Noie: Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton becomes radio guy for a day - a long day

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Here’s the thing about this position (sports columnist) in this profession (journalism) during this pandemic (coronavirus) — you never know when a story idea will just smack you.

This one landed at 1:47 a.m., Thursday. What would it be like to tune into Thursday’s 11-plus hour (8 a.m. to 7 p.m., eastern time) Capture Sports Marketing Athletes Doing Good Radiothon with Pat Connaughton on ESPN Wisconsin Radio? See what kind of heat the former Notre Dame swingman and current Milwaukee Bucks guard might bring behind the microphone.

The Radiothon raised funds for COVID-19 relief and included a silent auction, which closed early Thursday evening. Among items up for bid were a Bucks’ authentic road jersey (Connaughton’s No. 24) for $510 and a 2020 Notre Dame football game-day experience (four tickets and use of a five-bedroom house near campus) for $1,550.

Following are a few highlights of Connaughton’s extended foray into radio host/interviewer/media guy. Cool? Different? You decide.

l 8:03 a.m.: Backed by the bass beat from Power Station’s “Bang a Gong,” the morning show of Gabe and Chewy, featuring former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura, begins. Though Connaughton’s been billed as THE host of this loooong radio run, he’ll only occasionally appear throughout the station’s daily lineup of hosts. His first hit (radio lingo for appearance) isn’t for another 75 minutes.

l 9:15: Technical issues delay Connaughton’s initial appearance. He can’t hear the hosts, but they can hear him. Strike One. Chmura goes on some weird tangent blaming Connaughton for the snafu. Something about Connaughton being from Massachusetts and people from Massachusetts believing in ghosts and ghosts putting the kibosh on the radio equipment. Sigh.

l 9:43: First of over 30 interviews on the day is a 16-minute chat that Connaughton taped with reigning NBA most valuable player Giannis Antetokounmpo. The teammates have become close friends, in part because of their maniacal workout regimens that keep them at the team’s downtown facility so long and so often that team officials eventually had to lock them out.

The Bucks talk nicknames, family, playoffs and fatherhood, new to Antetokounmpo.

“He definitely does something I can’t do,” Antetokounmpo said of his son. “He cries a lot.”

The two also talk offseason vacation spots, places they might go after winning an NBA championship or two. A native of Greece, Antetokounmpo was quick to reveal the spot he’d take Connaughton, and the rest of his Milwaukee teammates. That would be Mykonos, an island in the Aegean Sea.

“It’s a party island,” he said. “It’s got to be a boys’ trip.”

l 10:22: Technical issues resolved, Connaughton traded his cell phone for a headset and microphone and sounded like a legit radio guy in his second hour. The second segment starts with Milwaukee Brewers manager and former Notre Dame baseball player Craig Counsell. He was asked for a baseball scouting report on Connaughton, a former Irish pitcher.

“Before I became the manager, I actually went down and watched Pat pitch,” Counsell said. “I think Notre Dame was playing Boston College. He pitched a really good game. Good fastball. He was going to throw really, really hard if he kept pitching.”

On April 12, 2014, Connaughton scattered six hits with six strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs in a complete game 4-2 win. He called it one of the few “non-erratic” games his junior year.

“He was good that day,” Counsell said.

l 11:24: Connaughton is offered some grooming tips from one of the Bucks’ minority investors, Ted Kellner. Specifically, the quarantine beard that Connaughton’s grown during the pandemic. He joked that he looks like the nation’s tallest leprechaun.

“Shave that baby before coming back,” Kellner said. “I need you leaping like you did before.”

A University of Wisconsin graduate, Kellner was asked about October’s scheduled matchup between Wisconsin and Notre Dame at Lambeau Field.

“I’d be surprised if Notre Dame shows,” Kellner said. “My prediction on that game is 24-10 Wisconsin.”

Shots fired? Not really. Connaughton then announced that Kellner pledged to donate $10,000.

l 11:45: Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer joined in after being kept waiting on hold. With the schedule running a little behind, everyone puts the blame on the new guy — Connaughton.

“They’ve got to rethink their priorities,” Budenholzer deadpans. “(General manager) Jon (Horst) and I will take it up at a later moment and reconsider your position with us.”

Bud was joking. Maybe. Connaughton’s an unrestricted free agent whenever this season ends.

l 12:23 p.m.: Connaughton talked with former Bucks teammate Malcolm Brogdon, now with the Indiana Pacers and still close with someone he played with in the pros and against in college with Notre Dame and Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Brogdon and Connaughton often would do abdominal/core workouts after every game. Win or lose. There was one where they’d have to hang from a bar with a medicine ball between their legs, which would be at 90 degrees.

“I still do that one and it (stinks),” Connaughton said.

Connaughton mentioned the 2015 ACC tournament, when Notre Dame beat North Carolina for the championship. Virginia lost to Carolina in the semifinals. What happened that year, Connaughton wondered.

“Are you talking about the year we beat you?” countered Brogdon, whose Cavaliers beat the Irish in South Bend that season, 62-56.

“He is right about that,” said Connaughton, who admitted that he went winless (0-3) against Virginia.

l 1:31: Connaughton can hoop. He also can pitch. He’s on video throwing a football 80 yards. But can he carry a tune? Bucks swingman and former Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo thinks so.

DiVincenzo shared a story when he and his father were out for dinner in late January at a crowded Milwaukee steak house and the whole place went silent. That’s when Connaughton started singing “Happy Birthday” to DiVincenzo, who indeed was celebrating his day. Eventually, the rest of the restaurant joined in, much to the young guard’s embarrassment.

You know the red sneakers DiVincenzo likes to wear, Connaughton asked.

“His face matched that color,” Connaughton said.

l 2:17: Time for another league MVP, Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich, to come clean.

Connaughton jumped over Yelich in his first attempt during the annual slam dunk contest at NBA All-Star weekend in February. Connaughton, who stands 6-foot-5, asked the 6-4 Yelich if he was nervous about the moment. Like, would Connaughton even clear him?

“No. I had faith in you the whole time,” Yelich said. “You did it perfectly. It happened so fast.”

What didn’t happen was Connaughton’s plan to have Yelich help him again if he’d made the final round. That dunk called for Connaughton to do a 360, then in mid-flight catch a baseball tossed by Yelich. He’d then dunk both the baseball and basketball at the same time. It was a sure 50 (perfect score).

“It was really cool in practice,” Yelich said. “I wish people would’ve been able to see that.”

l 2:53: One day away from the travel and games and grind in December meant a little more than just getting rest for Connaughton and Bucks veteran guard Kyle Korver. That day, they were part of several Bucks players and coaches who traveled 30 miles down Interstate 94 to the Racine Correctional Institution. There, they listened to some of the 1,600 inmates share their stories, offered them hope that a better world for them was possible. They even coached a few up in a scrimmage.

It was a day that meant more than just basketball.

“Honestly, it was life-changing,” Connaughton said.

l 4:28: Bucks owner Marc Lasry has a secret, and wanted to share it.

“I taught Pat how to jump,” the hedge fund manager said. “That’s why he jumps so well.”

Connaughton, who owns a vertical leap that’s topped out around 44 inches, agreed. If it wasn’t for Lasry, he said, there’d be no dunk contest. Lasry was asked what he likes best about Connaughton.

“First of all, I love Pat,” he said. “He’s a really, really good basketball player who knows what he’s supposed to do. He’s what you want in a player.”

Lasry also shared another secret — he beat Connaughton one day in H-O-R-S-E. Said he “crushed his soul.”

l 5:29: Connaughton shared a weird exchange with another MVP, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, over an incident last spring. During an NBA playoff game, Connaughton chased down a loose ball and almost ran over Rodgers, a minority Bucks owner, and his girlfriend, Danica Patrick, who were seated in the front row of Fiserv Forum. Connaughton apologized Thursday for not apologizing then. Rodgers accepted it. Kind of.

“I was still a little salty about it,” Rodgers deadpanned. “I can drop it at this point.”

It was hard to tell if he was joking. Rodgers was all business when thanking Connaughton for lending his time to Thursday’s cause.

“I have a ton of respect for the way he plays and the way he carries himself,” Rodgers said. “I know he’s a good-hearted human and it’s a great thing he’s doing.”

l 6:02: Former Irish coach Digger Phelps brought the heat when asked about Connaughton’s career choice.

“I kept saying to him, forget basketball; You’re going to be a big-time pitcher and win the World Series.”

Phelps insisted that Connaughton could call Counsell and go pitch for the Brewers tomorrow. He also made sure to mention Dwight Clay, Bob Knight, Al McGuire, Doc Rivers, the MECCA and coronavirus during his 10 minutes.

l 6:50: With the Radiothon donation at $89,311, Green Bay Packers head coach and former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur pledged enough to get the total to $95,000.

Was there anything Connaughton could do for LaFleur? For his kids? Get some shots up at Fiserv? Visit the locker room? Coach them up?

“They need some of your genetics, man,” he said.

l 7:24: Over 11 hours after it started, and with Herb Kohl Philanthropies matching every dollar raised, the Radiothon total was $205,859. It was a long day, but a good day.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton dunks over Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich in the slam dunk contest during NBA All Star Saturday Night in February. Connaughton held a Radiothon Thursday to raise funds to fight COVID-19.