From Salt Lake to Orlando, Star Point Guard Mike Conley Jr. Brings His Leadership and Golf Game
The news came as a surprise to Mike Conley Jr. The Memphis Grizzlies—the only team he had known during his 12-year NBA career—were trading him to the Utah Jazz.
The shock has worn off since word first broke on the eve of this year's NBA draft. Mike has gotten a feel for Salt Lake City this summer and is excited for what's ahead, with a new jersey and a new number (10) awaiting him in the fall.
His transaction transition aside, Mike has focused on enjoying himself this offseason. He's indulged his passion for golf, in both Salt Lake and at Chris Paul's Baha Mar Showdown in the Bahamas—not to mention at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, this past spring.
Over the second weekend of August, Mike made time to give back to basketball's next generation at the Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando. As he approaches his 13th pro season, he realizes how crucial it is for kids with hoop dreams—no matter where they are in the world—to get guidance and mentorship from NBA players and coaches.
On the final day of the Championship, CloseUp360 caught up with Mike by phone to talk about the impact of the event on the aspiring hoopers, his new team and his favorite pastime.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Mike Conley Jr. took time out of his summer schedule to hand out awards at the Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando. (Courtesy of the NBA)
CloseUp360: Can you tell us about your experience at the Jr. NBA Global Championship?
Mike Conley Jr.: This has actually been just my first time being involved, and this is a really cool opportunity—just being able to see such talented individuals come from all over the world in one place, one venue, and see some of the better talent out there. It's unbelievable just to see how much the game has grown. But with the way that this event has been set up, it's perfect for learning and perfect for growth, and I think that's great for these kids at 13, 14 years old. It's something that, if I was at that age, I would have never had an opportunity like this. Not only to be able to play against the best, but to play in front of some of the best former players and current basketball players out there in the NBA is just an unbelievable opportunity for them.
My first order of business is actually being part of the awards ceremony here, awarding some of the more standout individuals in the tournament. After that, I'm going to be watching a couple of championship games going down and being played, and I'm going to be doing some other things as well. Just being able to be around the kids. I did a little panel earlier, too, where they asked us questions about teamwork, sportsmanship, respect—all those things that are really vital for learning and teaching for the global teams.
CU360: What has the transition been like for you from Memphis to Salt Lake City?
MC: It was bittersweet very early on. It was one of those things where you're not used to being in unfamiliar territory. It was definitely unfamiliar territory being traded. To see all your friends, family that live in Memphis, things like that, that you won't be getting to see like normal is going to be hard. But, on the other hand, going to a team like the Utah Jazz, where they have so many great building blocks in place, a foundation that's remarkable, a coaching staff [that] is remarkable and an organization that is top-notch, it's exciting. It's exciting for another opportunity at doing some great things. So, as much as I'll miss Memphis and the players and organization, the team and the city, I'll be very excited to start a new journey with the Jazz.
CU360: What are you most looking forward to this season?
MC: Honestly, it's probably one of the smaller things, but I'm interested and can't wait to put on a new jersey. Like, this [is] as small as it comes—a new number and I'm wearing number 10 this year. So that's all new for me. My first game wearing a new jersey at the Vivint [Smart Home] Arena will be one that I'll remember forever. And then obviously, going back to play my first game in Memphis will be something I'm looking forward to as well. But I'm just gonna try to take it day by day.
CU360: What is the significance of the No. 10?
MC: Well, No. 11 was for my birthday. I was born in October 11, 1987. So instead of going on with the day, I went with the month, which is 10. No. 10 was also the number my mom and dad voted on. My dad wore No. 10 when he played basketball and during the slam dunk contest he used to compete in back in the day. And my mom was really big on the definitions of numbers and I believe number 10, the definition is, it's a complete number. I want to be a complete player and hopefully that'll bring it to fruition.
CU360: Have you spent much time in Salt Lake City? What was your impression this summer?
MC: I spent the past two weeks there working out with coach Quin [Snyder] and the staff there. I'm obviously looking for a place to live as well. First impression is, it's this unbelievable city. It's hot. I didn't know it was hot in the summertime like that. I thought it was super cold as I see it in pictures all the time. But I love to golf out there. I got to golf a lot with a lot of great people. And the city's just really excited and ready for the season to come, and it's making me that much more excited.
CU360: As you’re an avid golfer, how do you like golfing in Salt Lake City compared to Memphis?
MC: It's different. You know, mountain golf is different. I think it's more fun to me because you can hit the ball farther because of the altitude. But it's different. So you're hitting shots that never come down. And a lot of times, you're 50, 60 feet up in the air, elevated, hitting down to a green 50, 60 feet below you, so the views are a little different. So it's exciting. Memphis is a lot more humid, the ball didn't travel as much, but they have great courses down there as well, and great players to golf with. So they're just different styles of golf.
CU360: What was your time like at the Baha Mar Showdown this summer in the Bahamas?
MC: Baha Mar was unbelievable. I hope they do that for many years to come. It's a great event, a great venue to have it at. It's fun just to be able to compete in something other than basketball, our respective sports. But to be able to compete, you know, with some of the NBA guys against the NFL guys is fun. It's exciting. It's a rush. It's everything you can ask for from a competitive standpoint.
CU360: How did you get into golf?
MC: I got into golf, thankfully, through one of my teammates, Mike Miller, maybe my first or second year in the league. I went over to his house for a team meeting and [he] had a golf simulator in his house, and I've never swung a golf club before. I went in there and just tried hitting the ball. I didn't know what I was doing and and I hit one really good. And after that, I was just, like, “Okay, I think I could try this.” So that next summer, I went and got some golf clubs and tried to learn all the golf etiquette and everything. So it was pretty cool.