Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton earns NBA combine invite

IRISH STEW

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Chasing the chance to play basketball at the game's highest level took another big step Saturday for former Notre Dame small forward Pat Connaughton.

Connaughton confirmed in a text message to the Tribune that he has been invited to this month's NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago, typically reserved for the top talents with hopes of being selected in the June 26 two-round selection.

Former Irish guard Jerian Grant also will participate in Chicago. Grant is projected as a mid-first round draft pick.

The invitations mark the first time since 2005 that Notre Dame will have two players represented at the Chicago pre-draft camp in the same season. That year, senior point guard Chris Thomas and junior power forward Torin Francis booth participated.

Thomas, whose college eligibility was exhausted, ultimately went undrafted in 2005. Francis returned for his senior season before a long career in Europe, where he played again this past season.

A fourth-round selection of the Baltimore Orioles who pitched at Class-A short season Aberdeen (Md.) last summer, Connaughton has put baseball on hold to chase his professional hoop dreams - dreams that he has said will include playing in the NBA or bust.

A solid showing at last month's Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament helped Connaughton earn the Chicago invitation. Connaughton averaged 10 points and eight rebounds in 28.6 minutes over the three-game tournament.

A third team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection last season, Connaughton averaged 12.5 points and 7.4 rebounds in 35.6 minutes. He was the lone captain on an Irish team that finished 32-6, 14-4 in the ACC before winning the ACC conference tournament.

Notre Dame has not had two players selected in the same NBA draft since 1992 when LaPhonso Ellis was the fifth pick of the first round and Elmer Bennett was a second-round selection.

The NBA pre-draft combine runs May 12-17 on the near-west side of Chicago.

Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton dunks against Kentucky during the second half of an NCAA men's tournament regional final in Cleveland.AP Photo/DAVID RICHARD