Bulls Draft Central 2007 | Conley poised to make the jump
A freshman who started all 39 games, Conley averaged 11.3 ppg, 6.1 apg and 2.2 spg and led the Buckeyes to the national championship game.
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Last summer, the Bulls acquired arguably the best athlete in the draft in LSU forward Tyrus Thomas. On Saturday, the team got a look at Ohio State product Mike Conley Jr., who may be the cream of the crop of this year’s class.
The son of a world-class athlete—his father won a gold medal in 1992 Olympics and a silver in 1984 for the triple jump—Conley impressed scouts with his poise and maturity as a freshman point guard for the Buckeyes, leading his team to a 35-4 record. But what has really opened teams' eyes has been his off the charts athleticism. He is the proud owner of a 40 1/2 inch vertical leap and was able to bench press 185 pounds a whopping 13 times at June’s NBA Pre-Draft Camp—not bad for a 19-year old with a 175-pound frame.
He’s been a friend and teammate of Greg Oden’s for more than seven years now, but in all likelihood they’ll end up on different NBA rosters to begin their pro careers. Bulls.com met with Conley after his individual workout at the Berto Center to discuss growing up with Oden, leading his team to the national championship, and working on his outside shot.
Bulls.com: How did you feel your workout went?
Mike Conley Jr.: “I thought I did pretty well. It was a very intense workout. They get you up and down the court and you’re constantly moving around. I feel I’ve done a pretty good job with my conditioning, so that helped me keep up with the pace and finish shots even when I was tired down the stretch. Overall, it was a good workout.”
Bulls.com: What other teams have you worked out for so far and which ones do you have coming up?
Conley: “I’ve already been to see the Memphis Grizzlies, and I have Milwaukee on Monday and Minnesota on Wednesday.”
Bulls.com: You’ve been a friend and teammate of Greg Oden’s since the sixth grade. What’s it been like growing up with him and maturing together as basketball players?
Conley: “It’s crazy, because throughout our high school career, we’ve never thought much about what we had done or accomplished. But now, we’re kind of looking back at college and high school and even eighth grade. And it’s like, ‘Wow, we won three straight titles’ and we did this and that. We’ve done a lot, and now we’re about to make it to the top level—one that we’ve always dreamed about getting to. We realize that it will require us moving apart from each other, but this is our dream and we’ll support each other no matter where we end up.”
Bulls.com: Is there one particular game or moment that the two of you will always remember?
Conley: “I’d have to say our whole freshman year of college—winning the Big 10 title outright, getting the regular season title against Wisconsin and then in the conference tournament, and then making it to the national championship and playing a legendary team in Florida. They were a once in a lifetime-type team and having an opportunity to play against them as freshmen was an honor and a great thing. The only way it would have been better was if we had won that final game.”
Bulls.com: Was it a tough decision to leave school after just one year?
Conley: “It was very hard, because I hadn’t really thought much about the NBA until after our season ended. I had no idea where I might be positioned in mock drafts. All the talk about me going to the draft almost caught me by surprise, because I was just thinking about summer workouts at Ohio State. When it first hit me, I didn’t know what to do. I had to sit back and really think long and hard about it. In the end, I felt that the right decision was for me to go to the NBA and Greg felt the same way.”
Bulls.com: How much have you been in touch with some of your old Ohio State teammates as they go through the same process?
Conley: “I talk to Greg probably every other day. I talk to Ron [Lewis] too. I live with Greg, so I get to see him all the time. Daequan [Cook] has been out and about doing workouts and he’s done pretty well from what I’ve heard. The same goes for Ron.”
Bulls.com: Talk about your season in Columbus and how it prepared you for the next level.
Conley: “Having a season like that is why you go to college. You want to compete for a championship and play in the big games. What a lot of seniors don’t get a chance to do in four years, I experienced in one. I think that it helped prepare me to come to the NBA, where every night you are competing at a high level. In college, it was the same way. We had to be ready to play at a high level every night, whether it was a conference game or a tournament.”
Bulls.com: You really turned it on in the second half of the year and into the NCAA Tournament. To what do you attribute your season-ending success?
Conley: “I think it came down to being better prepared and better conditioned. You get to the second part of the season and people start to wear down. I think that happened to a lot of teams, but our team did a good job of staying in the training room and being prepared. I tried to do everything I could to work on my game, whether it was coming in an hour early or staying an hour late. It helped me propel my game down the stretch.”
Bulls.com: Did all the ability on the roster make it hard to distinguish yourself as an individual player or is that something that never crossed your mind?
Conley: “I thought about it, but I felt the best way to get attention was through the team atmosphere. If I was able to play team basketball and we jumped into being one of the top ranked teams in the country, I knew we’d get plenty of exposure. By the time we were No. 1 or 2, everybody knew who Ohio State was and they were watching us. Once they were watching, we got that attention and we were able to do things as a team rather than going off by myself.”
Bulls.com: Is working on your outside shot a priority this summer?
Conley: “It is. I feel I’ve got a pretty decent jump shot right now. A lot of it is about consistency and having the same release every time. People get on me about that all the time; my father gets on me about that all the time. So I’m trying to hone in on that and concentrate and focus on really working in that area. There’s no question I can hit the NBA three though.”
Bulls.com: Is there anything in particular that you’ve tried to showcase from your game during these pre-draft workouts?
Conley: “I try to showcase my conditioning and my quickness. A lot of teams may have seen me on TV, but this is my chance to show them in person how quick I am. I want them to see how fast I can get to spots and how much space I can create. I can finish with both my left and right hands, I can attack the paint area, and I can shoot with both hands. Those are the kinds of things I hope come across in these workouts.”
Bulls.com: How does it feel knowing you could be selected as high as third overall or possibly drop to a team like the Bulls later in the lottery?
Conley: “There’s definitely a big gap on where I might go. If I do fall to nine, that’s not a horrible thing at all. Actually, it would be a great situation. It’s just a blessing to know that I’m in a position where, if I do fall, I might have the opportunity to go to a team like Chicago.”
Bulls.com: What are your thoughts on John Paxson and Scott Skiles now that you’ve spent some time with them?
Conley: “They’re all great guys. After I got to know them a little better today, I can tell that they definitely want to make you a better player. They care about your interests and want you to succeed. They’re great people. I had met some of them beforehand, but after the workout you really get to see what kind of people they are. I enjoyed it and they made me feel a lot more comfortable than I have in other workouts. It wasn’t too serious where I was nervous, but at the same time it was very intense.”
Bulls.com: Have you thought about how you might fit in with the current Bulls roster?
Conley: “Their style of play is right up my alley. After watching them this year, you can see that they definitely have a lot of talent on their team. They’re very guard oriented and they like to drive and penetrate, and they have a couple big men down low that can finish. That’s a perfect recipe for me because I like to get in the lane and get shooters open and the big men easy dunks. I think I could definitely fit in with this team.”