Local Basketball Legend T.J. McConnell Is Set to Begin Seventh NBA Season

                                                       (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

With the NBA season starting today, it's easy to find a lot of new faces in new places across the league's rosters.  One player that stayed put this offseason, however, is local legend T.J. McConnell.  In case you missed it, McConnell re-signed with the Indiana Pacers in August, agreeing to a four-year, $35.2 million deal.  The signing made waves around the league for a guy who worked his way up through the ranks over the years. 

McConnell is a graduate of Chartiers Valley High School, where he played basketball for his father, coach Tim McConnell.  The name McConnell has become a renowned one in Pittsburgh any time high school basketball is mentioned.  Tim has been the basketball coach at Chartiers Valley for decades, coaching the boys' teams for 25 years before moving to the girls' team in 2019.  He coached the boys' teams to 16 Section championships and six WPIAL championships and has now won a WPIAL championship in all three seasons as coach of the girls' team.

Tim's sister, Suzie McConnell-Serio, is also a local basketball legend.  Suzie played for Oakland Catholic High School before playing collegiately at Penn State University.  She won two Olympic medals as a member of the United States Women's Basketball team, including gold in 1988.  After her playing days, she went on to coach in the WNBA, as well as stints as head coach at Duquesne and Pitt.

As for T.J., he initially chose to play collegiately in Pittsburgh by committing to Duquesne.  He played there for two seasons before transferring to the University of Arizona, where he played for coach Sean Miller, another Pittsburgh basketball superstar.  After going undrafted in 2015, McConnell signed to the Philadelphia 76ers summer league team, where he made enough of an impression to make the opening night roster.  

Fortunately, the start of his career was during the dog days of "The Process" for the Sixers, where wins were at a premium.  While they did make the playoffs in his last two seasons in Philadelphia, the Sixers only had 10 wins and 28 wins in his first two seasons with the team.  As a result, it presented a great opportunity for playing time since the team was willing to play everybody to see what talent they had on their roster.  He played there for four seasons before signing a two-year, $7 million contract with Indiana in 2019.

His play for Indiana has easily been the best of his career, earning him the large contract he signed over the offseason.  Last season, T.J. led the NBA in steals without even being an everyday starter.  On March 3rd of this year, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, he broke the NBA record for steals in a half when he recorded nine in the first half.  He would finish the game with a triple-double.  This was the  first triple-double to include steals since 1998 and the first to ever use steals by a player coming off the bench.

For the upcoming season, T.J. will once again come off the bench, with Malcolm Brogdon starting at point guard.  However, that is a role that T.J. has thrived in over the years.  With Indiana, he has become a spark off the bench that has been able to lead the second team effectively.  Plus, his ability to play lockdown defense while creating steals has become his calling card in the NBA.  It is what has earned him the respect amongst his peers, a respect that became very evident after signing his new deal.

If you're able to catch a Pacers game on TV this season, I suggest tuning in for a little bit just to watch T.J. play.  He plays with the same aggressiveness that led to him being named Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Male Athlete of the Year as a senior in high school.  Plus it's always fun to watch someone on national television from the Pittsburgh area who has been able to succeed at the highest level in their sport.