Did Tech miss out on Pat Connaughton?

Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton, one of the top two-sport college athletes in recent memory, will play in a NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game Thursday night. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton, one of the top two-sport college athletes in recent memory, will play in a NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game Thursday night. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

For Georgia Tech basketball fans who didn’t quite suffer enough this season, they might consider this if they watch Notre Dame’s Sweet 16 matchup against Wichita State Thursday night: Irish forward Pat Connaughton could well have been a two-sport athlete for the Yellow Jackets.

Connaughton was named third-team All-ACC this season and is concluding a standout career for Notre Dame. This season, he is averaging 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds and has shot 42.7 percent from 3-point range, which is 16th in the country. Tech probably could have found playing time for him this season.

The story goes back to the summer of 2010, when Connaughton was a noteworthy baseball prospect but was getting little interest as a basketball player. Connaughton caught the attention of Tech baseball coach Danny Hall after pitching in a travel tournament in Atlanta, and Hall began recruiting him.

“That’s when he said, ‘I’m going to go to this AAU basketball tournament at Walt Disney World,’” Hall said Thursday, following his team’s final practice before a three-game series at Louisville that begins Friday. “’I kind of want to see where I’m at as a basketball player.’”

Connaughton, in a July interview with ESPN Boston in July 2010, just before the AAU national tournament, said, “I want to see if I can play in the Big East, ACC, Pac-10, and pitch, too.”

As it turned out, Connaughton turned heads in Orlando. An ESPN column tabbed him the surprise player of the tournament. According to his Notre Dame bio, he averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds in three games against some of the top AAU teams in the country.

“Connaughton arrived in Orlando a week ago with low-major offers, and seven days later he has picked up offers from Notre Dame and Tennessee with more potentially on the way,” Adam Finkelstein wrote.

“So then we called him after that, and he’s like, The whole basketball recruiting thing has blown up since I was in this (tournament),” Hall said. “Will you guys offer me a scholarship with basketball?”

Hall went to then-basketball coach Paul Hewitt. NCAA rules dictate that if a two-sport athlete plays football or basketball, he must count against the scholarship limits for either of those sports and not the other sport.

Hall said that Hewitt was not interested in recruiting a shooting guard, so Hall was out of the running. It has proven Tech’s loss to have not competed for Connaughton. He has been a solid four-year starter for the basketball team, one whom coach Brian Gregory has admired from afar. Playing for the Notre Dame baseball team after the end of the basketball season, Connaughton had a career 3.03 ERA in 154.2 innings, starting 30 games in 32 appearances. He was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft and pitched in the Baltimore Orioles chain last summer. Could Tech’s baseball team have advanced past the regional round of the NCAA tournament any of the past three seasons with one more solid starting pitcher on the staff?

Hewitt’s thinking was understandable. The 2011-12 Tech team, on which Connaughton could have been a freshman, had three sophomore shooting guards.

However, Glen Rice Jr. was dismissed at the end of the season. Injuries prevented Jason Morris from achieving his potential. Transfer Brandon Reed played two seasons, averaging 6.4 points, before transferring back to Arkansas State.

There’s no telling whether or not Tech could have beaten out Notre Dame for Connaughton. Perhaps he would have taken note of the three players at his position and thought otherwise. Perhaps he would have sought a release from a letter of intent after Hewitt was fired following the 2010-11 season. Hall has his suspicions.

“But if he was looking for the best baseball/basketball combo, I think at the time he would have come this way,” Hall said.

Fun times.


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