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Mike Conley has November 13 circled on his calendar and it's not because the Memphis Grizzlies play the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers or anyone like that.
Like gamers around the globe, Conley is anxiously awaiting the most-anticipated video game of the year, Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2, which hits stores Monday midnight (a.k.a. Tuesday 12:00 a.m.).
HOOP connected with the standout point guard to talk video games, basketball and even haunted hotels.
HOOP: How excited are you about next week’s release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2?
CONLEY: I’m pretty excited, Man. I’ll be in line at midnight, waiting to get it. You know how that is. It’s one of those games that all of us have grown to love and now it’s about just waiting for the next one.
CONLEY: Call of Duty, for me, was one of those games that was easy to pick up and learn to play. I started playing it years ago when the first ones came out. The more I played online, the more promise it had. There were so many more games, so many more different ways you could play the game. It set itself apart. I’ve been a fan ever since.
HOOP: You’ve seen the trailers for the new game. What are you looking for the most?
CONLEY: I think the different perks. It’s a different game from Modern Warfare and all the other ones. You have remote control, cars that turn into explosions, things like that. I think on this one it has a helicopter you control, remote-control-wise. They’ve added more technology to play the game.
HOOP: Does Call of Duty correlate in any way to basketball?
CONLEY: I think the way it correlates most with the game of basketball is the competitiveness. I think a lot of us play the game, not only because it’s a good game, but because we’re competing with other people. That competitive nature of sport is what drives a lot of us, especially in the game of Call of Duty. You’re trying to win. Every time you’re out there to represent. When you’re on a search and destroy mission, when you’re playing Team Deathmatch, whatever it may be—you’re trying to be the best.
HOOP: Who else on the team plays?
CONLEY: Darrell Arthur plays, Marc Gasol plays, Quincy Pondexter—pretty much everybody plays Call of Duty. We’ll bring an Xbox on the road, hook it up in somebody’s room and we’ll play games, Call of Duty and compete against one another.
Our phone call gets disconnected, and somebody explains that the hotel Conley is staying at his haunted. What?
CONLEY: Hey Darryl. I don’t know what happened.
HOOP: Hey Mike. Are you staying at a haunted hotel?
HOOP: Is that the one in Oklahoma City?
CONLEY: No, it’s the one in Milwaukee.
HOOP: Oh, I didn’t know about they had a haunted hotel in Milwaukee too.
CONLEY: Yeah, Man, they’re everywhere.
HOOP: When we were cut off, I was about to ask who’s the best Call of Duty player on the team? Who’s the leader of the crew?
CONLEY: I would say that I am, but Darrell would say that he is. But you know, it changes every day.
HOOP: So you two take it the most seriously, as far as playing regularly?
CONLEY: Oh, yeah. Our girlfriends get tired of us, four or five hours of staying online.”
HOOP: All you guys have formed a close kinship and the Grizzlies have really risen because of it. Is this team-bonding—whether it be video games or other stuff off the court—a big reason why?
CONLEY: Yeah, I think so. We all have gotten to know each other very well off the court and I think we’ve grown to be so close because we have good friendships. I think it makes it easier to play basketball with what we’ve done because we know each other, each other’s families, everything. It’s been much more fun to play and we just have fun out there.
HOOP: That seems to be a familiar trait with yourself—growing up with Greg Oden, your famous father as coach and relationships with past teammates. Is that something you really cherish because you’re a great point guard and you are also considered a great leader by so many people?
CONLEY: I think that’s one part of being a leader and being a part of a great team. It's your camaraderie and your chemistry. And I’ve grown up, being able to play with Greg Oden, with my dad as coach, and so on. I’ve learned from all the experiences that I’ve been through. It’s helped me grow as a player and grow as a leader for the team.
HOOP: You are one of my favorite players for that very reason. Through your six years in the NBA, you’ve always been a no-nonsense leader, always making your team better. Has your NBA career gone the way you wanted it to go because it’s been a really good career?
CONLEY: Yeah, I can’t complain about it at all. I just do nothing but work and try to be a professional. Try to get better each season and make my team better, and I think we’re doing that slowly. We’ve become a pretty good team over the last three years. My career is going well and hopefully it will get better.
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HOOP: What’s next for Mike Conley and what’s next for the Memphis Grizzlies?
CONLEY: Well, next is the Milwaukee Bucks. We’re one game at a time. We’re hoping to get out of that first and second round and get into the Western Conference Finals and hopefully one day fulfill everybody’s dream and get an NBA championship.
HOOP: To do that, you’ve got to knock off some mighty teams--whether it be the Spurs, the Lakers or the Heat--to get that championship that you want. You have experience knocking off the Spurs in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. What was it about that particular playoff round that gave you guys the confidence and ability to do it.
CONLEY: I think the core group of guys we got on the team give us our confidence—Zach [Randolph] and Marc—we all believed that we could play just as good, if not better than any other team on any given night. In that Spurs series when we won the first game, we realized we had a good opportunity. We can be good. We can beat this team. We thought, “Why not us?” We just went out there and did it. That’s how we approach a lot of games, especially when we play against those highlighted teams.
HOOP: I honestly believe your starting five is as good as, if not better than, every starting five out there. And the key to your team’s success will be some new guys off the bench. Darrell has that Grizzly experience, but he was hurt last year. Jerryd Bayless is new to the team, but he’ll play a big role. Is that how you guys feel too? You have confidence in your starting five and you have belief in the newcomers on the bench.
CONLEY: Yeah, I think we had a great run with our core and now we’re starting to get those new faces acclimated. We’ve got big-name guys with Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington. We already had Darrell. We have faith in those guys. We’re just trying to make this team more of a complete team, and I think we did that when they made some of the moves they did in the offseason. Hopefully with those guys, our team will be just as good as any other team. That being said, hopefully that will give us that edge.
HOOP: Jumping back one last time to Black Ops 2—when it comes out Monday midnight [Tuesday, November 13 release], how often will you be playing that game?
CONLEY: Oh, Man. I’ll probably be playing that after practice, after games, probably about 3 to 3 ˝ hours at a time. I’ve got to make sure to eat at some point because I forget to eat sometimes when I get on a game and get in a zone. It’s ridiculous. I really, really dig videogames.
HOOP: Does your girlfriend know it’s coming?
CONLEY: Oh, yeah. I already told her that night is off limits. There’s no dinners being planned. Nothing. It’s all about getting ready for the launch date.