Philadelphia 76ers: T.J. McConnell was a homegrown hero

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

As T.J. McConnell makes his way to the Indiana Pacers, let’s take a look back at the UDFA’s origin story with the Philadelphia 76ers.

For the first time in four years, the Philadelphia 76ers will open training camp without T.J. McConnell on their roster.

That’s right, despite having a deceptive need at backup point guard (which was almost immediately filled by Raul Neto on a one-year, rookie deal), McConnell officially signed a two-year, $7 million deal to join the Indiana Pacers as their new (presumed) backup point guard.


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Now on the surface, an amicable decoupling makes sense for all parties involved, as McConnell was mostly relegated to the bench during the team’s playoff run, and the Sixers needed a backup point guard who’s more effectively equipped to shooter the ball from 3 point range, but of the over 90 players (literally) who’ve suited up for the club since the start of ‘The Process’, none has more purely personified the spirit of Philadelphia basketball more than Timothy John.

Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, McConnell is a Pennsylvania boy through and through; a Pittsburgh native who started his college career at Duquesne University.

From there, McConnell made the unorthodox jump from the Atlantic 10 to the Pac-12, where he led Sean Miller‘s squad to two straight Regional Finals in the NCAA Tournament.

And yet, despite putting up commendable stats over his final two seasons in college (and overall), McConnell still sat through the 2015 NBA Draft without hearing his name called.

With no clear path to an NBA roster, let alone to become a starter, McConnell signed on with the Sixers for the Summer League. Though it seemed unlikely, McConnell earned a training camp invite, and despite having seven different point guards on the roster, he consistently caught the eyes of Brett Brown, Lloyd Pierce and company, ultimately earning a roster spot to start the regular season.

The rest, my friends, is history.

Over his 314 regular season appearances with the 76ers, McConnell filled virtually every role across the board – from deep bench reserve, to starter, to backup, to cheerleader – but no matter what Coach Brown and company threw at number 12, he always rose to the occasion.

That’s the mark of a true professional.

Though his presence will surely be missed moving forward, it’s hard not to look at McConnell’s new situation and get a little excited about his future prospects.

Despite signing three other guards this summer – and another player named T.J. (Warren) – only one (Malcolm Brogdon) has experience playing the point. After losing Darren Collison to a surprise retirement, the Pacers only have one ‘true’ point guard on their roster in second year UCLA-alum Aaron Holiday. While Jrue’s 22-year-old brother played fairly well in limited action as a rookie last season, Mcconnell should slot in and immediately put up at least his career averages for Indiana – 6.4 points and 4.7 assists in 22 minutes of action.

But projecting out McConnell’s future is not what today is about.

No, today fans in the 215 should take a moment to remember the ‘T.J. McConnell-years’ of Sixers basketball as the team now transitions into a new era of supersized contention.

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From ‘the T.J.’, to his pregame dance routines, to his bench triple-double, to his boundless enthusiasm whenever a teammate did something good, the Philadelphia 76ers will never have another player quite like T.J. McConnell and that’s a real shame. Good luck in Indiana T.J., you’ll forever have a home in the City of Brotherly Love.