LOS ANGELES—Before Thursday night, the best birthday gift Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell ever received was a bike, given to him the day he turned 8. Ten years later, he played for the Pennsylvania state championship as a senior at Chartiers Valley High two days before he turned 18, a present soured by loss.
“Incredible to be there,” McConnell said, but he remembers the heartache most. Arizona coach Sean Miller, a Pennsylvania native like McConnell, joked that surely at some point in McConnell’s childhood, someone gave him a Steelers football helmet, so he could run around his backyard and pretend he was former running back standout Franco Harris.
McConnell could not remember every present he opened on every birthday but on Wednesday, when he turned 23, he knew this much: All the wanted, the only gift that would make him happy, was a Sweet 16 win.
That it came wrapped in ugly paper, featuring disjointed offense and too many turnovers, did not matter.
Now, maybe it can be. And that, McConnell agreed, would be a gift worth remembering.