Baseball fever has officially swept Milwaukee and the Bucks are not immune. With the Brewers’ surge into the National League Division Series, Khris Middleton and John Henson used their off-day Thursday to attend Game 1 at Miller Park.
For Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, baseball fever isn’t just reserved for October, though the month is one of his favorites.
“I think October baseball is a lot of fun to follow, being a biased guy that enjoys the sport from time to time,” Connaughton said with a smile Friday afternoon after practice at the Sports Science Center.
Connaughton’s bias stems from the fact that before he was a professional basketball player he had a cup of coffee in baseball’s minor leagues. A standout pitcher at Notre Dame – where Brewers manager Craig Counsell was also a star – Connaughton was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round in 2014, earned a signing bonus in excess of $400,000 and that summer made six appearances (four starts) for the Class A Aberdeen IronBirds.
Set on finishing his academic and basketball career at Notre Dame, though, Connaughton cut his baseball career short to head back to school. The rest is history, with Connaughton ultimately choosing to stick with basketball, which sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers for three years before landing him in Milwaukee this off-season.
Connaughton still throws the baseball around from time to time and is following the playoffs. He has the Brewers going to the World Series, and as a Massachusetts native remains steadfast in his love for the Boston Red Sox. If the timing works out, Connaughton would love to check out a Brewers game and meet Counsell.
But as he firmly established about four years ago, basketball comes first.
“Obviously my focus is to try and get ready for the season and make sure that I can carve out a role on the team to help the team win, to make sure that we’re in a position not just to make the playoffs but to advance in the playoffs and have some success,” Connaughton said. “I think we have the talents, the guys and the coaches to do it.”
A three-point sharpshooter who nailed 4 of 6 long-range attempts in Milwaukee’s 116-82 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, Connaughton spent time after Friday’s practice honing that skill with some of his teammates. With assistant coach Taylor Jenkins throwing passes, Connaughton and Tony Snell teamed up against Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker in a three-point shooting contest.
The pairs alternated shots from different spots on the court, at one point venturing as far back as the blue boxes taped out by the hash marks about 30 feet from the basket. Working on three-pointers that deep is something new for the Bucks, meant to encourage spacing and confidence from well beyond the arc.
For Connaughton, working on deep threes has been a regular part of his practice regimen since last season in Portland.
“You can’t really think about where the line is, so this summer I tried to shoot on some courts that didn’t have lines … because so much of that gets instilled in your brain and you want to try to make sure that you can expand your range a little bit,” Connaughton said. “As guys know that you’re a shooter, well, they’re going to try to run you off the line. If you can shoot from a little bit behind the line or you can develop some counter moves to drive to the rim, (it helps).”
Back in action: Guard Sterling Brown returned to practice Friday after missing much of training camp with a nagging left hamstring injury.
“Just trying to take precautions, trying to get back ready so I don’t mess it up anymore,” Brown said.
Thrown back into a competitive group of guards and wings, Brown quickly made his presence felt during the practice session. Known for never backing down to challenges as a rookie and sometimes serving as an agitator on the court, especially on the defensive end, Brown dived headlong back into the fray.
Following practice, Brown was sporting a fat lip courtesy of contact with Brook Lopez during the session.
“He was good,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “There’s a toughness and a competitiveness that comes with Sterling that today was a little bit edgy. It wasn’t just because of Sterling, but he has that about him and that’s one of the reasons we like him a lot.”