BULLS: Conley Jr. says Chicago has treated him well

Paul Ladewski

If Mike Conley Jr. felt right at home in his visit with Bulls officials Saturday, then the top-rated point guard in the NBA draft had good reason.

As a high school star, Conley saw his stock soar in the Roundball Classic at the United Center. More recently, his Ohio State team captured the Big Ten Tournament championship there.

“Chicago has treated me well,” Conley said.

What’s more, his father, Mike Sr., played basketball at Luther South High School before he went on to become a track and field star of worldwide fame.

“I grew up in Chicago, and I would love nothing more than to have my son play here,” said Mike Sr., who added with a smile, “Not that I’m living through him or anything.”

Now the question is, has Conley done enough to change the mind of his hometown team almost as quickly as he blows past defenders on his way to the basket?

The selection of Conley would seem to be a long shot here. For one, an established inside scorer is widely considered to be the top priority this offseason. And the team has shied away from smaller, traditional point guards in recent years.

Then again, the Bulls have never had one quite like the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Conley, whose Tony Parker-like potential may outweigh his lack of size at the defensive end.

In the wake of the dominant performance Parker turned in during the recent NBA Finals - which saw the San Antonio Spurs point guard garner Most Valuable Player honors - the thought of Conley in a similar role could be enough to persuade head coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Paxson to make an exception here.

“Right now, I probably would say Tony Parker is the best comparison,” Conley Jr. agreed. “Pretty much the ability to penetrate, get in the lane at will, carry a lot of the play offensively by itself - I feel that I do a lot of similar things like that.”

With Conley at the controls, Kirk Hinrich could spend more time at off guard. Hinrich improved his shot considerably last season, and a reduced workload could prevent the kind of physical meltdowns that have plagued him in seasons past.

“I like to drive and dish a lot,” Conley said of the staple of the Bulls offense. “I feel like I can get in the lane at will, so when I get there, I can make a lot of plays happen. It definitely helps the team like the Chicago Bulls, who have a lot of guys who can finish underneath. That’s a position that I like to be in, to get everyone involved.”

The consensus among several mock drafts is that Conley will be selected anywhere from third to 11th in the first round of the June 28 draft. The Bulls have the resources to move up from their spot at No. 9 in the order if necessary.

“It’s possible, definitely,” said Mike Sr., a Bulls fan since the Bob Love-Jerry Sloan-Norm Van Lier days.

Conley was the only player at the workout, which focused on his perimeter game, an area he called adequate but inconsistent at this time.

“It was more intense than the others workouts that I previously had,” said Conley, who visited the Memphis Grizzlies (fourth pick) earlier in the week. “But I like it like that. They want to make you better, and I definitely got better today.”

Conley is scheduled to visit the Milwaukee Bucks (No. 6) and Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 7) this week.

Another possibility is the Bulls would draft Conley, then send him to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a trade for forward-center Zach Randolph, the kind of inside scorer they’ve lacked since the departure of center Eddy Curry two years ago.

Mike Sr. also represents center Greg Oden, another former Ohio State star whom the Trail Blazers would like to reunite with his son again. The Blazers are expected to take Oden with the No. 1 pick.

“They went to the same middle school and the same high school and the same college,” Mike Sr. said. “Quite naturally, they would want to play together. But they got to grow up at some point and separate themselves. The one thing they do know is that it’s out of their control.”

To be sure, there is no shortage of athletic genes in the Conley family.

One of the most prolific performers in the triple jump event, Mike Sr. captured the gold medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He is one of four men in history to jump more than 18 meters and still holds the U.S. indoor record at 17.76 meters.

Mike Sr. is the older brother of Steve Conley, a former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.

Now the elder Conley is eager to hand the baton to his son in the athletic arena.

“I tell people that Michael is a great basketball player, but he’s a better son,” Mike Sr. said. “To watch my son grow up and sit in front of four or five cameras and talk to grown men and be intelligent and mature, I’m more proud about that than anything he’ll ever do on the court.”

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