Milwaukee Bucks star Pat Connaughton spoke with Emmet Ryan about what it’s like to play under Giannis Antetokounmpo, his desire to play for Ireland, his goals for next season, and more
It has been a long time since Pat Connaughton visited Ireland, but he is making the most of his return to the motherland, with several coaching clinics, soaking up the culture and continuing his association with Notre Dame.
The 2021 NBA champion has spoken a lot about his ties to his native country but, naturally, when you come across a Buck, the subject quickly turns to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“The thing that Giannis doesn’t get enough credit for is that he’s as good a teammate and person as he is an NBA player. Not everyone knows him personally as his teammates, but they have everyone the chance to see a basketball star,” Connaughton told BallinEurope.
“His desire to win is different. There are a lot of superstars who enjoy being MVP or being the All NBA first team. Personal accolades mean nothing to Giannis if the team doesn’t win and that’s rare these days. Besides getting to know him on a personal level, this is the most refreshing part of him.
Having a two-time NBA like the Greek Freak on the court certainly helps any team but, Connaughton said, the way Milwaukee built the team around Giannis particularly impressed him.
“It makes it easier for me when he’s got two or three guys hanging on to him and I’m just around the corner ready to shoot. The Bucks have done a terrific job with him and that’s, for me, the coolest part. of why I enjoyed staying in Milwaukee for the past five years,” he said.
“They surround high character guys with others like that. Jrue Holiday is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, if not the best. Khris Middleton is one of the best guys, then there’s Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez, the list goes on. It makes a difference on the pitch. The ability to have talent is necessary but pairing it with guys with character, who care more about their teammates than themselves, is a winning combination that gets overlooked in the NBA.
Naturally, there is more than one Antetokounmpo playing alongside Pat Connaughton, his teammate Thanasis due to face the United States at the World Cup on Monday. Connaughton wishes Thanasis luck in the game and the tournament, but only up to a point.
“I have a lot of buddies who play in the American team and a few in the Greek team, obviously with Thanasis. I love connecting to these competitions. The NBA is more international than ever. Whereas basketball- ball is becoming more and more prevalent around the world, it’s great to be a small part of that growth in Ireland to help the growth here,” he said.
“I will support Thanasis to have an amazing game and the United States to bring it home.”
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Connaughton’s Irish heritage has been a hot topic in Ireland for some time. Despite being over 16 when he got his passport, meaning he would only count as a naturalized player, Connaughton are quite proud of their ties to the country.
Connaughton’s grandparents on his father’s side and his great-grandparents on his mother’s side are all from Loughrea, Co. Galway.
“I haven’t been back since I was 13, because sports are pretty prevalent in my summers, but my parents are at my house all the time and my cousins come to the States often. When we played in Paris in 2020, a bunch of them came,” he said.
“The Irish national team is starting to grow and continues to grow. I hope one day I can put on the shirt.
While still young, at 30, Connaughton knows he’s likely to be deeply involved in the playoffs with the Bucks for a few years to come, so dressing in the Ireland green will be a challenge. Still, he wants to find a way to help grow the sport here.
“The goal is to come back. Whether I play for the Irish national team, whether I am a coach or an ambassador for basketball here, I want to do something to help continue to develop the game of basketball in Ireland.
That’s why he’s in Ireland this week. Connaughton runs clinics in Galway, Limerick and Dublin where he hopes to inspire the next generation of Irish ballers.
“As my foundation has grown, our goal has been to impact as many young athletes as possible. Doing it in the United States for the past six or seven years has been great. I’ve seen the growth is happening coast to coast and I wanted to see bigger, all over the world,” said Connaughton.
“There was no better place to start than Ireland with my Irish roots and basketball growing rapidly here. I want to use my platform to be an inspiration to those kids that someone an Irish-born can make it to the NBA and win a championship.
While Connaughton is proud of the success he has enjoyed in his career, his Irish heritage is certainly on display when it comes to his modesty discussing his own achievements in front of young players.
“It’s really cool. I let my team do most of the presentations, I don’t like to call myself NBA champion. It’s cool to see the faces of the kids when I walk around the gym. They’re a bit shy, a little aloof at first. Second hour they laugh at my pink shoes or say they can beat me in a shooting contest,” he said.
“These interactions are where the greatest progress is made because they listen. Being able to pass on some of the messages that my parents and my coaches gave me to this next generation on the pitch and in life, that’s what it’s really about.
The timing of this trip is no coincidence. Connaughton played his college ball with Notre Dame, winning an ACC championship and reaching the Elite Eight, and his alma mater’s American football team is in town this week to play Navy in front of 55,000 people at the stadium. Aviva from Dublin on Saturday.
“I wanted to coordinate as best I could. My goal was initially to come in the summer of 2020 when they were supposed to play. Obviously, that didn’t happen. It’s great to be able to reschedule to be in the week before the football game, to be able to attend and continue my affiliation with the university.
The goal for the coming season is obvious, to win another championship with the Bucks, and Connaughton is focused on getting in top form to contribute.
“It’s a lot of work, early in the morning and late at night with weight rooms, conditioning and obviously on the field. This is very fun. This time of year you have a little more freedom. Being able to train and keep improving while being able to travel is pretty cool,” he said.
“Team sports are unique. Basketball only has five people on the court, it’s not like football or hurling. The offseason is all about focusing on what you, as an individual, can improve on with the collective and team vision in mind. For me, it’s about growing as a consistent three-point shooter. I also want to work on improving my game both offensively and defensively in situations where I have opportunities.