Milwaukee Bucks: Pat Connaughton talks baseball past, Giannis’ leadership

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 16: (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 16: (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton delved into his baseball background and the leadership style of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on The JJ Redick Podcast.

Pat Connaughton has certainly been making the media rounds during this NBA hiatus.

The fifth-year pro and Milwaukee Bucks wing’s most recent appearance on The JJ Redick Podcast over at The Ringer touched on a number of different topics, especially those that are pertinent to the league’s return-to-play plans in Orlando, preparing for life in Walt Disney World and the events going on around the entire country.

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But Connaughton’s conversation with the veteran New Orleans Pelicans sharpshooter J.J. Redick certainly turned inward and went into Connaughton’s multi-sport background and playing both basketball and baseball simultaneously.

Of course, Connaughton was an accomplished pitcher in his own right, both in high school and at Notre Dame, and was eventually drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft.

Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton had to spend a lot of time weighing up the pros and cons before deciding to pursue and NBA or MLB career.

But as the Fighting Irish product explained to Redick, debating between choosing a professional career in basketball versus baseball was one that came with a lot of deliberation and was rooted in the financial outlooks of each route:

"“Out of college, it was more of a decision because I had a real opportunity to, after my sophomore year, I pitched really well and I was projected to be a first round pick. And I actually sat down with a few professors from Notre Dame and I kind of started to think business with regards to my decision. Like how are the two sports set up, as far as business, money making, things like that…What I came to the conclusion was with baseball, you get a signing bonus in the beginning. Then, if you’re on a fast track, you work your way through the minor leagues for three years, but most guys, it takes three-to-five years. You’re making $1,100 bucks a month in the minor leagues, only for the time you’re playing. And if, in the worst-case scenario I didn’t pan out to be as good they wanted me to be, what was I going to do after five years? Try to go back to basketball at the age of 27? So when I looked at the nature of the two sports, I thought I didn’t want to give up on basketball before I see it through.”"

When asked whether he ever second guessed his decision to choose a career in basketball over baseball, Connaughton admitted to having some thoughts in that capacity during his first two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers when he seldom saw the floor:

"“I wouldn’t say I had a period where I was second guessing myself, but I will say the first two years in Portland, I didn’t play much. I played a little in my second year when a couple guys got hurt. But it wasn’t until my third year where I played. For those first two years, I had to do some things basketball-wise. Like I was a stretch-4 in college, so I had to get my body in the right shape. I had to become an NBA 2-guard, so I had to do some things with that. But there was definitely a few times where I was like, yeah, if I was playing baseball right now, I’d almost be in the majors right now. I’d be having a lot of success. I’d be the guy. That was the difference between baseball and basketball to me. As a prospect in baseball, I had lottery pick talent and potential. As a prospect in basketball, I was a second round guy that was just trying to be a role player.”"

Connaughton further explained how hard it was to adjust to entering the NBA without a role, even while doing all of the work to stay ready in practice and making sure you’re making an impact on the team while mostly glued to the bench as he was for first two NBA seasons:

"“It’s hard. Look, anybody that gets to the NBA, they were the guy. In high school, growing up, college. So you’re in a much different position. I think it took a lot of physical commitment for me to get my body where it needed to be. Get my athleticism where it needed to be. Fine-tuning shooting, dribbling, little things like that that have to translate on a more consistent basis. But the biggest thing was the mental focus, where I think guys struggle with, on the things that aren’t basketball-related. Being a good teammate. Like you’re in a situation where you’re watching a game and you think you can help and you’re not getting called on. Are you still going to stand up and wave that towel when the team is coming back? Are you going to be that energetic guy on the bench? Are you going to bring some value to the team even when you’re not playing? Which is mentally hard to do. You have to wrap your mind around it and be like ‘Look, I’m sacrificing here because it’s going to pay off in the long run.’ And sometimes it’s hard to see that belief because you know your NBA career is not going to last long if all you are is a cheerleader on the bench.”"

Lastly, Connaughton walking through his humble beginnings in the NBA naturally led to him shedding some light on the leadership that Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has on him and the team had throughout Connaughton’s time in Milwaukee:

"“From what I’ve seen over the last two years, he’s getting to the point now where his voice is becoming heard often. But what he’s always done really well is lead by example. The best story I can tell is when I first got to Milwaukee, we would play pickup for that month of September before training camp. You play pickup in the morning from 11-1, you’re done, you come back the next day and you do it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I was the type of guy that came back to the gym every night. Came back to the gym, got up extra shots. I wanted to make sure I was ready to have an impact on this team. The second night I came back, Giannis was there.And Giannis was like ‘ What are you doing here?’ And I was kind of like ‘ What are you doing here?’ We had a moment where he goes, ‘I came back here all the time and I’ve never had anybody that comes back here with me.’ And I said to him, ‘Look, this is what I have to do to succeed in this league.’ This is the time, the energy, the hours that I have to put in, especially as a young guy on the team. And he was there every night. He understood what he had to work on and we got up shots together, had competitions and things like that. But what I’m trying to say is he works as if he’s a second round role player, but his talent is that of a MVP, championship-caliber teammate. So I think is what has really started to build the culture of the Milwaukee Bucks as we’ve gotten better…When the best player on your team is doing that, especially on a championship team, everybody else falls in that line and now, he’s becoming vocal. He has relationships, friendships, discussions with every guy on the team and everybody wants to play for him. Same goes for Coach Bud too.”"

Next. Khris Middleton will need to be more consistent in the playoffs. dark

As always, Connaughton’s insights into his own life and multi-sport background makes him a fascinating figure, but the level of detail he goes to when explaining how truly special this era of Bucks basketball has been remains very illuminating in every way.