Pat Connaughton and the Irish are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.


March 18, 2015

Pat Connaughton: Things I Know

This is an exclusive interview with the University of Notre Dame’s senior men’s basketball standout. A 6-5 senior from Arlington, Massachusetts, Connaughton averages 12.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in 2014-15.

I played everything growing up. In middle school I would spent the whole year playing basketball and as spring rolled around I’d start playing baseball, Little League or Babe Ruth. Then I always dedicated the summer to baseball, whether it was travel baseball or AAU baseball or town baseball that was actually my favorite.

In high school, I played football, basketball and baseball, and as everyone got to see me once or twice they always tried to push me toward baseball. I don’t know what it was. It maybe came a little more naturally to me. I didn’t just pitch, I played the field, I could do a lot of different things. Gradually, even to this day, everyone has kind of said, `You’re a great high school basketball player, but your college career and your future is in baseball.’ Then, when college basketball became a reality, everyone said, `Well you’re a great college basketball player, but your future is still in baseball. That’s where the money is and that’s where you’re going to be a better player.’

I like just playing. All the choices are where it gets confusing for me, to have to pick one. I always thought that before I have to choose one, I have to give both a shot. If I exhaust all efforts to make it in one sport, then I’ll be more comfortable just playing one sport instead of two.

A lot of colleges recruited me in baseball to play the field and hit. I was often an athletic kid who could throw hard, so they’d stick me on the mound and I’d overpower kids. I’d walk some, but I’d strike a lot of kids out. When basketball became a reality and I had the ability with some schools to do both, pitching was the better choice as far as baseball, especially being 6-5. It was unrealistic to practice pitching, hitting and fielding, and then try to do basketball as well.

I’ve learned the importance in baseball of control, and especially control of my secondary pitches. What I picked up this past summer was that you do it every single day, you repeat your delivery every single day. It was about learning to have a fluid delivery that the (Baltimore) Orioles wanted. Repeating the release of the ball. The tricky thing was developing a feel for the strike zone with the secondary pitches, with the curve ball and the slider and the changeup. That can expedite the process of getting you to that next level.

One of my favorite things in basketball is enjoying just going out and competing and doing what you need to do to win games. In high school I was the tallest kidOne of my favorite things in basketball is enjoying just going out and competing and doing what you need to do to win games on my team, but I also played point guard. At Notre Dame in the past I was more of a shooting guard or a small forward. This year we need me to rebound a little more to win. All of this has just helped the overall development of my game.

There are pictures of me from back in high school, and I always had an Irish sweatshirt or hat on. Maybe it was coming from an Irish-Catholic family. My grandparents always watched Notre Dame football on Saturdays. So I knew who (2005 Irish football consensus All-America wide receiver and baseball standout) Jeff Samardzija was. As I started to play both sports in high school and it became a little more of a reality that I might play two sports in college, I started to learn about guys that had done that, the Jeff Samardzijas, the (current NFL Seattle Seahawks quarterback and former Colorado Rockies minor-league second baseman) Russell Wilsons of the world. It just so happened that one of them had gone to the school I ended up choosing.

I’ve talked to Jeff (Samardzija) here and there. I haven’t talked to him lately because he got traded to the (Chicago) White Sox and so he’s a little busy right now. But I work with his brother Sam and he relays things back and forth. The agency Jeff’s brother works with (Frontline Athlete Management) has a lawyer who is a Notre Dame graduate, so there are a bunch of ties. That made me feel confortable. And they represent Jeff and Russell Wilson, guys that had done it before in terms of having the ability to play more than one sport.

Mark Rodgers is the lawyer from Notre Dame and he and Sam came to my house right before the MLB draft last year. They explained how it worked with both Jeff and with Russell. The main thing they said was that it’s a matter of being up front with both sides and letting them know I want to play both sports as long as I can.

So when a baseball teams drafts you, they have your rights for six years. But the contract I signed last year was only for the eight weeks in the summer. So no matter what happens, I would have to sign another baseball contract. With Jeff (Samardzija), the (Chicago) Cubs essentially bought him out of football. That was the leverage he ended up having with the Cubs.

I’ve always enjoyed proving people wrong. Everyone has always told me baseball will be the path I choose, and that I won’t make it in the NBA. So I’m going to attack this basketball thing for as long as I can. Maybe it’ll be a few years and then I’ll be back to baseball or maybe it’ll be a whole career. If I get drafted by the NBA I’ll definitely pursue that. But I’m not going to recklessly pursue that and ruin the baseball part. If I would end up having to go to Europe to play basketball, I would more than likely go with baseball at that point.

When I’m in the gym I work on things I’m not as good at. I work on ball-handling, off the dribble stuff, lateral quickness – things I need to develop more to get my game to the next level.

Playing both sports has meant I’ve met a lot of great people between baseball and basketball. I’m an only child, my mom is one of 10, my dad is one of eight. I grew up in one town but ended up going to high school 20 minutes away. I’ve met a lot of people and those relationships have helped me. You take things from everybody you meet. I try my best to talk to everybody I meet. (Irish teammate) Jerian Grant’s family obviously is into basketball, so I’ve talked to all of them. Then the people you meet will always tell you something, so I’ve tried to take something from everybody I run into. You weed some of it out, and you know who you can trust. You find some overlaps, and you take some with a grain of salt, but there are people out there who want to help you.

When I came in here as a freshman Jerian was first starting to play after his redshirt year. So we had a connection there. Jerian and (three-time Irish captain) Eric (Atkins) and I always hung out, as kind of a group of three. I roomed with Jerian on the first road trip of the year and we won the game so we kept rooming together. By the end of my freshman year we’d become very good friends, and Eric was always around and in our room on the road and that’s how it jumpstarted. When Eric graduated last year, Jerian and I kept that close relationship and it’s been there for a long time.

I’m still having fun with all of this. It helps with everything. There are times you have to be serious. But people respond to you when you try to have some fun and lighten the mood. Let them know you can still be a kid even if they are freshmen and you’re a senior. We’re in this thing to win, but to have some fun with it, too.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director