Quincy Pondexter on recent trade from Memphis Grizzlies: ‘I’ll never forget it’

NBA SOUTHWEST DIVISION REPORT

DALLAS — Quincy Pondexter on Monday was asked if he has any hard feelings toward the Memphis Grizzlies after the organization dealt him to the New Orleans Pelicans in early January.

CALLING HIM OUT? When asked on Monday night's game at Dallas whom he sensed were among those within the Grizzlies organization who felt it was best to part ways with him, New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Quincy Pondexter went as far as to hint that Memphis coach Dave Joerger initiated the trade.  “That’s the way it seems, right?” Pondexter said. (Photos by Steve Mitchell/Getty Images NBAE)

CALLING HIM OUT? When asked on Monday night’s game at Dallas whom he sensed were among those within the Grizzlies organization who felt it was best to part ways with him, New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Quincy Pondexter went as far as to hint that Memphis coach Dave Joerger initiated the trade.
“That’s the way it seems, right?” Pondexter said. (Photos by Steve Mitchell/Getty Images NBAE)

“I can’t answer that,” Pondexter told MemphiSport.com prior to the Pelicans’ game at the Dallas Mavericks.

Given his unorthodox body language as he sat in front of his locker in the visitors’ locker room in American Airlines Center, coupled with the notion that Pondexter admittedly anticipated a lengthy tenure with a Memphis team that boasts NBA championship aspirations, it’s safe to assume that the recently-acquired New Orleans small forward is indeed harboring ill-feelings over how his stint with the Grizzlies ended.

Now in his fourth NBA seasons, the 26-year-old Pondexter appeared in 168 games for the Grizzlies before he was involved in a three-team trade on January 12. The Pelicans announced that they traded guard Austin Rivers to the Boston Celtics and rookie Russ Smith to the Grizzlies in exchange for Pondexter and a future second round pick.

The move reunited Pondexter with the team to which he was traded moments after he was drafted 26th overall by Oklahoma City in 2010.

“It was extremely hurtful,” Pondexter said of the Grizzlies electing to trade him before the season’s halfway point. “You know, it’s somewhere I thought would be home for me. But it’s a couple of people in the organization who didn’t feel the same way and I’ll never forget it.”

When asked whom he sensed were among those within the Grizzlies organization who felt it was best to part ways with him, Pondexter went as far as to hint that Memphis coach Dave Joerger initiated the trade.

“That’s the way it seems, right?” Pondexter said.

Surely, Pondexter and Joerger have had their share of disagreements, most notably last year during a Grizzlies home game against the Brooklyn Nets.

A game in which Pondexter was seen staring down Joerger several times after making a number of key second-half shots before finishing with 22 points, Pondexter was ultimately disciplined for his unprofessional gestures. During timeouts, Pondexter could be seen uttering profanity as a way of showing his displeasure with Joerger’s decision to bench him.

Having recently been installed as a starter for a Pelicans, who trail Oklahoma City by just one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, Pondexter has wasted little time making his presence felt. Arguably his best outing since being dealt to New Orleans came February 25 against visiting Brooklyn during which he scored a career-high 25 points.

Having recently been installed as a starter for a Pelicans, who trail Oklahoma City by just one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, Pondexter (left) has wasted little time making his presence felt alongside star center Anthony Davis. Arguably his best outing since being dealt to New Orleans came February 25 against visiting Brooklyn during which he scored a career-high 25 points.

Prior to that game, Pondexter had played sparingly for the Grizzlies, averaging 18 minutes during what was an injured-ridden season for the former University of Washington star.

Pondexter on Monday reiterated that he has taken ownership of the situation and subsequent fallout with Joerger, saying he’s sorry for such behavior he believes contributed to his recent trade from Memphis.

“You know, I’ll never forget that night,” Pondexter said. “I made a bad decision. I was immature at the time. I’ll never forget the mistake I made, staring him down and showing him up. I felt like I should have been playing. But at the end of the day, he had the last say and I’m not there anymore.”

While Pondexter believes Joerger is mainly responsible for his unceremonious exit out of Memphis, he sensed there were others within the organization who sided with his former coach.

“There was a couple who probably didn’t want me there,” Pondexter said. “And I wanted to end my career there. That’s how much I love the city.”

CHANGE OF HEART --- For a while, it seemed that Pondexter was a right fit for the Grizzlies, who rewarded the Fresno, California native with a four-year extension in just third full season with the team. Prior to that year, Pondexter averaged a career-best 21.1 minutes per game and played a pivotal role for a Grizz team that made its first ever Western Conference Finals appearance. (Getty Images photo)

CHANGE OF HEART — For a while, it seemed that Pondexter was a right fit for the Grizzlies, who rewarded the Fresno, California native with a four-year extension in just third full season with the team. Prior to that year, Pondexter averaged a career-best 21.1 minutes per game and played a pivotal role for a Grizz team that made its first ever Western Conference Finals appearance. (Getty Images photo)

For a while, it seemed that Pondexter was a right fit for the Grizzlies, who rewarded the Fresno, California native with a four-year extension in just his third full season with the team. Prior to that year, Pondexter averaged a career-best 21.1 minutes per game and played a pivotal role for a Grizz team that made its first ever Western Conference Finals appearance.

“I signed a four-year extension because I loved (Memphis) so much,” Pondexter said. “It was painful at first. But, of course, you know you live and learn and I’ve got another opportunity here.”

To his credit, though, it’s an opportunity of which Pondexter has taken full advantage much like his stint in Memphis.

Having recently been installed as a starter for the Pelicans, who trail Oklahoma City by just one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, Pondexter has wasted little time making his presence felt.

Arguably his best outing since being dealt to New Orleans came February 25 against visiting Brooklyn during which he scored a career-high 25 points.

“He could be a two-way player where he could defend his position and other positions,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said of Pondexter. “He’s shown the ability on certain nights where he could knock down shots and make plays for us. He has shown intangibles, whether it be just know how to guard a guy, using his length to guard or contest shots, and knowing how to guard. But he’s been in a lot of big games in Memphis, so that’s something I can’t give him. He has that experience.”

Among the things about which Pondexter is appreciative are the Pelicans offering him the chance to continue what he started in Memphis. Now that he’s becoming acclimated in New Orleans, he contends his unceremonious departure from Memphis is where it belongs.

Behind him.

“I’m happy here,” Pondexter said.

Fielding the question as if he expected it.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Barton (Ark.) High OL Quentin Watson isn’t ruling out a college football future

 

COLLEGE MATERIAL --- While starting mostly on offense the past two seasons for Barton High in Arkansas, Quentin Watson assumed the left guard position and also enjoyed quality minutes for the Bears at defensive tackle. Although his undersized frame was among the reasons he went unsigned on National Signing Day earlier this month, Bears coach Van Paschal believes the possibility exists that Watson can extend his football career if placed in the right system. (Photos submitted by D. Johnson)

COLLEGE MATERIAL — While starting mostly on offense the past two seasons for Barton High in Arkansas, Quentin Watson assumed the left guard position and also enjoyed quality minutes for the Bears at defensive tackle. Although his undersized frame was among the reasons he went unsigned on National Signing Day earlier this month, Bears coach Van Paschal believes the possibility exists that Watson can extend his football career if placed in the right system. (Photos submitted by D. Johnson)

Barton High football coach Van Paschal on Wednesday went on and on about why he believes Quentin Watson is worthy of a shot at playing football at the collegiate level.

“Quentin is a hard worker,” Paschal told MemphiSport during a telephone interview from Lexa, Arkansas. “He’s an undersized lineman. But that’s not a bad thing. But like I told Quentin, there are places to play if he keeps his nose clean.”

For Watson, who started his final two seasons for Barton, he has gained a keen reputation off the field for being one who is well-disciplined, let alone a kid who is extremely scrupulous of those with whom he affiliates.

Add to the fact that this speedy, 200-pound offensive lineman was an integral part of a Bears squad that advanced to the opening round of the Arkansas Class 3A playoffs this year, and it’s no wonder this 17-year-old, vibrant, scholar athlete hasn’t ruled out continuing his football career when he sets foot on a college campus this fall.

HOLDING IT DOWN --- A 200-pound offensive lineman, Watson (No. 56) was an integral part of a Bears squad that advanced to the opening round of the Arkansas Class 3A playoffs this year.

HOLDING IT DOWN — A 200-pound offensive lineman, Watson (No. 56) was an integral part of a Bears squad that advanced to the opening round of the Arkansas Class 3A playoffs this year.

In fact, as Watson tells it, he’s admittedly clinging to lofty hopes of fulfilling such a dream, one he’s had ever since he began playing competitively at the age of seven.

“I am a hard-working athletic player,” said Watson, when asked what is it he’d like for college coaches to know about him. “I don’t mind doing whatever it takes to help the team move forward. I have played numerous positions.”

While starting mostly on offense the past two seasons, Watson assumed the left guard position and also enjoyed quality minutes for the Bears at defensive tackle. Although his undersized frame was among the reasons he went unsigned on National Signing Day earlier this month, Paschal believes the possibility exists that Watson can extend his football career if placed in the right system.

“It’ll be a great thing to see someone give him a shot,” Paschal said of Watson, whom he coached for the past four seasons. “There are different levels of (college) ball, Division I, Division II, and Division III. I’ve learned a lesson that you should never say never. Where Quentin’s going to play, I don’t know. But he’s pretty coachable. Quentin is one of those kids…he sees (trouble) on the street, he’s going to dodge it.”

In addition, it is because of his well-disciplined, bend-but-don’t-break persona on and off the field that many who watched Watson’s maturation process over the years believes college coaches would be doing themselves a disservice if they pass up luring a kid of this caliber to their program.

Credit Watson’s mother, Demetric Johnson, for steadfastly pushing her son virtually daily to maximize his fullest potential.

THE REAL MVP --- Credit Watson’s mother, Demetric Johnson, for steadfastly pushing her son virtually daily to maximize his fullest potential.  “I realized (when he was 10 years old) he was passionate and dedicated to football,” Johnson explained. “He played the game anytime he could. He took it seriously, getting up early and going to practice, never missing practice, taking leadership (skills), and watching film after a game to see how he could get better. I watched him grow and develop over the years as a player. He is passionate about football and once something becomes a passion, you tend to excel. So, yes I believe he can go far.”

THE REAL MVP — Credit Watson’s mother, Demetric Johnson, for steadfastly pushing her son virtually daily to maximize his fullest potential.
“I realized (when he was 10 years old) he was passionate and dedicated to football,” Johnson explained. “He played the game anytime he could. He took it seriously, getting up early and going to practice, never missing practice, taking leadership (skills), and watching film after a game to see how he could get better. I watched him grow and develop over the years as a player. He is passionate about football and once something becomes a passion, you tend to excel. So, yes I believe he can go far.”

“I realized (when he was 10 years old) he was passionate and dedicated to football,” Johnson explained. “He played the game anytime he could. He took it seriously, getting up early and going to practice, never missing practice, taking leadership (skills), and watching film after a game to see how he could get better. I watched him grow and develop over the years as a player. He is passionate about football and once something becomes a passion, you tend to excel. So, yes I believe he can go far.”

Still, the only reasonable strategy moving forward, Johnson said, is to devise ways to ensure her son lands at a college where he will have the golden opportunity of putting his skills on display.

After all, like his high school coach, she insists all isn’t lost for a kid whom many believed was overlooked by scouts and college coaches long before National Signing Day earlier this month.

“The sky is the limit for my son because he has a passion for the game,” Johnson said. “He is a dedicated player who takes his job on the field seriously but not too much that he loses sight to have fun playing the game as well. I have no doubt if this is what he wants, he can and he will conquer it.”

Just as he’s done for the past four years on and off the field — a trend Watson hopes some college coach recognizes soon.

DreColumnAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Oklahoma prep footballers were as good as advertised in Memphis Elite Combine

Jeff Diamond is passionate about high school football.

So much, in fact, that he helped accompany 11 of the best prep football underclassmen in Oklahoma to Memphis over the weekend.

CombineAs Diamond tells it, without question, they “had a blast.”

“We visited Beale Street and we went to Rendezvous (Restaurant),” Diamond told MemphiSport on Monday. “For me, that was probably the highlight. It was good. It was really good.”

That Diamond had the luxury of feasting on Memphis’ famous barbecue and touring the second-most popular street in the Bluff City next to Elvis Presley Boulevard weren’t the only experiences that brought about a sense enjoyment to the Shawnee, Oklahoma native.

Diamond and Co. also had the luxury of witnessing several of Oklahoma’s top prep football underclassmen put their immense skills on display in the Southern Elite Combine Series. The one-day combine was comprised of a number of the top college football prospects in Memphis and the surrounding regions.

For the Oklahoma footballers, making the six-plus-hour commute from the Oklahoma City area wasn’t just a trip in which they established camaraderie among teammates and players whom they could face during the 2015 season.

This latest trip to the football-crazed Mid-South also afforded them the golden opportunity to demonstrate why an assortment of colleges has already inquired about their services in the foreseeable future.

Not only were players tested in various disciplines, most notably the 40-yard dash, agility (short shuffle), vertical jump, bench press (185-pound reps), broad jump, and three-cone drill, among others but, to their credit, they showed why Oklahoma is starting to become a hotbed for college football prospects.

“Overall, I was very impressed,” Diamond said in assessing the players’ showing in Memphis. “They went up against some kids who very good. They held their own.”

And, for their efforts, they were rewarded accordingly, coming away with a slew of accolades, something about which Diamond senses will serve as a great confidence booster for these thriving Oklahoma footballers.

For instance, Shawnee High’s Creed Humphrey, Tyree York-Allen, Jack Diamond, and Caleb Hash each garnered high performance ratings for favorable performances in their respective position. Tecumseh High’s Jasper Smiley also won an award.

As a result, each player earned invites to return to the Mid-South in June, this time as part of the prestigious Southern Elite Top 150 Combine in Oxford, Mississippi.

“The two (offensive) linemen did incredible against some excellent competition” said Diamond, “and our 3rd lineman, Stetson Perez once adjusted to the level of competition he really did well.”

In addition, he was impressed with Tyree York-Allen, Isaiah Strayhorn and Caleb Murray, particularly how they complemented the performance of Jack  Diamond, a rising quarterback for Shawnee. The group, in fact, showed excellent teamwork and excelled in their respective positions. “Isaiah and Tyree are excellent receivers with loads of potential,” Jeff Diamond said. “Caleb is young but really has a chance to be good. I thought (Jack) did great. It’s kind of hard for me to talk about my own kid. But I think he’s coming along well. “With the quality of receivers and running backs we brought from not only Shawnee but meeker and Tecumseh as well, it was easy for Jack to feel comfortable.”

Besides the seven Shawnee players who appeared in the Southern Elite Combine Series, two other Oklahoma schools were represented in Memphis.

Tecumseh High’s Jasper Smiley, a junior linebacker, and fellow junior Stetson Perez also appeared at the regional combine. Also, Meeker High’s Jordan Campbell and Levi Bagwell were on hand in Memphis.

According to Jeff Diamond, among the reasons the Oklahoma players enjoyed a stellar showing at their latest combine is due in large part to the Shawnee-area Performance Course Training Center. At his facility, Performance Course Training Center in Shawnee, which has partnered with one of the top training groups in Texas, Performance Course of Allen, to help these players become better athletes. Also, Jeff Diamond felt the stellar showing materialized in large part because of the contributions and guidance of the area high school coaches.

“We have excellent high school coaches and at Performance Course Training Center in Shawnee we are working to help these kids to become better athletes,” Diamond said. “If we can help them become better athletes then their coaches teach them the skills to compete not just under the lights each Friday, but compete amongst the best and brightest prep football players in America,” Diamond said. 

That was evident, given the masterful showing they exhibited over the weekend in Memphis.

“I think (their confidence) will skyrocket,” Jeff Diamond said. “Anytime you go somewhere and do well, it gets you fired up. We plan to hit a few other combines (this spring), so we hope to bring some others. It’s a lot of work. It’s kind of like watching 11 of my own kids. But I’ll do it every weekend…watching them perform.”

Not to mention having a blast in the process.

 

 

OKLAHOMA PREP FOOTBALL PLAYERS WHO APPEARED IN SOUTHERN ELITE COMBINE SERIES IN MEMPHIS (listed in alphabetical order by last names)

Levi Bagwell, Junior Wide Receiver, Meeker High

Jordan Campbell, Sophomore Running Back, Meeker High

Jack Diamond, Sophomore Quarterback, Shawnee High

Caleb Hash, Junior Offensive Lineman, Shawnee High

Creed Humphrey, Sophomore Offensive Lineman, Shawnee High

Spencer Gordon, Sophomore Linebacker, Shawnee High

Caleb Murray, Freshman Running Back, Shawnee High

Stetson Perez, Junior Offensive Lineman, Tecumseh High

Jasper Smiley, Junior Linebacker, Tecumseh High

Isaiah Strayhorn, Junior Wide receiver, Shawnee High

Tyree York-Allen, Sophomore Wide Receiver, Shawnee High

 

 

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Randolph on Conley for All-Star appearance: ‘I want the young fella to get in there’

DALLAS — No one, it seems, is more impressed with Mike Conley’s body of work this season than Zach Randolph.

The Memphis Grizzlies power forward, in fact, has been complimentary of Conley’s display since the early stages of the season.

Tuesday night was no exception.

BOLD PREDICTION --- Following the shorthanded Grizzlies’ decisive 109-90 win against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night in American Airlines Center, Grizzlies star Zach Randolph hinted that he anticipates point guard Mike Conley to be named to the All-Star team, a milestone he’s been seeking for some time. (LM Otero, Getty Images)

BOLD PREDICTION — Following the shorthanded Grizzlies’ decisive 109-90 win against the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night in American Airlines Center, Grizzlies star Zach Randolph hinted that he anticipates
point guard Mike Conley to be named to the All-Star team, a milestone he’s been seeking for some time. (LM Otero, Getty Images)

Following the shorthanded Grizzlies’ decisive 109-90 win against the Dallas Mavericks in American Airlines Center in which the team was without Conley, Randolph hinted that he anticipates the Grizzlies’ starting point guard to achieve a milestone he’s been seeking for some time.

“It’s big when you can play like that without your All-Star point guard,” Randolph told reporters after posting a game-high 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting and 10 rebounds against Dallas.

While Randolph doesn’t shy away from the notion that he would like to see Conley, his teammate of six years, earn his first All-Star appearance of his career, the seven-year veteran won’t know for certain until Thursday when the East and West reserves are announced.

Just as it has been in recent years, making the All-Star team undoubtedly will be monumental for Conley, in large part because the Western Conference is loaded with a slew of All-Star-caliber point guards such as Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook, among others — all of whom have played in the NBA’s annual midseason showcase.

The 64th annual All-Star Game is February 15 in Madison Square Garden.

While many media pundits believed Conley should have been named to the All-Star team last year, the 27-year-old Fayetteville, Arkansas native certainly has made a strong case to earn a spot for the West this season.

At 33-12, the Grizzlies currently own the NBA’s third-best record and are second in the Western Conference standings behind Golden State. Add to the fact that Conley, Memphis’ second-leading scorer, has been as assertive on both ends of the floor as he’s ever been since he entered the NBA ranks, and it’s no wonder many believe this year could very well be his to crash the All-Star party along with fellow Grizzlies teammate Marc Gasol.

A 7-foot-1 Spaniard, Gasol will be making his second All-Star appearance and his first as a starter.

“You know, it’ll be nice if it happens,” said Randolph, when asked if making his third All-Star appearance was one of his personal goals in this, his 13th season. “I said the other day in Memphis I prefer it be Mike Conley. He deserves it. You know, I’ve been there before. So it’ll be nice if someone else from our team makes it and hopefully it’s him.”

CASE CLOSED? While many media pundits believed Conley should have been named to the All-Star team last year, the 27-year-old Fayetteville, Arkansas native certainly has made a strong case to earn spot for the West this season.

CASE CLOSED? While many media pundits believed Conley should have been named to the All-Star team last year, the 27-year-old Fayetteville, Arkansas native certainly has made a strong case to earn spot for the West this season.

According to a four-panel of CBSSports.com writers who cover the NBA, neither listed Conley as an All-Star reserve in a story that was released Wednesday afternoon. During a preseason interview with MemphiSport, however, Conley reiterated that making his first All-Star appearance was something about which he would strive for this year and that being left off the roster “would suck.”

“Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance,” Conley said.

However, whether the former Ohio State star will be shown some love Valentine’s Day weekend in the Big Apple as a member of the West roster remains a mystery.

At least until sometime Thursday.

“It’ll be nice,” Randolph said of Conley being christen an All-Star reserve. “It’s a lot of politics in the All-Star Game. But I’m not going to lose any sleep (if I don’t make it). Like I said, I want the young fella to get in there.”

Still, regardless of how things stack up when the All-Star reserves are announced, Randolph said nothing overshadows the bigger aspirations for a team that figures to be a legitimate threat to make its first NBA Finals appearances this year.

“Right now, we’re focusing on winning and that’s our big picture right now…especially mine,” Randolph said. “We’re playing good. Our team is playing good. Our bench is playing good. So that’s our main focus right now.”

Something even the team’s starting point guard would agree with as the season progresses.

All-Star appearance or not.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Former Memphis Southwind football star Caesar Harris aiming to impress NFL scouts

Caesar Harris’ grandfather never saw him play a game during his college football stint William Penn University.

STOCK RISING --- Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn University in Iowa, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star 5-foot-8, 170-pound defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country. (Photos courtesy of WPU Athletics)

STOCK RISING — Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn University in Iowa, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star 5-foot-8, 170-pound defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country. (Photos courtesy of WPU Athletics)

Harris hopes that all changes if his dream of playing professionally comes to fruition.

Harris’ grandfather, James Harris, recently had open heart surgery. After being discharged on Christmas Eve, James Harris is now recouping comfortably at his home in Memphis. According to Caesar Harris, who has a close-knit bond with his grandfather, he describes James Harris as a “fighter” and that witnessing him battle through a severe procedure in which doctors sensed he had a 50 percent chance to survive has given him a newfound disposition about life.

“That’s just him being the strong man I know he is,” Caesar Harris told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “He’s 70 years old. He never got to watch me in college so I want him to see me play since he hasn’t. That would mean a lot to me and him.”

Now that he has completed his eligibility at William Penn, the 21-year-old Caesar Harris boasts lofty aspirations of playing football at the professional level. Without question, the former Memphis Southwind High star defensive back believes his chances embarking upon the NFL ranks if as good as any pro prospect in the country.

The NFL Draft is April 28-May 2 in Chicago.

Having played one year at Lane College in 2011, Caesar Harris ultimately transferred to William Penn in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder enjoyed three productive seasons for the Statesmen of the NAIA Midwest Collegiate Conference.

During his senior campaign, for instance, Caesar Harris was the catalyst of a WPU defense that helped steer the Statesmen to wins in five of their first six games and before finishing the year with a 7-4 mark. He appeared in five games and, to his credit, held his own in a final collegiate season in which he garnered looks from various pro scouts.

FAN FAVORITE --- Harris has become a household name among fans who follow William Penn football.

FAN FAVORITE — Harris has become a household name among fans who follow William Penn football.

Among his grandest accolades this past season was his keen ability to disrupt the opposition, having compiled 25 tackles, two interceptions, and five broken-up passes.

“(This past season) I switched out every other series because we had a lot of senior corners,” said Caesar Harris, who also spent time on special teams for the Statesmen. I played nickel corner as well.”

Looking ahead, Caesar Harris realizes there is much more work to do with regards to making a favorable impression on pro scouts. As he continues to make a strong case for playing at the professional level, he routinely partakes in conditioning and weight-training sessions, trends he says will enable him to increase his upper body strength and enhance his endurance, particularly for a player who has become a fixer in the secondary as well as one who customarily lines up against the opposition’s best wide receiver.

“I am pursuing my dreams of playing football at the next level and making a career out of it,” Caesar Harris said.

STAR WATCH --- As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit for his as he auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

STAR WATCH — As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit for his as he auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

A dream that undoubtedly will bring even his ailing grandfather to smiles. As far as Caesar Harris is concerned, he’s confident the sky’s the limit as he steadfastly auditions for a shot at playing professionally, in large part because his skills have drawn comparisons to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

“My grandfather and I had had a great relationship ever since I was a kid,” Caesar Harris said. “I used to go with my grandfather to help him mow yards, wash cars…anything that meant work, we would do it. But it didn’t matter as long as I was with him. We all support each other. That’s the kind of family I was raised in. You always look after one another and support one another no matter what.”

No doubt, James Harris’ beloved grandson appears destined to demonstrate to his grandfather his appreciation when the NFL Draft unfolds in the coming months.

No matter what.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

 

 

Former Packer Cletidus Hunt says Cowboys to endure ‘chilly experience’ in Green Bay

DALLAS — Cletidus Hunt on Wednesday took a moment to reminisce on his first visit to Green Bay.

As the former Memphis Whitehaven High star and Packers defensive tackle tells it, such a recollection still brings him to chills.

Literally.

According to Hunt, he and former University of Memphis cornerback Mike McKenzie were a few weeks removed from having been drafted by the Packers in April 1999. What they discovered within minutes after emerging from the plane at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport was the frigid weather Hunt described as “downright painful.”

'ICE BOWL 2015' --- According to former Memphis Whitehaven High and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Cletius Hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are almost certain to have a "chilly experience" when they arrive to Green Bay, Wisconsin for this weekend for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers at historic Lambeau Field. (Getty Images photos)

‘ICE BOWL 2015′ — According to former Memphis Whitehaven High and Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are almost certain to have a “chilly experience” when they arrive to Green Bay, Wisconsin for this weekend for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers at historic Lambeau Field. (Getty Images photos)

“Both of us flew up there together,” Hunt explained. “And when we got off that plane, it was so cold to the point where it gives you a culture shock. And when you play your first game, you’re sitting there trying to figure out how to get it done because it’s so cold.”

As far as Hunt is concerned, the streaking Dallas Cowboys (13-4) are almost certain to witness a similar brutally cold feeling when they fly into Green Bay, Wisconsin this weekend for Sunday’s 12:05 p.m. CST NFC Divisional playoff game against the Packers (12-4) at Lambeau Field.

The overachieving Cowboys, winners of five consecutive games, have become the NFL’s hottest road team this season, having manufactured an unlikely 8-0 mark. Green Bay, on the other hand, won each of its eight home games during the regular season — trends that figure to make for one intriguing matchup when these teams square off on the frozen tundra.

One thing’s for certain: Something’s got to give in this win-or-go-home slugfest between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises, who are facing each other in a postseason game in Green Bay for the first time since the famous -15 degrees NFL Championship Game dubbed “The Ice Bowl” in 1967.

“I had some Dallas Cowboys (fans) tell me (Dallas quarterback) Tony Romo is from Wisconsin,” Hunt said. “But I told them he hasn’t been up there. He’s been in Dallas. When they first get there, they’re not stepping on the terminal because the airport is small. They’re stepping on the runway when they step off the plane. When you come to Green Bay and wake up for a 12 o’clock game and feel how cold it is in the hallway of your hotel, that’ll give you an indication of how cold it is on game day. That’s the thing I love about Green Bay. They’re going to make sure the guests have a chilly experience.”

COWBOY UP --- Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher, will need another impressive outing in Sunday's frigid temperatures against the Green Bay if Dallas is to have a chance to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

COWBOY UP — Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, will need another impressive outing in Sunday’s frigid temperatures against the Green Bay if Dallas is to have a chance to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

A 30 percent chance of snow is expected in Green Bay Saturday afternoon with the high reaching 30 degrees. The forecast at the time of Sunday’s kickoff is expected to be partly sunny with a high of around 19 degrees.

Advantage, Packers?

“If you factor in the weather, there will be a disadvantage for Dallas,” said Hunt, adding he’s surprised the Cowboys didn’t travel to Green Bay earlier this week. “A lot of guys haven’t been in bad weather like that. When I played, there were young guys who had never seen snow, and when it snowed in Green Bay, they were fascinated by it. And when it got really cold, they were to tap out. They were ready to (get traded).”

Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt, 39, said that while he enjoyed his tenure in Green Bay — he admittedly left his Wisconsin home unlocked in the offseason while in Memphis — there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures for which the city is customarily known.

“The football is going to be hard. The ground is going to be extra hard,” Hunt said. “But we’ve got some extra (gear) up there. Green Bay is always prepared because that’s the backyard. That’s the home team. If you don’t know how to prepare for it, it won’t work for you. Guys don’t even want to go out there during warm-ups. But the thing about it, they’ll try to play through it. But that 12th man is on that field…that snowman on the field.”

Although Dallas is accustomed to playing in much warmer climates than the one it will witness against the Packers, Hunt believes the Cowboys can stage an upset if DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, proves to be his usual reliable self. Dallas averages 147.1 rushing yards per game, second only to Seattle (172.6).

In addition, the Cowboys are seventh the league in total offense, averaging 29.2 points per game. Green Bay, meanwhile, is sixth in the league in total offense, having registered 30.4 points per game.

COLD MEMORIES --- Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt said there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures Green Bay is customarily known for.

COLD MEMORIES — Having played 85 games in seven seasons for the Packers, Hunt said there were times he often found it difficult becoming acclimated to the frequent subzero temperatures Green Bay is customarily known for.

Among the keys for the Packers, who enter Sunday’s game off a first-round bye and have proven to be difficult to contain at hostile Lambeau Field, is putting pressure on Romo early and often, taking away Dallas’ potent rushing attack, and witnessing quarterback Aaron Rodgers continue to dissect the opposing secondary.

“He’s done some impressive things all season,” Hunt said of Rodgers. “And then to go 8-0 and throw not one interception, those are some really impressive stats. And he’s still battling injuries. That leg is still bothering him, but he’s had some time off.”

Still, while there has been much hoopla surrounding the Cowboys’ undefeated streak on the road and the Packers’ unblemished mark at home, the winner of Sunday’s game likely will be the team that proves it’s capable of conquering what undoubtedly will be a brutally freezing encounter on the frozen tundra.

“Get on your knees, pray, and buckle your (expletive),” said Hunt, “because it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”

A ride that, in Hunt’s estimation, could very well bring back memories of what transpired when the Cowboys and Packers last met for a postseason game in Green Bay.

“It’s going to be a repeat of the Ice Bowl,” Hunt said. “Ice Bowl 2015 is about to take place.”

Only this time, there will be a light heat wave, one that is expected to rise 13 degrees below the freezing mark.

Literally.

DrePicAndre Johnson covers the NFL for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Dallas Fort-Worth’s Unique Corvette Club has ties to Memphis, other Mid-South cities

DUNCANVILLE, Texas — In May 2007, Keith King established a rather unique vision, one that was birthed in the confines of his stunning sports car.

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT --- The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, Keith King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years. (Photos submitted by Larry Pena)

TEXAS SIZE IMPACT — The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, Keith King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years. (Photos submitted by Larry Pena)

The founder of the Unique Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth, King heads a non-profit organization that has become a fixture throughout Dallas’ Metroplex in recent years.

“We’re just Corvette enthusiasts who want to ride together,” King told MemphiSport during a recent interview at Legends Sports Bar & Grill in Duncanville. “It didn’t take long for us to realize we are a unique group of people.”

As Unique Corvette Club entered its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do this year is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

MAKING STRIDES — As Unique Corvette Club entered its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do this year is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is geared largely toward partaking in various community service activities. Generally, this group, in which each member owns a Chevy Corvette, has developed a reputation for steadfastly being a viable presence in the Dallas Fort-Worth area, particularly downtrodden communities.

Unique Corvette Club routinely strives to make life fulfilling for others, from feeding the homeless, to making regular hospital and nursing home visits, to awarding scholarships to college-bound students. Just recently, the group gave away school supplies and sponsored its annual toy drive weeks leading Christmas. And, in mid-January, the club once again will participate in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in South Dallas. In addition, the club customarily participates in a food pantry activity through the North Texas Food Bank.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

“The biggest misconception is when people see these cars, they think we drive up in these cars to pick up women,” Pena explained. “I can pick up women walking. Our actions speak for themselves. As people observe us, they see we are about giving back to the community.”

SOLID RESUME --- An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is largely geared toward partaking in various community service activities.

SOLID RESUME — An organization that is currently comprised of 62 members, Unique Corvette Club’s mission is largely geared toward partaking in various community service activities.

Giving back to the less fortunate isn’t all this Corvette-inclined, male organization does regularly. These men also make it a point to establish a camaraderie, of sorts, amongst other.

“It was like I came in from Kuwait,” said longtime club member Nik Gilbert of Athens, Louisiana. “And one of our members recruited me. Once we got everybody together, we started pulling things together. It wasn’t about us. It was about doing things for the community.”

An organization that includes business owners, military veterans, and law enforcement officials, among others, Unique Corvette Club thrives largely off the brotherhood it has erected as a group.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

According to Larry Pena, a member of the club, that Unique Corvette Club has earned the trust and respect of Dallas Fort-Worth residents, such a trend essentially has overshadowed the various preconceived notions many initially had about the organization.

“We pray together, go to church together, and break bread together,” said club member Bengy Warren of Oak Cliff, Texas. “We call it ‘Family Time.’”

As Unique Corvette Club enters its eighth year, King said among the things his members aspire to do is establish rapports with other Corvette clubs across the region. So far, Corvette Club of Dallas Fort-Worth already has partnered with similar clubs in Houston, Shreveport, Louisiana, Tyler, Texas, and Memphis.

The more other organizations become involved in community service, King said, the more people would come to embrace his Corvette-savvy club, one that, given its solid track record, figures to be around for some time.

“Ideally, I’d like to see us continue to grow and touch as many people who are less fortunate,” Warren said. “I think traditionally, we’ve had some opportunities to do some things. But I think personally, some things we haven’t been able to do because we are of the minority. When you look at that car, that’s a dream.”

A dream that was birthed, courtesy of King’s unique vision nearly eight years ago.

For more for information about Unique Corvette Dallas Forth-Worth, call president Keith King at 972-765-6049.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

 

Dallas Mavericks express appreciation for Cowboys’ unlikely resurgence this year

DALLAS — When the Dallas Cowboys punched their ticket to the playoffs by dismantling the Indianapolis Colts, 42-7, in Weeks 16, among those who seemed in high spirits was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Ever since the Cowboys’ shocking win at defending Super Bowl champion Seattle in Week 6, Cuban has been among those often making bold predictions about a Dallas franchise that hadn’t advanced to the postseason since 2009.

LOYAL FAN --- Dirk Nowitzki is among the Dallas Mavericks players who has been complementary of the Dallas Cowboys' resurgence this season. The 12-time All-Star says the Cowboys are peaking at the right time and could very well win it all in February. (Photo by Brad Mills/Getty Images/NBAE)

LOYAL FAN — Dirk Nowitzki is among the Dallas Mavericks players who has been complementary of the Dallas Cowboys’ resurgence this season. The 12-time All-Star says the Cowboys are peaking at the right time and could very well win it all in February. (Photo by Brad Mills/Getty Images/NBAE)

Cuban, in fact, doesn’t shy away from the notion that he believes this year for the high-powered Cowboys could very well end the way last season ended for the Seahawks.

Dallas’ quest for a sixth NFL championship begins Sunday when the Cowboys (12-4) welcome the Detroit Lions (11-5) to AT&T Stadium at 3:40 p.m. CST in an NFC Wild Card game.

“Wasn’t that exciting?” said Cuban, when asked his reaction after the Cowboys had clinched their elusive playoffs berth, coupled with the Philadelphia’s loss a day earlier against Washington that eliminated the Eagles from postseason contention. “It’s awesome, man. I love it.”

So much, in fact, that Cuban, a Cowboys season-ticket holder, has gone as far as to predict that Dallas will represent the NFC in Super Bowl 49 February 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

As Cuban tells it, the Cowboys (12-4), winners of four consecutive games after routing each of their opponents in December, appear destined to claim their sixth Lombardi trophy in the franchise’s tradition-rich history.

“Hey, I predicted them to go to the Super Bowl and beat Denver, 52-51,” Cuban said. So I’m sticking to that…for them to win against the Broncos.”

Although Cuban wasn’t in attendance to witness Dallas’ lopsided win against the Colts that earned the Cowboys the NFC crown, he said he’s mostly happy for Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

“It was good for Jerry,” said Cuban, adding he has yet to reach out to and congratulate the Cowboys’ longtime owner. “I’m happy for him.”

Like Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign.

“Now everybody certainly is jumping on the (Cowboys’) bandwagon,” Mavericks 16-year veteran and 12-time NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, they can keep it going and win it all.”

Like Mavs owner Mark Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

‘WE DEM BOYS’ — Like Mavs owner Mark Cuban, it seems a majority of the Mavericks locker room has gained a thorough appreciation for the Cowboys’ resurgence in this, a season in which many national media prognosticators didn’t expect them to savor a winning campaign. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

On Friday, the NFL’s All-Pro team was released, with the Cowboys having garnered a league-best four players on the roster. Among the notable players making the team was running back DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Dallas’ Zack Martin was the lone rookie to make the All-Pro squad.

Still, in a year that essentially has given way to pandemonium throughout Dallas’ Metroplex, as well as a slew of accolades off the field, the Cowboys’ success this year undoubtedly has prompted their global fan base to anticipate a lengthy postseason run, one America’s Team hopes will culminate with a downtown Dallas parade, blanketed by confetti and the hoisting of a sixth Lombardi trophy sometime in mid-February.

So much for what many expected to be yet another disastrous season.

“Those guys look good, man,” Mavericks guard Raymond Felton said. “They’ve been doing great all year. I’m glad to see them keeping it going. I hope they make a long, a far push and win it all.”

Surely, a win on football’s grandest stage would silence more critics in what has already has been deemed a remarkable season in Big D.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Former Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Ellington rejoins Lakers after murder of his father

DALLAS — As his eyes began to flood with tears, Wayne Ellington sat in front of his locker in the visiting locker room Friday night in the American Airlines Center and told reporters something his father had inspired him to do ever since he first picked up a basketball as a child growing up in the outskirts of Philadelphia.

Former Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Wayne Ellington rejoined the Lakers Thursday, less than two weeks after the death of his father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Wayne Ellington, Sr. was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant. (Photo by  Juan O'Campo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Wayne Ellington rejoined the Lakers Thursday, less than two weeks after the death of his father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Wayne Ellington, Sr. was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant. (Photos by Juan O’Campo/NBAE via Getty Images)

“I will get through it,” Ellington said. “Obviously, it’s a situation where you’ve got to get through it.”

Ellington was alluding to the death of his 57-year-old father November 9 in the Philadelphia. Ellington’s father — also named Wayne — was found in his car with a gunshot wound to the head by an unknown assailant, news that sent shock waves to Ellington and the Lakers organization moments before the team was about to face the Charlotte Hornets.

Ellington, 27, who signed with the Lakers after training camp in September, was granted an indefinite leave of absence, but rejoined the team Thursday, one day after the Lakers’ win at Houston.

Although Ellington participated in a pregame shootaround, Lakers coach Byron Scott told reporters before Friday’s game against Dallas that Ellington likely would not see action.

“He’s okay,” Scott said of Ellington. “I think he’s trying to get back familiar with us and familiar with his surroundings. I think the more he’s with us, the better he’ll be.”

Ellington was informed of his father’s death following the Lakers’ November 9 win over the Hornets at the Staples Center.

So far, no arrests have been reported.

Ellington He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

Ellington He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

While addressing the media Friday, a mostly teary-eyed Ellington recalled how instrumental his father had been during his basketball career, most notably during his days at the University of North Carolina and when he entered the NBA ranks after leading the Tar Heels to the national championship in 2009.

“You know, this is what he wanted for me,” Ellington said, when asked what memorable lesson his father taught him. “While at Carolina, you know, he was the guy who was always talking about tradition. He said when you go to Carolina, you look up and see all the banners. He was so ecstatic when I signed here before training camp. He was telling me how proud of me he is. He was saying, ‘You’re back in that same Carolina-type situation.’ He was like, ‘I really feel like this is the spot for you.’”

While several Laker players expressed their disappointment after learning of the death of Ellington’s father, the six-year pro said he was especially pleased with the support shown by Scott, the Lakers first-year coach for whom Ellington played during his brief stint with Cleveland last season.

Drafted 28th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009, Ellington also played briefly for Memphis and Dallas.

“Coach Scott has been a great for me,” Ellington said. “He was great for me in Cleveland as well. When I played in Memphis, we had a lot of guys in the rotation. We were deep every night and I wasn’t playing as much. And then when I came to Cleveland and was playing for him, that kind of gave me a boost of energy, that boost of confidence. And that helped me and it was the same thing when I got here. He’s a guy who has tremendous confidence in me and I thrive off that.”

Besides Scott, Ellington said Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant contacted him regularly to show support during his nearly two-week absence from the team. Also, Ellington fielded phone calls from former Grizzly teammates Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.

“He reached out almost every day,” Ellington said of Bryant. “It was unbelievable as our leader. Obviously, the season didn’t start off the way we liked. But we’re family here and (the Lakers) made me feel like that.”

While Ellington is expected to see action Sunday night when the Lakers host Denver, the Wynnewood, Pennsylvania native said he sensed earlier this week it was time to reunite with his teammates. He said he plans to dedicate the rest of the season to his father by writing his name on his sneakers.

Ellington has appeared in six of the Lakers’ 13 games, averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds. He scored a season-best 13 points in 25 minutes in an October 9 loss to Phoenix.

“It was just a feeling,” said Ellington, explaining his decision to return to the team. “And in talking to my family, they kind of pushed me as well. They wanted me to get back to doing what I love to do and to take my mind off of it. Being here has been a lot easier for me. So yeah, man, I’m leaving it all out there every single day, every time I step out there on that floor. I’m going to do something special for him.”

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley: ‘Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance’

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Mike Conley, Jr. entered the NBA ranks in 2007, he was widely viewed as an unproven rookie and the son of Olympic gold and silver medalist triple jumper Mike Conley, Sr. Now in his seventh professional season for the Memphis Grizzlies, Conley, the longest-tenured player on the roster, has emerged as arguably the most underappreciated point guard in the NBA. No doubt, the 27-year-old Conley is the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that boasts the league’s best record and is a legitimate contender to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals this year. During a recent exclusive interview with MemphiSport NBA Southwest Division reporter Andre Johnson, Conley spoke about the lofty expectations for this year’s team as well as assessed what has been a stellar career for the native of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Here are 11 questions for No. 11.

BOLD CONFESSION --- Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn't shy away from the notion that he's aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis' second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

BOLD CONFESSION — Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley doesn’t shy away from the notion that he’s aiming to make his first All-Star appearance in this, his seventh NBA season. Conley is Memphis’ second-leading scorer, averaging 16.6 points per game. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images

ANDRE: A lot has been said about the organization drafting Memphian Jarnell Stokes back in June. What’s so special about his presence on the team?
MIKE: Jarnell’s done a great job for us since Day 1. He has brought energy to our team. You know, he’s a hard-nosed worker and he wants to get better. He has two great big men to learn from in Marc (Gasol) and Zach (Randolph) and even Kosta (Koufos) and Jon (Leuer). You know, those guys have a wealth of experience and can help Jarnell. I think he’s done a great job with the minutes he’s been given. He really hasn’t been able to show much out there as he wants to. But for the most part, in his short time, he’s done a great job, knowing the plays, where to be on the floor, being in the right spots and capitalizing off that.

ANDRE: Zach Randolph decided in the offseason to return to the organization. There were many speculations as to whether he might move on, but he’s back in a Grizzlies uniform. In your estimation, how special is it having Zach back?
MIKE: It is huge. He’s the head of this ship, man. He always will be. He’s made this team what it is today. So without him, we wouldn’t be here. With him, we’re like family, so it’s awesome to have him back.

ANDRE: Did the Grizzlies get better in the offseason?
MIKE: I thought we did get better in the offseason. And not only because of (the acquisition) Vince Carter and the rookies, but a lot of guys have added a little bit more to their game. So we’re looking forward to a lot of guys stepping up and taking on different roles. They’ll have more on their plate, so hopefully that’ll improve our team and give us a chance to make a deep run.

ANDRE: Much had been said about your constant progress last year, particularly before the All-Star break. In fact, there were a lot of national media prognosticators who sensed you should have gotten serious consideration to represent the West in the All-Star Game. But because the West is so deep at that position with the Chris Pauls and Damian Lillards of the world, you weren’t selected. Do you feel at this stage in your career you’re getting the respect you deserve?
MIKE: Um…slowly. You know, it’s a journey, man. It’s been a journey for me just trying to get better every year and getting attention by adding more to my game and proving that I can play. So I think people are starting to understand my style of play and I just want to keep getting better and not worry about whether people will respect me or not. I just want to go out there and play the best basketball I can.

HUGE IMPACT --- A majority of Conley's seven NBA seasons has been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets' coach in July.

HUGE IMPACT — A majority of Conley’s seven NBA seasons have been spent under the direction Lionel Hollins. Hollins coached the Grizzlies from 2009-2013 before being hired as the Brooklyn Nets’ coach in July.

ANDRE: Obviously, this team would like to finish in the top three or top four in the Western Conference standings heading into the postseason. But what are your personal expectations in this, your seventh NBA season?
MIKE: I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better leader for this team, want to be someone everybody can count on. Obviously, I want to make my first All-Star appearance. You know, everyone wants to be an All-Star. But I’m beyond that. I just want to win. If we win, I think we’ll get the attention we deserve.

ANDRE: Now, of course, (Grizzlies head coach Dave) Joerger is back after much reshuffling in the front office in the offseason. Describe your relationship with your coach.
MIKE: It was good that Dave came back because we didn’t need a new rotation of coaches coming in. We need that stability. He’s been here pretty much my entire career and just to have him here as the head coach two years in a row will be great. After his first season, he’s going to be much better.

ANDRE: Speaking of head coaches, Lionel (former Grizzlies coach Hollins) has resurfaced in the head-coaching ranks in the league. Of course, a lot of people felt he should have landed a head coaching job last year. Lionel was very, very big on you, particularly when people said negative things about your style of play. How happy were you when he resurfaced in the NBA?
MIKE: I was very happy for him. I texted him, called him and congratulated him. It was well-deserved, man. He’s a great coach. I know they (Brooklyn Nets) got a good one and he’s looking forward to that opportunity and he’s going to make the best of it.

ANDRE: In terms of NBA point guards, you’ve made a name for yourself. Clearly, your stock has risen and people are now starting to respect your overall body of work. But who are among of the NBA point guards Mike Conley likes to watch?
MIKE: Who Mike Conley likes to watch? Well, I like to watch the ones on all 32 teams.

ANDRE: Of course, I can’t let you off the hook that easily, Mike. Tell me. Who do you like to watch the most?
MIKE: Well, every team has a great point guard. You have athletic points like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. You have some smaller points…Isaiah Thomas is a good one and plays well. Eric Bledsoe is another good one. So you have a lot of good ones. But I can tell you it’s tough to play against them. It’s not too much to watch them. But I have to deal with them on the court.

ANDRE: Is there any player on the team you hang out with on a regular basis?
MIKE: I pretty much hang out with all of them. We try to do as much together as we can. But Marc is probably the closet one I’m with.

ANDRE: Do you expect to be more vocal this year as the Grizzlies’ floor general?
MIKE: I do. I figured I’ve earned the respect to do that, just coming out and being assertive and more vocal because they believe in me running the show.

ANDRE: Here’s a bonus question, Mike. Of course, you’re an Ohio State man after having played two seasons for the Buckeyes. This is seemingly a down year for Michigan football. But I’ve got to ask you this as these schools prepare to meet in a few weeks. Ohio State or Michigan?
MIKE: Ohio State, man.

DrePicAndre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.