Pacers guard T.J. McConnell details his rehab, explains why it was important for him to return this season
McConnell’s life is not defined by basketball, but it’s always been a huge part. Playing again this season may not have been wise, but it was the right thing for him.
T.J. McConnell wanted to feel like a basketball player again.
He wanted to put on his game uniform, go to battle and physically be in it with his teammates — many of whom he hadn’t played with before. Like Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Keifer Sykes, Lance Stephenson, Terry Taylor and Jalen Smith.
A lot has happened with the Pacers in 125 days. That’s how long it had been since McConnell last played, going back to Dec. 1 against the Atlanta Hawks. As an off-ball defender, he tried to swipe the ball from Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela and suffered a torn ligament in his right wrist.
McConnell immediately clutched it with his left hand and was in obvious pain. He was subbed out, went back to the locker room and then missed the next 55 games after needing surgery.
In his mind, though, he wasn’t done yet.
It can be a long, challenging existence to be out of uniform and having to wait until next season to play. It’s even worse sitting on the bench for games in street clothes unable to do much of anything. It’s a helpless feeling that players who are sidelined have to be prepared for.
It’s among several reasons why T.J. Warren, who has missed 150 of 154 games in two seasons, is away from the team for the final month of the season.
Through it all, McConnell leaned on his wife, Valerie, who was at the game on Tuesday, along with his one-year-old son Trace. “They were my rock throughout all this,” he said.
This is all new to him because he had missed just 19 games over his first six seasons, including only five games with the Pacers.
Without him (and many others this season), they had to patch the position. First with Brad Wanamaker, then Keifer Sykes and others. At the trade deadline, they acquired Haliburton — their point guard for years to come.
McConnell takes pride in being available and a contributor every game. It’s also typical to feel apart from the team when you’re not a part of it on the court.