You could understand why Pat Connaughton might be bummed out this week.
Connaughton is a star player on Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish basketball team, a fitting team for the Irish American Massachusetts native.
Connaughton and the Irish had the unenviable task, last Saturday, of taking on the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. If the Irish won, they’d have advanced to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 1978.
Alas, the Irish were true to their name, fighting hard. But they lost 68-66. Connaughton scored eight points -- which was below his average -- but added nine rebounds. He was easily one of the top players on the squad this year. Coach Mike Brey went so far as to say Connaughton’s impact on the court is the biggest he’s ever seen.
Well, Notre Dame got close. But that’s it, right? Connaughton is a senior, after all. Is he pro material? Will he get drafted into the big leagues?
Guess what? He already has. Professional baseball, that is.
This month, a whole bunch of college senior basketball players may have had their final glorious moment in the sun. Maybe they’ll get a shot at playing in the NBA. Or maybe they’ll play pro basketball for a couple of years in Europe.
For some, though, that’s it.
That is not the case with Connaughton. He is taking off his basketball shorts and putting on his baseball cap.
Now that Notre Dame’s basketball season is over, Connaughton will join the Baltimore Orioles baseball organization as they wrap up spring training.
Connaughton was chosen by the Orioles in the fourth round of Major League Baseball’s draft a year ago. Published reports say he was paid about $500,000 to join the Orioles.
And that number is low. Sources told ESPN.com that Connaughton could have pocketed over $1 million. If he chose to set basketball aside, that is.
"He definitely cost himself some money," one high-ranking MLB executive was quoted as saying.
ESPN added, “Connaughton could have easily bid farewell to college hoops and begun preparing full time for his pro baseball career. But he wasn't ready to finish his basketball career just yet -- and also wanted to remain committed to coach Mike Brey and his basketball teammates in South Bend.”
Connaughton’s father said this level of honesty -- even sacrifice -- was in keeping with his son’s personality.
Scouts say Connaughton might even have a shot to play pro basketball, and may well get drafted by an NBA team. Realistically, however, his best shot at an athletic career is on the baseball diamond.
He has already tossed more than 14 innings for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, one the Baltimore Orioles’ low-level minor league teams. His blazing fastball is consistently in the 90 mile-per-hour range and he has, at times, approached the magic 100 MPH mark.
As for the Fighting Irish, they’ve got another Irish American star waiting in the wings.
Westchester County native Matt Ryan -- already winner of the honorary title of Mr. Basketball for New York State, after starring at Iona Prep -- will be headed to South Bend to play basketball next year.
That’s impressive. But what can he do on the baseball diamond?
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)