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Arizona basketball will have its own version of Aaron Craft next season

T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell helps fire up the McKale Center crowd during the game against Southern Miss in December. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Arizona just got done playing against Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, one of the best point guards in the country. Next season, the Wildcats will have a Craft of their own.

Get ready for the T.J. McConnell era.

Coach Sean Miller will have his fifth starting point guard in as many seasons at Arizona, but the first who closely resembles who he was as a point guard at Pitt more than 20 years ago — a pass-first guy who can accurately be described as a floor general. Like Craft is to the Buckeyes.

McConnell (6-1, 190) had to sit out this season as a transfer from Duquesne, but he was part of many spirited practices, going against Mark Lyons and the Arizona starters.

“He’s a clone of Aaron Craft,” Arizona senior Kevin Parrom said after the 73-70 loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16. “He’s exactly like him.”

Well, maybe not exactly.

“I think he shoots the ball a little bit than Craft. Defensively, Aaron Craft is phenomenal, but T.J. can play some defense, too.”

McConnell, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, averaged 11.4 points, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds as a sophomore at Duquesne. He shot 50.9 percent from the field, including a 43.2 percent mark (38 of 88) from 3-point range. McConnell earned third-team Atlantic 10 honors and was on the league’s all-defensive team.

His 2.8 steals per game ranked third nationally.

“He’s almost like an Aaron Craft type of player,” said freshman post player Kaleb Tarczewski. “He’s a good defender. He really creates for everyone else on the team. He’s a pass-first point guard, and that’s going to help next year with all the talent we have.”

McConnell and Jordin Mayes, who will be a senior next season, are expected to handle the point guard minutes next season. For the 2014-15 season, it projects to be McConnell and true freshman Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a super-quick five-star recruit in the 2014 class.

Miller’s short-term and long-term plans at the position seem to be firmly in place.

Departing senior Solomon Hill agreed with the McConnell-Craft comparison.

“Those guys have a passion for the passion for the game,” Hill said. “Like Craft said (Wednesday), he’s a student of the game. T.J. is the same way. T.J. brings that intensity to the team, and I look forward to seeing him play next year.”

Miller and McConnell are both from Pittsburgh, and their prominent basketball families have known each other for many years. McConnell picked Arizona over Virginia in his transfer process.

“Coach Miller is a great guy and he comes from a great family of coaches,” McConnell told TucsonCitizen.com before the season. “You want to play for a good person like Coach Miller, and I’m glad I am.”

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