Mike Conley, Jr. has accomplished a lot so far in his 12-year career.
He’s the all-time leading scorer in Memphis Grizzlies history, and in 2016 signed a five-year, $153 million deal — then the largest deal ever seen the in NBA. After a recent trade to the Jazz, Conley is now a centerpiece on a Utah team with legit conference title hopes in 2019-2020.
As arguably the best NBA Arkansan point guard of all time, the Fayetteville native is also playing an active role in promoting Razorback basketball. During the offseason, he frequents Bud Walton Arena and the Hogs’ practice facility, training and working out with former players and coaches.
Here’s the latest evidence, a photo montage showing Conley training and chatting with coach Eric Musselman among others:
This kind of NBA star endorsement is especially critical for Musselman as he builds a reputation for the Razorbacks program as a pipeline to the highest level of the game. Arkansas hasn’t produced near the same wattage of NBA star power in the last decade as border state flagship programs like LSU and Oklahoma, but Conley’s endorsement will only help bridge that gap in current and future recruiting battles with those programs.
The twist, of course, is that Conley never played for the Hogs. He played for Ohio State instead.
Mike Conley Jr.’s Arkansas Roots
Conley grew up in Fayetteville because of his dad, Mike Conley, Sr., a former Razorback track superstar. Conley Sr. won nine NCAA individual titles in track and field and two Olympic medals — gold (1992) and silver (1984) — in the triple jump. At 6’1″, he is also one of the shortest human beings to ever dunk from behind the free throw line.
Conley Jr. took off in a different sport, but flashed some of that inherited world-class athleticism. Throughout elementary school, he was a regular around Fayetteville basketball hotspots, often needing to play against older competition to find a true challenge. As he recounted to the Los Angeles Times, here’s what happened when he played against peers who were the same age:
Conley, Jr. and his parents were friends with Nolan Richardson and Ron (and Ronnie) Brewer, as well. Although Conley, Jr. moved with his family to Indianapolis, Ind. at the start of junior high, he was likely going to become a Razorback had Nolan Richardson not been fired. Though Richardson’s replacement, Stan Heath, struggled to win at the same level, his main downfall in recruiting Conley, Jr. was failing to give him one-on-one time.
Instead of visiting the Conleys personally, Heath sent his assistant coach Oronde Taliaffero instead, according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Wally Hall.
For the rest of this article, including a breakdown of how Conley, Jr. stacks up against other all-time NBA Arkansans in major statistics, make sure to check out my feature here.