Today marks the first day college coaches are once again allowed to reach out to recruits, after an exhausting summer evaluation period. And with it, Len Connaughton is caught in a position that is at once enviable and unenviable.
Enviable, because his 17-year-old son Pat was one of the darlings of last week's AAU Boys' Basketball National Championship last week in Orlando; going for a double-double in every game for the Middlesex Magic, averaging 30 points, 18 rebounds and six assists for the tournament, and proving to the entire nation that he's more than just some 6-foot-5 shooter from Massachusetts. As of last night, the St. John's Prep two-sport star said he had eight offers from high-major Division 1 schools to play both baseball and basketball: Florida, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, UCLA, Tennessee, Marquette, Northwestern and Penn State (which also offered Connaughton's 6-10 teammate, Worcester Academy's Pat Ackerman). Vanderbilt, Miami, Rice and Florida State have all shown interest in Pat's 90-mile per hour fastball, while Colorado, Iowa State, LaSalle and St. Bonaventure are showing interest in basketball. Some more two-sport offers could be on on the way this week.
Unenviable, perhaps, because Pat will be nowhere near a phone until Friday. He's on a retreat this week at Rivier College in Nashua, N.H., as part of leadership activities with St. John's Prep, and is not allowed to have his cell phone with him. He changed his voicemail greeting last night, asking all queries be directed to his father in the meantime.
A bit time-consuming to say the least, but Len doesn't mind.
"I don't mind. Obviously, we have the responsibility to talk to the coaches and return their calls," Len said. "Honestly though, you've got to pinch yourself. You have a kid who plays travel basketball, goes to St. John's Prep and starts as a freshman, elected captain as a sophomore, but you don't know what's coming.
"(Notre Dame head basketball coach) Mike Brey calls me this morning, and tells me 'He's our No. 1 guy. We think Pat Connaughton is perfect for Notre Dame.' I'm thinking to myself, am I really hearing this? That's to his credit. I've never really had to motivate him, that's all him you see out there. Obviously, we'll guide him as much as we can, my wife and I, you know."
As unique a talent as Pat is, the thing that most impressed coaches in the eyes of Magic head coach Mike Crotty, Jr., was his determination.
"The UCLA coach (Ben Howland) told me today, 'I didn't see a better player this summer, he's the best rebounder, best leader we've seen in the country'," said Crotty, who himself handled about 30 of these calls today as of 8 p.m. "He did it all. (Tennessee head coach) Bruce Pearl told me 'He's just a tough, hard-nosed competitor. We love the heart that he brings'.
"Everybody saw his heart. The words coaches were using, "will", "spirit", "toughness"...he's just a winner. Whatever he sets his mind to do, I'll never bet against him. His overall spirit supercedes his skill set -- which is off the charts, but they see the intangibles with him."
Friday, the Connaughtons depart for Long Beach, Calif., where Pat will partake in the Area Code Games. After that wraps up on August 10, Pat will take an unofficial visit to the UCLA campus. Florida has also been trying to get him on campus this week -- but obviously, he's a little tied up at the moment.
As far as official visits, the only thing set in stone right now for is a trip to South Bend on Sept. 10 to watch Notre Dame football battle Michigan. Len says Pat will narrow down his list of schools to five in the next few weeks.
Reached by cell phone last night, Pat said he'd like to make a decision by "mid-fall". He also said the prospect of playing quarterback for the Eagles in the fall, which he said two weeks ago was "literally 50/50", is now "about 70/30" in favor of staying off the gridiron ("It wouldn't be right to take time away from a kid who's been there every day, if I have to leave and take an official visit," said Connaughton, who dabbled in football until after his sophomore year).
But right now, Pat's doing a little pinching, too.
"It's been mind-blowing to me," he said last night. "Before last week, I was unknown to alot of the top coaches. Now they're wondering, 'Who is this kid?' It was the best week of my life. I'm kind of amazed by it. I always thought I could do it (play two sports in college), but now that all the coaches have seen me play and think I can do it, it's made me realize wow, I might actually be able to do this thing after all."