After 314 career games as Sixer, a series of long losing streaks during his early years with the team and an earned reputation as the ultimate hustle player, there was only one way T.J. McConnell was going to be received by fans at Wells Fargo Center when he returned Saturday night as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
McConnell just wouldn't admit it at his locker before the game.
"I'm not sure," he said. "Hopefully a lot of cheers. They root for their team hard, so we'll see."
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The fifth-year point guard was standing in front of a framed Sixers jersey with his name on it. Attached was a signed note from general manager Elton Brand on behalf of the Sixers' organization thanking McConnell for his contributions in Philadelphia and wishing him and his wife Valerie the best.
And yes, the cheers were loud for an undrafted player who made tirelessly picking up full court one of his signatures.
Extremely pure content.
Brett Brown and his former player T.J. McConnell hug it out ahead of McConnell checking in to the game. pic.twitter.com/SxyeA0uzkR— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 1, 2019
Brett Brown formed a bond with McConnell during their time together. He recalled recruiting McConnell to join the Sixers and preparing him for all the losses - and the playing time - that was to come during the Process.
"I just loved how hard he played and convinced him, recruited him to be a part of our summer league [team] and so on. When you fast forward to now, what's this, his fifth year in the NBA? And the history he had here in Philadelphia and just the spirit he played with and lived with, and his personality - he's good people and he's tough. It's a feel-good story and to feel like you were a part of that in some small way, it will be fantastic to see him. He is a winner."
McConnell's playing time was sporadic once the Sixers became a more competitive team. He has his limitations as a player, including his lack of size and lack of outside shooting, but Brown wanted to emphasize McConnell's abilities outside of toughness, locker room presence and the like.
He plays with his heart on his sleeve. This city loves him, he's Pittsburgh, he's hard, he's all that. And then you say, well, s---, he's pretty good. … It was deeper than he's just a tremendous glue guy. He actually could play well and I think that we're all going to see him in the NBA for many, many, many years. Personally, I will look back and be very proud of him for his journey. I have a fondness for that man because of the history that we all spent here in Philadelphia and what we endured together, and what he persevered to find - now seemingly an NBA career.
McConnell shared that fondness for his coach and their time together. He said he talks with Brown occasionally, as well as a few others in the Sixers' organization.
"I think he nailed it, "McConnell said when told of Brown's memories. "Starting here, winning 10 games and at the end of my tenure here, you're one shot away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals. That's pretty incredible, the journey we went on. He taught me so much about life, and especially basketball."
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