Connaughton carries team to Elite Eight, place in Irish history
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, May 15, 2015
Sitting on his bed late one night during his senior year of high school, Pat Connaughton made a decision that shaped the rest of his life. He was supposed to be making his official visit to UCLA that upcoming weekend, but instead he signed up to become “a Notre Dame man.”
“I just decided it was the place for me,” the senior guard/forward from Arlington, Massachusetts, said of the moment at the men’s basketball team’s year-end banquet April 13. “I don’t know what it was, if it was a thought or recollecting on it, but that’s just what happened.”
Four years later, it’s hard to argue with his choice.
Playing three years with the Notre Dame baseball team, Connaughton amassed an 11-11 record and 3.03 ERA in 32 appearances, 30 of which were starts. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2014 MLB Draft and pitched for the Aberdeen IronBirds for a couple of months this summer. Out of high school he had been drafted in the 50th round by the San Diego Padres but came to South Bend instead.
After pitching for the months of June and July, Connaughton returned to campus in time to practice with his basketball teammates before their trip to Italy this summer.
“He flat out had his hand on the pulse of this thing as soon as he got back from the Orioles’ rookie ball and in Italy,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said to the sold-out crowd at the banquet. “He had the whole thing handled, and it was amazing to watch. It’s one of the greatest displays of leadership we have ever had at this University, and maybe in the country.”
Coming back for his fourth year was never in doubt, Connaughton said. It’s always been more about the people.
“I love the two sports, obviously, they’re my life, but I think the most important thing to me are the people I surround myself with, whether it’s family [or] friends … that are family to me because I was an only child,” Connaughton said. “The people enjoyed it. To put a smile on people’s faces because of something you’re fortunate to be able to do [was great].”
The St. John’s Prep product said he and senior guard Jerian Grant were in contact over the summer about returning for one last ride.
“It was something we were always kind of leaning towards,” Connaughton said. “As the season came to an end and as the draft came to an end for me, I was able to work through and get the deal where I could come back and not have to worry about it. We talked, and I knew he was coming back at that point.
“He always made the joke that if I wasn’t coming back, he wasn’t coming back, and we kind of knew we were in it together, and we wanted to make sure we accomplished things together.”
Under the pair’s leadership this season, the Irish won the ACC championship and reached the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1979, coming a mere two points from shocking then-undefeated No. 1 seed Kentucky and advancing to the Final Four for only the second time in program history.
“Pat, this season I wouldn’t be where I am without you,” Grant said while addressing those gathered at the banquet. “You helped me lead. You helped me become a better person on and off the court.”
Grant also recalled Connaughton asking him to be a captain with him for the postseason run, bringing Grant with him to the referee meeting at center court before each game.
“I don’t know if that was allowed, but we did it,” Grant said. “My whole career here at Notre Dame, I’ve never been able to go up there with the captains, so for him to ask me to do that meant a lot to me.”
Despite standing only 6-foot-5, Connaughton bulled his way all over the court into leading the team in rebounds (7.4 per game) while also averaging 12.5 points per game, good for third on the team behind Grant and junior forward Zach Auguste.
“That’s a skill that you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for,” Auguste said at the banquet. “Not a lot of [6-foot-5] guys can lead the team in rebounding, let alone be up there in the conference.”
Connaughton was quick to point out this was one of the closest teams he had ever been a part of, which made his job as team captain much easier.
“Obviously on the court, everyone just had the desire to win,” he said. “Personal goals come second. But most importantly as we grew was the off-the-court stuff: we were genuinely friends, we were genuinely family, and that was the most important thing because I didn’t really feel that the three years prior to this. Obviously you feel it with some guys, but I’ve never felt it with all 13 guys, and that’s what eventually put us over the top.”
In his four-year basketball career at Notre Dame, Connaughton appeared in all 139 games the Irish played, starting 123, including the last 120 games of his career. That streak started with one of Connaughton’s favorite memories, a 67-58 win over undefeated No. 1 Syracuse at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 21, 2012.
“To beat the No. 1 team in the country that was undefeated was the true meaning of court storming,” Connaughton said. “You see them do it now for every little thing, but that was the true meaning of one, and to be a part of it was awesome.”
Reflecting on his senior year on the hardwood, Connaughton said it was only a “stepping stone” for the program.
“Jerian and myself wanted to right the ship, so to speak, and leave a program that deserves so much success in a place where it can attain success on a consistent basis,” he said.
However, Connaughton said Notre Dame had a much larger impact on him than he did on it, teaching him how to be “a Notre Dame man.”
“It’s a phrase that really rings true in this community,” he said. “Being from the Boston area, you don’t hear anyone say, ‘You’re a BC man.’ It just doesn’t sound as good. You’re a Notre Dame man, and that’s something Jerian and myself have learned throughout the four years. I think you come in and you think, ‘Well, I’m at Notre Dame now, I must be a Notre Dame man.’ As you continue to go through you realize you have to go through the four years to learn that.”
As he moves to his post-Notre Dame life, Connaughton said both baseball and basketball are still very much open to him.
“I think for me it’s day-by-day. … Both are an option as the summer comes along,” he said.
Whatever the future holds, the senior’s impact will be felt long after he receives his management-consulting degree from the Mendoza College of Business at graduation. His coach summarized it best:
“I don’t know if we’ve had a student-athlete like this.”