he needs to. Though he is only scoring 7.4 points per contest, he is shooting an ever efficient 48 percent from the field and over 35 percent from three-point range.
The bottom line is that the ball is safe when it is in McConnell’s hands, and he knows it. This is why the smallest player on the starting squad is the only man on the floor who touches the ball on every play, calling out instructions to his teammates and making sure they are placing themselves in an ideal scoring position.
McConnell is the ultra confident conductor of Wildcat basketball, the maestro of the red and blue orchestra, and the little general leading his troops into battle. He is fearless, scrappy, and vocal. In essence, he is everything you need in a Final Four caliber point guard, placing him among the ranks of Arizona’s all time great leaders. “Point Guard U” has finally found a suitable player to live up to its rich history, and he could not have arrived at a more perfect time.