While the Greek Freak was forced to sit with injury, Pat Connaughton stepped up off the bench big time for the Milwaukee Bucks
The European connection with the Milwaukee Bucks is well known, after all they’ve got the two time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his brother Thanasis on the roster. There is, of course, one other man with roots from this side of the world amongst the Milwaukee line-up but those aren’t spoken of quite as often.
Last night, everyone was reminded of just what “Irish” Pat Connaughton can do and, yes, he is more than aware of those roots. Connaughton scored 22 points off the bench in 25 minutes, on 8 of 12 shooting, while also recording 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. It was just what the Bucks needed as they roared past the Heat.
A consistent performer
Connaughton hasn’t ever been a star for the Bucks but he has been a constant presence in their rise to the top of the NBA. Having joined in 2018, Connaughton has played over 20 minutes a night on average in all but his second season with the franchise, is basically a lock for 4 rebounds a night, and shoots 43 per cent from the floor but raises that to 46 per cent in the post-season.
That he had a career high in starts this year, 33, really is secondary. What Connaughton brings to Milwaukee is a player who gets his role like few others and maximises his contribution without disrupting the overall flow for his side.
Yet when the time came for him to get that bit out of his role and step up big, there he was last night. Giannis sat with injury and was like an overjoyed fan on the sidelines as he watched the players he leads prove themselves as more than just Giannis and pals in a must-win home game against the Heat on Wednesday night.
There was Connaughton, getting it done with consistency but raising his level to help fill the gap left by Giannis. The highlight was undoubtedly his long three in the first half but he gets the job and the need to adapt, which frankly is a valuable asset in any industry not just the most high pressure situation of professional basketball.
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Yes, he is Irish…
…eligible. It’s unclear if Connaughton has ever claimed his passport, even if he doesn’t want to ever suit up for Ireland he should just to make his EU holidays go faster at airport security.
Connaughton’s grandparents are from Co. Galway which automatically makes him eligible for a passport under Irish law and, crucially, means he isn’t a naturalised player in FIBA’s eyes. For those unaware, nations playing in FIBA tournament can field one ‘naturalised’ player who is given a passport by the nation in question. The catch is that not all nations will happily give one out just to improve a sports team.
Ireland is one of those nations, lots of people born outside the island have represented Ireland in sports but they had to follow traditional roots that you or I would towards getting a passport. That means either qualifying via birthright, which Connaughton does, or residing continuously for a long enough time (5 years in Ireland’s case). Ireland isn’t getting a Lorenzo Brown to beef up things. That’s no disrespect to Spain, they followed the rules and were open about it. Unfortunately the rules of our state mean that’s a no-go.
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But would he play for Ireland?
Connaughton has certainly appeared open to it in the past but the biggest challenge isn’t how weak Ireland is internationally at present, having to go through pre-qualifiers for EuroBasket, but rather how successful his Bucks team is.
It is entirely plausible, likely even, that the Bucks will be involved in playoff basketball in June. Indeed, Connaughton has yet to miss the playoffs in his entire NBA career since starting with Portland in 2015/16. If he was on a team that stopped playing hoops at the start of April, it would be a lot easier to attract him to play in August games with the national side than with the much shorter summer breaks he almost invariably has.
There’s also a matter of insurance. Being realistic about Basketball Ireland’s finances, that’s a steep bill and they’d need help from Connaughton or a favour from the Bucks or FIBA to help with it. It’s not implausible but it’s still a factor.
Yet, let’s be honest, it would be fantastic. The guy played college ball for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish, and now plays for a team that wears green in the NBA with a ridiculously Irish name. Nobody’s confusing Pat Connaughton’s origins and that’s a big symbol for Irish hoops. If Ireland could get him in its green jersey, it would be a huge message from the sport here and attract far more media and public attention than usual.
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