Basketball is a sport that is growing all the time in Ireland. As the NBA continues to explode in terms of global popularity, that has had an knock-on effect in terms the amount of interest in the sport in this part of the world.
Basketball Ireland have done a good job at making the most of that. They have put in some fantastic work to develop young Irish talents, something that will benefit both the national Super League and the national team in the years ahead.
In the long-term, it will be hoped that more players from this country can star on the biggest stage. Pat Burke remains the only Irish-born player to feature in the league, spending three seasons at the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns, as well as starring in Europe and for the Ireland national team.
In saying that, we could see another NBA star line out in the green of Ireland in the years ahead.
NBA star opens up on Ireland ambitions
Pat Connaughton is a name that will be very familiar to NBA fans, having been part of the Milwaukee Bucks team that won the championship in 2021.
The 6'4" shooting guard is a Massachusetts native, playing four years at Notre Dame before being drafted in the second round by the Portland Trailblazers in 2015. He would spend three seasons with the Trailblazers before ending up at the Bucks, since becoming a key part of the rotation as a glue guy alongside the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue H0liday.
In fact, the franchise showed their faith in him by handing him a three-year, $28.5million contract in the summer of 2022. He is a remarkable athlete and took part in the All-Star weekend dunk contest in 2020.
As you might have guessed by his name, Connaughton has strong Irish roots. His paternal grandparents hail from Loughrea, County Galway, with Pat making a number of trips to the county during his childhood. As revealed in an interview a few years ago, he is a holder of Irish citizenship.
Connaughton has maintained his close links with Ireland since starting his NBA career, travelling to the country this week to hold basketball clinics in Galway, Limerick, and Dublin.
— Basketball Ireland (@BballIrl) August 21, 2023
Rumours have circulated for a number of years that he could feature for Ireland at international level. He has previously been called up by the USA to take part in national team training camps, although it seems he is keen on playing for the country of his heritage at some point.
Speaking to RTÉ's Game On, Pat Connaughton admitted that he would be keen to represent the country in the future.
I've been fortunate to have the invitation extended to me to play for the Irish national team. I haven't had the opportunity to accept it yet because of contracts back in the NBA, free agency, and different things at different times.
I haven't had the chance to get involved in the capacity I would like to some day, represent the country, wear the colours, and be able to represent my family as well...
I would thoroughly enjoy it. The cool thing I have found about Ireland, which isn't a surprise to anybody, is the camaraderie and family like feel that it has.
If we can grow the game of basketball over here and I can be a part of that, wear those colours, and compete with the best of the best around the globe, the excitement in the country would be off the charts.
Getting NBA teams to release players for international play can be a a tricky prospect, especially when the player in question did not come directly through the system in that country. The international competitions usually take place when players are asked to rest during the NBA off-season, as is the case with the current FIBA World Cup about to begin in the Philippines.
Issues surrounding insurance have also been mentioned as an obstacle to Connaughton representing Ireland in the past, although it is something Basketball Ireland will likely look to again at some point in the near future.
It would be an incredible boost to add an NBA player of his calibre to the national team.