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'Dream come true' for Connaughton

At around 10:30 this morning, and after about a week of intense deliberation, Pat Connaughton picked up his cell phone, called Notre Dame head basketball coach Mike Brey and gave him the words every coach loves to hear -- "I'm committing".

The 17-year-old Arlington resident then took a trip up to the St. John's Prep campus in Danvers, and stood next to the student section cheering on his fellow Eagles in a thrilling 22-21 win over Central Catholic, taking handshakes and words of congratulations on his new commitment all the while. It was an escape from the surreal, if only for a moment.

For the last two months, ever since the 6-foot-5 Connaughton returned from AAU Nationals in Orlando, it's been a whirlwind of a courtship. Suitors lined up from all over the country, from the BCS programs to the locals, for both his sweet shooting stroke and 90-mile per hour fastball -- UCLA, Tennessee, Marquette, Wake Forest and Florida, just to name a few. He will attend Notre Dame on a full basketball scholarship, but will join the baseball team headed by coach Mik Aoki once the hoops season ends, following in the tradition of recent two-sport Irish stars like Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate.

"It's been a dream come true for me," Connaughton said. "Ever since I was kid, I'd look on TV and watch the big college basketball games, I always wanted to play on TV and be a kid everybody knows, and be successful at it. But it's something you have to work on, it's taken years to come to this. It's been a surreal experience."

Last weekend, Connaughton took an official visit to South Bend, Ind., and identified with the student body there -- "they were like St. John's Prep kids," he said. But it wasn't a home run from the get-go.

"When I was in South Bend, I didn't know that I was going to go to Notre Dame," Connaughton said. "It wasn't one of those experiences like, 'Yeah, I'm definitely coming here'. I really liked the place, but I still didn't know what to do, it made me think, 'Oh no, is this the place I should be going?' But when it came down to it, after a week of thinking hard, I really liked the other schools but this was the best fit."

Middlesex Magic founder Mike Crotty, Sr., the guy who initially alerted the scouts to Connaughton's special talent two years ago, passed away suddenly last February, and with it the Connaughton family lost a close friend a personal mentor. One of his favorite Crotty-isms, "You pass out before you die" -- or in other words, just when you think you're drained, your body still has something left in the tank -- has never been truer in the seven months since.

For six weeks before he blew up Nationals at the Wide World of Sports Complex, Connaughton worked out Monday through Thursday at the Woburn-based Athletic Evolution facility, where a two-hour workout often turned into six. Where other kids would have gone home after Connaughton's 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. routine, Connaughton merely grabbed lunch and came back for another three hours, sometimes staying until 5 to work on everything from his fastball mechanics to all of his shots on the court while wearing a weighted vest.

Quite simply, Connaughton has always prided himself on his will power, and determination to take it one step further than the guy facing him.

"Let's put it this way, anybody...you get certain kids that are going to work hard for a two-hour span, and that's great," said Erik Kaloyanides, President and CEO of Athletic Evolution, who has worked out Connaughton extensively. "Anybody that's self-motivated enough to stay another three, four, five hours working on his skills just shot after shot, somebody that's self-motivated enough to do that, you have feeling you've go something special -- very few and far in between."

The phone calls have died down, and Connaughton's voice mailbox is no longer routinely full. No more returning 14 phone calls after an hour and a half workout, no more cross-country visits, and considerably less phone calls from the scouts and reporters tracking his recruiting process.

It's a calming return to normalcy for Connaughton.

But come Monday, you can probably guess what he'll be up to.