Friendship Helped McConnell, Stauskas Through Tough Season

T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas knew of each other, but didn't know one another at the start of this season. By April, they were practically finishing each other's sentences. 

Associate head coach Mike D'Antoni referred to them as "frick and frack." Their lockers were next to each other at the Wells Fargo Center and often on the road too. After completing their warmup routines, they could be found talking before games, with only rare breaks in the conversation.

The fast friendship between McConnell and Stauskas was a constant for the two guards. The friendship began as the two were looking for teammates to hang out with in a new city and developed into a support system they hope continues throughout their careers.  

"It helped me out tremendously," McConnell said in a co-interview with Stauskas at the end of the season. "I think it's actually been pretty cool how close we are."

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The first time Stauskas heard of McConnell was in December of 2013, when the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats went to Michigan to play his Wolverines. 

McConnell played his first two seasons at Duquesne before transferring to Arizona so it was Stauskas' introduction to him on the court. The Wildcats fought back from a halftime deficit to fend off of the Wolverines' attempt at an upset.

"We ended up losing a heartbreaker," Stauskas said. "Obviously, I had a tremendous amount of respect for him."

That spring, Stauskas left college after his sophomore season and was selected eighth overall by the Kings in the 2014 draft. McConnell played another year at Arizona and went undrafted in 2015. 

Their paths converged last summer when the Sixers acquired Stauskas in a trade and invited McConnell to training camp.

McConnell was an underdog trying to make a squad with a long list of players ahead of him at his position. Even though he and Stauskas were just acquaintances at the time, McConnell approached Stauskas with a very candid question on the first day of training camp.

"He said, ‘Hey, do you think I have a chance of making this team?'" Stauskas recalled. "He literally asked me that straight up. I was like, ‘Dude, there are seven point guards here so there's really no telling. All you can do is just work hard."

McConnell fought through the competition to make the final regular-season roster. Once camp ended, he and Stauskas started to hang out away from the court. McConnell, who signed a partially guaranteed deal, was living in a hotel at the time and went to Stauskas' apartment to watch basketball games, movies and Friends, a mutual favorite television show of theirs.

When the Sixers picked up McConnell's contract in January, he moved out of the hotel and into the same building as Stauskas, only a few floors away. 

"We hit it off so well when he came over to hang out that it just became a daily thing," Stauskas said. "There's not many people I can just sit down with and watch TV with that would just have me in tears laughing."

Their similar attitudes were a quick match. Stauskas helped show McConnell the ropes on the road, suggesting restaurants in different cities and even inviting him to spend time with his family when the Sixers played in Toronto.

"We just go with the flow," McConnell said. "We're interested in the same stuff. I think we're both easy people to get along with."

For McConnell, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, Philadelphia was a new city. He didn't know the area well and was a five-hour car ride from home. 

Stauskas admitted he felt alone last season playing for the Kings. His family was thousands of miles away in Canada and he didn't have a close friend on the team. After practices and games, he spent most of his time at his apartment by himself.

"Most people don't understand, in the NBA you're alone a lot," Stauskas said. "It was cool to have someone, even if it's just watching TV and hanging out a couple hours a night, not being isolated by yourself."

Their conversations weren't limited to joking about movies. McConnell and Stauskas were able to understand what the other one was going through this season on a 10-win team. Losses mounted night after night. Stauskas was hit by injuries and rotated in and out of the starting lineup. McConnell battled each game simply to prove he belonged in the league. They could relate to one another's struggles in a way that those on the outside could not. 

"Especially when you're losing a lot and say me or him have a bad game personally, we do a really good job of talking each other out of thinking negatively," Stauskas said. "I think that's the worst part of being by yourself - the negative thoughts are in your head. ... When you have someone to bounce ideas off of and reassure you, it makes you feel better about your game. It really puts you in a positive mindset. I've noticed a huge difference this year as far as my mental side of things."

They aren't afraid to push one another on the court, either. Their disagreements throughout the season caught their teammates by surprise, but ultimately they don't last long. 

"We've snapped at each other a few times in games," Stauskas said. "It's so funny because when the team sees it they start laughing."

McConnell followed up, "Me and him are competitors but we're such good friends that we can talk to each other and we'll get over it right away." 

McConnell and Stauskas value this special relationship as teammates because they know it may be different next season. McConnell has a non-guaranteed contract and Stauskas has one year left on his deal. With the Sixers entering a new phase, it's possible both, one, or neither return. They had that possibility in the back of their minds this season and are prepared for possible changes.

"It would be a sad day," Stauskas said.

McConnell continued, finishing the thought. 

"But we've talked about it," he said. "We both know that this probably won't be our last stop. If someone goes their separate ways, we would stay in touch and still remain great friends."

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