Putting the 'D' in Wildcats

With T.J. McConnell, Arizona's defense has had to carry the load

Originally Published: February 26, 2014
By Matt Giles | ESPN The Magazine

WHEN T.J. McCONNELL finished his sophomore year at Duquesne without a 2012 postseason appearance, the gritty 6-foot-1 guard decided he wanted to play at a higher-level program with NCAA tournament potential. But when he announced that his preferred schools were Arizona and Virginia, those who remembered him as an incoming freshman -- a guard so skinny he constantly had to rearrange his jersey to prevent it from slipping off his shoulders -- thought he was crazy. Sure, McConnell had since put on 20 pounds and was a starter for the Dukes, but many believed he didn't have the chops to compete in the Pac-12 or ACC.

How wrong they were. The Pittsburgh native's reputation as a ball-hawking, all-Atlantic 10 defender sold Arizona coach Sean Miller. And since taking the floor this fall, the redshirt junior has revitalized a team that may have boasted a strong offense, led by guard Nick Johnson, but sorely lacked the defensive toughness to compete for a national title.