Joe Connelly: Pure with the game


Joe Connelly, coach of Team City of Gods, is a self-described old school guy. The oldest of five brothers, each of whom work in basketball (with two currently in the NBA) Connelly started coaching at 19 at Baltimore’s Bentalou Recreation Center. Two decades later, his coaching career has taken him from the Baltimore public school system to the NBA, where he worked for three years as an assistant coach with the Wizards, tasked with player development.  Now a full-time pro basketball trainer, Connelly works out and trains scores of professional basketball players.

Connelly’s path, while uncommon and a bit circuitous, has been guided by a clear devotion to doing things the right way. “One thing I’ve always tried to do is be pure with the game and not use it for my own personal benefit,” Connelly says.  “I think that’s carried me a long way in terms of positive things coming my way.”

To Connelly, training basketball players, whether at the rec center, the high school level, or the NBA, always comes back to footwork and fundamentals. “The first time I did it, I’ll be honest, I went to work with Andray Blatche, Roger Mason, and on my way down there, I was thinking up all this crazy stuff to do and, hand to the Man, every time I went [to train them] it just got more and more basic because the fundamentals never go out of style,” Connelly says. “Not to oversimplify it, but that’s what I found. The simpler it was, the more effective it was.”

The connections that Connelly has made in the game and the trust that the players he works with have placed in him have resulted in a roster of top-flight talent that could be playing on ESPN come August. With two former NBA lottery picks in Dermarr Johnson and Mike Sweetney[1] and elite talent in the front court and the backcourt, Team City of Gods seems like a good bet to match the social media bravado that the otherwise mild-mannered Connelly regularly displays on Twitter and Instagram.



As Connelly explains with a laugh, “If nobody’s following you on Twitter, the message isn’t being seen by many people. We weren’t seeing a bump in followers. So, I told [GM] Lafonte Johnson that I’m going to start talking trash to other teams. I put a lot of bait out with different teams and stuff like that, but nobody bit. I was trying to start a Twitter beef. Something to generate some controversy. You have to be active. One day you’re not active, you’re not going to get any votes. Just trying to keep it going.”

Connelly and his team are excited about the prospect of playing in TBT. “What else in the world can you do where you put up no money with a chance to win a million dollars?” Connelly asks. His players apparently feel the same way, as he didn’t have to make much of a sales pitch to get them on board.

“I was sort of surprised because these guys are playing at the highest levels. [But,] if you win this, you’re going to get this amount of money, which is going to be a nice sum. You’re going to be on ESPN, which for a lot of these guys is more important than the money because they operate in relative obscurity in Europe.”

And despite his good-natured attempts to gin up controversy on Twitter and Instagram, Connelly fully understands the perils of TBT’s single elimination format, to say nothing of the talent competing against his team. “We might have guys with name recognition, but all the name stuff goes out the window when the games start,” Connelly explains. “Because the same way that these guys want to reestablish themselves, there are other guys who want to get their name going.”

In constructing the roster, Connelly and Lafonte Johnson also listened to forward David Hawkins, who played in TBT last year with PeacePlayers International. Upon Hawkins advice, Connelly scrapped an initial plan to have 7 or 8 (and potentially more money per person) in favor of a deeper team that will better handle any adversity or injuries that may come up.

True to form, Connelly will also coach and organize Team City of Gods with a philosophy derived from his training mantra of the simpler the better: defense first.  “No layups,” Connelly says.


[1] “I see him every day in the gym, and his weight is a huge issue and it’s been an impediment to his success, but man, his agility on his feet, his touch, you can’t teach any of that stuff. I won’t say any names, but I’ve seen him matched up against guys who are currently in the NBA that start and he destroys them in the post.”