After a rather mediocre NBA existence over the past two decades, the Milwaukee Bucks have very much vaulted themselves into contention this season. The Bucks compiled the best regular season record in the league, going 60-22 to become the top seed in the Eastern conference.
They have carried that form into the playoffs, tearing through the first two rounds. They swept the Detroit Pistons in the opening round, before going 4-1 in the conference semi finals against the much fancied Boston Celtics.
Last night they overcame the Toronto Raptors in the conference finals opener, meaning they are just three wins away from a first NBA Finals appearance in 1974.
Much of their success has been down to the continued emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Affectionately known as the 'Greek Freak', Giannis has been the best player in the NBA this season. A mixture of his seven-foot frame and incredible speed and intangibles makes him almost unstoppable, averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
The Greek Freak has been averaging 27.4 PTS, 11.4 REB & 4.4 AST through the #NBAPlayoffs so far this season! 👏
Check out the BEST PLAYS from Giannis Antetokounmpo in Rounds 1 & 2 💪
Which play is YOUR favorite? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/xqqkjpYORT
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) May 15, 2019
While the prospect of supporting a team sporting Antetokounmpo is an exciting one, there is another reason for Irish basketball fans to jump aboard the Bucks bandwagon.
Reserve shooting guard Pat Connaughton has had a major impact for the team in these playoffs. The 26-year old averaged around 28 minutes per game in the opening two rounds of the playoffs, making him one of the Bucks' most important pieces off the bench.
He also came up big in the close game three win over the Celtics in the Boston Garden, scoring 14 points and notching four three-pointers. Having lost the series opener at home, this was the game that swung the momentum back in Milwaukee's favour, and they would go on to win the next two games to advance.
The Pat Connaughton game pic.twitter.com/hS4VJROWyC
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) May 7, 2019
As you might have guessed from his name, Connaughton has strong Irish roots. His paternal grandparents hail from Galway, and Connaughton spent plenty of time out West in his younger years. He actually holds dual-citizenship, meaning he is certainly no 'plastic paddy'.
The shooting guard played college basketball at Notre Dame, starring for their 'Fighting Irish' team. Speaking to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Connaughton recalled his visits to Ireland in his youth, and explained how his Irish roots played a part in his college recruitment:
They had a little wood backboard, like an old basketball hoop that they would shoot on outside of their farm – because they had a big farm. And one of my cousins most prized possession was a Chicago Bulls Jordan jersey...
People know I’m from Ireland or have Irish roots. When Coach Mike Brey at Notre Dame was recruiting me, he was like, ‘There will be Irish on the front of the jersey; and Irish on the back of the jersey.’
But no one actually knows I am a citizen over there.
A kid with the name Pat Connaughton was born to go to Notre Dame pic.twitter.com/fPgJWJDljZ
— Ben Stevens (@BenScottStevens) May 7, 2019
Connaughton was selected in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft by the Brooklyn Nets, who traded his rights to the Portland Trailblazers. He would spend the first three years of his career in Oregon, before moving to Milwaukee last summer on a two year contract worth just under $3.5million.
But he could have followed a different career path. In a nod to the countless dual players littered around Ireland, Connaughton was also an accomplished baseball player.
He was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, and would likely have been drafted higher if not for his prioritising of basketball. He signed a contract with the Orioles, but ultimately decided to pursue basketball instead.
With the player holding dual nationalities, is there a possibility that we could one day see Connaughton playing for the Irish national team? He has been approached by both the Irish basketball and baseball teams, and he says it is certainly something he would consider. After all his family do still fly an Irish flag outside their Boston home:
— Pat Connaughton (@pconnaughton) May 9, 2019
It depends obviously on how the Bucks feel but I’d love - someday - to go over there and play in Ireland. I don’t think they’ve had a ton of NBA players.
I think it would be pretty cool, whether it would be basketball or baseball, playing for a national team. Just trying to grow the sport over there a little...
Just kind of that Irish pride. It’s just another form of that fraternity.
I will get random emails from some of the family over there, that will talk about my little cousins over there who are big in to basketball. They’ll tell me how they saw the game last night and they’re excited, because they’re related.
It’s funny because the emails – you can almost hear the Irish accent.
The Bucks continue their playoff run in the early hours of Saturday morning, with game two of the conference finals against the Raptors.
If you are looking for a team to support, you could do worse than following the Pat Connuaghton led Milwaukee Bucks. That Giannis Antetokounmpo lad isn't too bad either...