It hit T.J. McConnell on the team bus ride over to the Wells Fargo Center.
The Indiana Pacers guard passed by all the sights he used to notice every day during his four years with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“It’s good being back, seeing all of the faces and all of the people you build a relationship with,” McConnell, now a Pacer, said before the Sixers beat Indiana 119-116 on Saturday. “It’s a lot of great people here, and I miss them.”
The Sixers didn’t re-sign McConnell when his contract expired in June.
So the 27-year-old signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Pacers on July 29. McConnell has been a solid addition as the third point guard. He is averaging 7.0 points, 4.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 17.4 minutes after Saturday’s game.
“We knew he played with a lot of grit,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “That was the reason for bringing him in.”
As a third point guard, the Pacers wanted McConnell to challenge his teammates and bring his trademark toughness to the floor. He’s also being asked to help the Pacers change their tempo with his ability to push the pace.
“He’s gotten into the game, and he’s done a good job for us,” McMillan said. “He’s a scrapper. He puts his head into everything. He has a good feel for the game.”
Being gritty and a scrapper are two of the things that made McConnell a fan favorite as a Sixer.
He came to Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent Sept. 22, 2015 and worked his way into the rotation. As a Sixer, McConnell averaged 6.4 points, 4.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 22.0 minutes in 314 games, including 72 starts.
Sixers coach Brett Brown spoke glowingly before the game about McConnell, who played the previous four seasons for the 76ers and was with Brown at the beginning of the rebuilding process.
“I just loved how hard he played,” Brown said. “He plays with his heart on his sleeve and this city loves him.”
Brown said the intangibles are part of what attracted him to McConnell, but the guard showed he’s more than just an “effort” guy.
“He can actually play and play well,” Brown said. “I’m very proud of him for his journey. I have a fondness for that man.”
McConnell was feted with a video tribute in the first quarter, then received a standing ovation and was embraced by Brown when he entered with 2:59 left in the first.
He also was presented a framed 76ers jersey prior to the contest by general manager Elton Brand.
McConnell, a Pittsburgh native, said he had about 20 visitors at the game and has fond memories of the Sixers.
“Starting here, winning 10 games,” he said of the team going 10-72 his rookie year. “Then, at the end of my tenure here, you are one shot away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s a pretty incredible journey that we went on.”
The Associated Press’ Aaron Bracy contributed to this story.