Milwaukee Bucks star Pat Connaughton spoke with Emmet Ryan about what it’s like to play with Giannis Antetokounmpo, his desire to play for Ireland, his goals for the next season, and more
It’s been a long time since Pat Connaughton visited Ireland but he’s making the most of his time back in the motherland, with multiple coaching clinics, taking in the culture, and continuing his association with Notre Dame.
The 2021 NBA champion spoke plenty of his ties to his homeland but, naturally, when you meet a Buck the topic quickly turns to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“The thing that Giannis doesn’t get enough credit for is that he is as good a teammate and person as he is a NBA player. Not everyone gets to know him on a personal level like his teammates but they all get to see a star in basketball,” Connaughton told BallinEurope.
“His desire to win is different. There’s a lot of superstars that enjoy being MVP or being first team All NBA. The personal accolades don’t mean anything to Giannis if the team doesn’t win and that’s rare in today’s day and age. Aside from getting to know him on a personal level, that’s the most refreshing part about him.”
Having a two-time NBA like the Greek Freak on the floor certainly helps any team but, Connaughton said, that the way Milwaukee has built the team around Giannis has particularly impressed him.
“It makes my job easier when he’s got two or three guys hanging off him and I’m just in the corner ready to shoot. The Bucks have done a tremendous job with him and that, to me, is the coolest part of why I’ve enjoyed staying with Milwaukee the last five years,” he said.
“They surround guys of high character with others like that. Jrue Holiday is one of, if not the, best teammates I’ve ever had. Khris Middleton is one of the best guys, then there’s Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez, the list goes on. That makes a difference on the court. The ability to have talent is necessary but coupling it with guys of character, who are about their teammates more than themselves, that’s a winning combination that gets overlooked in the NBA.”
Naturally there’s more than one Antetokounmpo playing alongside Pat Connaughton, with his teammate Thanasis set to take on the USA in the World Cup on Monday. Connaughton wishes Thanasis well in the game and the tournament but only to a point.
“I’ve a lot of buddies playing on the US team and a few on the Greece team, obviously with Thanasis. I love tuning into those competitions. The NBA is more international than ever. As the game of basketball gets more prevalent all over the world, it’s great to be a small part of that growth being over in Ireland to help the growth here,” he said.
“I’ll be rooting for Thanasis to have an incredible 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. While he was over 16 when he got his passport, meaning he would count only as a naturalised player, Connaughton is quite proud of his links to the country.
Connaughton’s grandparents on his father’s side and great-grandparents on mother’s side are all from Loughrea, Co. Galway.
“I haven’t been back since I was 13, due to sports being pretty prevalent in my summers, but my parents are over all the time and my cousins come over to the States quite a bit. When we played in Paris in 2020, a bunch of them came over,” he said.
“The Irish national team is starting to grow and continuing to grow. Hopefully, someday, I can put on the jersey,”
While still young, at 30, Connaughton knows he’s likely to be involved deep into the playoffs with the Bucks for a few years to come so suiting up in the green of Ireland will be a challenge. Still, he wants to find a way to contribute to the growth of the sport here.
“The goal is to come back. Whether I play for the Irish national team, coach, or be an ambassador for basketball here, I want to do something to help continue to grow the game of basketball in Ireland.”
That is very much why he is in Ireland this week. Connaughton is holding 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 youth athletes as possible. To do it in the States over the last six or seven years has been awesome. I’ve seen the growth happening coast to coast and I wanted to think bigger, across the globe,” Connaughton said.
“There was no better place to start than Ireland with my Irish roots and the game of basketball quickly growing over here. I want to use my platform to be an inspiration to those kids that someone with an Irish background can make it to the NBA and win a championship.”
While Connaughton is proud of the success he’s enjoyed in his career, his Irish heritage is certainly on show when it comes to his modesty in discussing his own achievements in front of the young players.
“It’s pretty cool. I let my team do most of the introductions, I don’t like to self-proclaim myself as a NBA champion. It is cool to see the kids’ faces when I walk in the gym. They’re a little shy, a bit standoffish at the beginning. By hour number 2, they’re making fun of my pink shoes or saying they can beat me in a shooting contest,” he said.
“Those interactions are where the biggest strides are made because they’re listening. To be able to put some of the messages my parents and coaches raised me on to this next generation on the court and in life, that’s what the impact is really about.”
The timing of this trip is no accident. 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 Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
“I wanted to coordinate as best I could. My goal was initially to come over in the summer of 2020 when they were meant to play. Obviously that didn’t happen. It’s great to be able to reschedule so that it’s in the week leading up to the football game, to be able to attend it and continue my affiliation with the university.”
The goal for the upcoming season is obvious, to win another championship with the Bucks, and Connaughton is focused on putting himself in the best place he can to contribute.
“It’s a lot of work, early mornings and late nights with weight rooms, conditioning, and being on the court obviously. It’s a lot of fun. This time of the year, you’ve a little more freedom. To be able to work out and continue to get better while also 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 soccer or hurling. The off-season is about focusing on what you as an individual can do better with the collective and team view in mind. For me, it becomes 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.”