Sophomore Stars: Mike Conley Is Ready to Lead the Grizzlies' Youth Movement

Mike Conley Jr. is at the forefront of the Grizzlies' youth movement. Drafted fourth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, he entered a team in the midst of tearing down the old roster in pursuit of rebuilding. Conley eventually worked his way into the rotation and was the featured point guard by season's end. Expectations are high for Conley to be a key factor in the Grizz turning things around in Memphis after the departure of Pau Gasol and the addition of Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo. Conley is of vital importance as point guard in the run and gun style that Marc Iavaroni wants to implement.

I caught up with Mike the other day after his first week of practice to talk to him about becoming a leader on a young team, working the transition game, and of course, Halo 3.

MM: What's the biggest thing you learned last year?

Just to be patient. People come into the league, they want to play 120%. You have to know how to play smart and fit into an NBA game. That's one big thing I learned.

MM: There's a lot more expectations for you this season. What are some of your goals as you're headed into the season?

MC: I have a lot of goals. I want to be more of a leader for this season. I want to step in and be a scorer as well. I've been working on my jump shot a lot. I've been working on my body to stay healthy and stronger. I feel like it's a young team that I want to help get to the next level. We want to get a lot more wins than we did last year and get better the whole year.

MM: How do you feel like your jumper is right now?

MC: It's the best that it's ever been. I've never been so consistent with putting the shot up and knocking it down. I feel like I put a lot of work in for it, and it's starting to pay off, at least through the first week of training camp.

MM: How do you approach connecting with the guys as a leader and asserting yourself as a leader on a young team?

MC: It's tough to try and assert yourself on a young team like this because everybody's trying to be a leader. Everybody's trying to leave their mark on this team and on the NBA. So you definitely have to come in assertive and aggressive, with a lot of intensity on and off the court and make your teammates respect you. If I can do that, I can be one of the leaders of this team and help us get where we want to go.

MM: With the guys you have on the floor, like OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, and with Hakim Warrick trying to be more assertive, you've got some guys that can run. I wanted to ask you if you felt like you were a better passer in transition or in the halfcourt set?

MC: I feel comfortable both ways, but I feel like I'm better in the fast break. I'd rather be in a fast break situation because it's easier to make those two-on-one and three-on-one passes for me. I like to push the running game, but I'm fine either way passing the ball.

MM: What kind of changes have there been on defense in the first week of training camp?

MC: I think that the coaches have done a great job of emphasizing toughness and discipline. They've done a great job of getting us mentally ready to go. It's a lot different from last year. It's a lot more physical. We're picking up at three fourths of the court and pressuring people. We're doing a lot of things we weren't accustomed to doing last year.

MM: Who's really impressed you through the first week?

MC: I have to say Marc Gasol. He's been pretty impressive. Rudy's doing a great job, and Kyle, but Marc Gasol is the newcomer that's doing a great job since he's been here.

MM: There were a lot of bad feelings with Pau Gasol leaving. How has the fan reaction been to you this year since you got back into town?

MC: They've been very welcoming and open. They understand we're starting over with a young core group of guys. They're starting to buy into the way we play and the people we have. Hopefully we'll start to get more and more of that fanbase back and get this town rocking again.

MM: What do you like to do in your spare time?

MC: I like to go bowling. I like to play video games, of course, and go out to eat.

MM: What's your favorite place in Memphis to go for food?

MC: I would have to say this place called Stix, it's a Japanese hibachi place. I like that place.

MM: What's your favorite video game right now?

MC:Halo 3, definitely Halo 3.

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