Mavs coach Rick Carlisle praises each Southwest Division team on making playoffs

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS --- Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

SOUTHWEST SUCCESS — Dallas Mavericks coach Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs to their first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series. That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths. This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images Photo)

DALLAS — First team to 16 wins…

“The first one to 16 will have a pretty nice piece for their jewelry cabinet,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said while addressing reporters Thursday afternoon at American Airlines Center.

Carlisle was alluding to the 16 teams that have punched tickets to this year’s NBA playoffs, a nearly two-month-long marathon that will culminate with one franchise hoisting the covenant Larry O’Brien trophy.

Now in his seventh season as the Mavericks’ head man, arguably Carlisle’s most memorable campaign as an NBA coach came four years ago when he led Dallas to its first world championship in franchise history, a six-game upset of the Miami Heat in their best-of-7 NBA Finals series.

That year, three teams from the NBA’s Southwest Division (Dallas, San Antonio, and Memphis) had clinched playoff berths.

This year, however, each of the division’s five teams have advanced to the postseason, a feat that was effectively decided on the regular season’s final day when the New Orleans Pelicans clinched a berth with a 108-103 win against the Spurs.

HOT HANDED HARDEN --- The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer. Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

HOT HANDED HARDEN — The Southwest Division champion Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.
Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I think this is the toughest division in all of (professional) sports,” Carlisle said. “It has been for the last several years.”

Among the reasons is the Spurs (55-27) undoubtedly have been the division’s most consistent and dominant team. Making their franchise-best 18 consecutive postseason appearance when they open defense of their NBA title Sunday night at the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Clippers (56-26), the six-seeded Spurs have won five world titles during this stretch.

As for the Mavs, erasing the memory of last year’s seven-game opening-round defeat to San Antonio certainly will be a brutal task, considering seventh-seeded Dallas (50-32) will face the No. 2 seed Houston Rockets Saturday at 8:30 p.m. CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening-round series.

BLOCK PARTY --- Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

BLOCK PARTY — Marc Gasol (left) and the fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in FedExForum. (Photo by Jerome Miron/Getty Images)

The Rockets (56-26) are led by NBA Most Valuable Player candidate James Harden, the league’s second-leading scorer.

Winners of three straight, the Rockets are in the postseason for a third consecutive year. Dallas is making its second straight playoff appearance.

The fifth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (55-27), whose 9-7 division record was the best among the other four teams, is making their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff appearance and will open postseason play Sunday night at 7 CST against the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) in FedExForum.

Memphis’ best postseason outing during this span took place two years ago when the Grizzlies manufactured their highest winning percentage and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history.

Arguably the surprise Southwest Division team to make the playoffs is New Orleans.

The NBA’s fourth youngest team with an average age of 24.9 years, the Pelicans (45-37) played arguably their most complete game of the season, which couldn’t have come at a better time, considering New Orleans controlled its own destiny.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 31 points and 13 rebounds, the Pelicans withstood a furious late rally by the defending champs to solidify the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot in the regular season finale, thus ending a four-year postseason drought.

Next up for upset-minded Pelicans is an opening-round date with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, starting with Saturday’s Game 1 at 2:30 p.m. CST.

Led by Stephen Curry, whom many consider the frontrunner for league MVP, the high-octane Warriors enter the postseason with the NBA’s best record at 67-15.

Come Saturday, the race to 16 wins begins.

Which, of course, begs the question: Will the Larry O’Brien trophy remain in the Southwest Division for a second consecutive year?

As far as Carlisle is concerned, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if it does.

“It’s just quality teams from top to bottom,” Carlisle said of the Southwest Division. “During the battles of the division opponents during the year, I mean those were slugfest games. They were extremely meaningful. There’s a lot of wear and tear. (Games) were very physical. They’re emotional. But when you get a division like this, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it gets everybody primed for this time of year.”

Let the nearly two-month-long marathon begin.

First team to 16 wins…

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 prep baseball standout Kali Payton III thriving as a motivational speaker

KaliLike a number of his peers, Kali Payton III would be the first to tell you he has endured his share of hardships and turmoil.

For starters, Payton was raised in what he describes as one of America’s most dangerous, poverty-stricken establishments, the John DeShields housing projects in East St, Louis, Illinois.

And, as a youngster — eight years old to be exact — he and his family wound up on the wrong side of some horrific news when word spread that his father was murdered.

Fast forward to a few years later, Payton still found himself having to weather an assortment of tumultuous encounters — occurrences that given how much this vibrant 33-year-old ex-military veteran has flourished in recent years, is valid proof why he has steadfastly taken on a newfound disposition on life.

“I have failed in business nine times and lost two homes to foreclosure. I celebrated my 21st birthday in Afghanistan in 2002,” said Payton, an Air Force veteran, said during a recent interview.

Fortunately for Payton, a former East St. Louis High baseball standout, his slew of obstacles are what ultimately inspired him to assume yet another venture, one that undoubtedly will enhance and aid others to maximize their potential.

A resident of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Payton is a Motivational Speaker and Life/Business Coach for Kali Is Speaking, an endeavor that has benefited him mightily, considering he has emerged as a fixture in various establishments across the country.

To his credit, Payton has spoken and his put his motivational skills on display in places such as his native home state of Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida, among others — a list that figures to expand in the foreseeable future.

A former East St. Louis All-Star catcher who wore former Major Leaguer Mike Piazza’s jersey number, Payton acknowledges that his competitive drive through baseball essentially fueled his desire to become a motivational speaker and life coach.

Among the reasons is that in spite of the array of curve balls life has often dealt him, he says that isn’t a reason for individuals — especially those from downtrodden communities like him — to live beneath their privileges.

“I had raw talent as a power hitter,” Payton explains. “But as the competition increased, my effectiveness decreased. I just couldn’t figure out why. Then my high school coach, Mr. Brown, taught me that I didn’t need to lead the team in home runs but in RBI’s. I batted clean up, so it was my job to make enough contact to make sure other players advance and either score or get in position to score.

“What I do in my business today is the exact same thing,” Payton continued. “I use my life experiences to help others advance or position themselves to reach their destinations. What I love most is knowing that I was chosen to impact the lives of others in a positive way. It blows my mind each time I think about it.”

Arguably Payton’s single, most underlying objective as a motivational speaker and life coach is to empower others to connect with their life’s work — or their purpose, of sorts — a life-changing attribute that was instilled in him by his godfather, Lee Coleman II.

“He inspired me to live out my full potential and serve humanity with my whole heart,” Payton said.

Fortunately for Payton, he’s savoring the purpose for which he was created, considering his latest endeavor is starting to come full circle, thus embraced by countless individuals in the Fayetteville area and other portions of the country.

Among the reasons is that Payton conducts a weekly class at nearby Jesus Peace Ministries in Fayetteville, which is an economic empowerment session for people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.

As for his itinerary, he is scheduled to teach youths on how to overcome the fear of public speaking as part of a Spring Break camp that is scheduled for April 6-10.

Given the success he has enjoyed in recent years, it’s safe to assume that Payton has adjusted comfortably as a motivational speaker and life coach, in large part because he has functioned in such a commendable role for two years. Aside from that, he has been an accomplished licensed minster for nearly nine years, an accolade that has contributed greatly to his latest endeavor.

In other words, Payton doesn’t shy away from the notion that he welcomes putting his skills on display before sizable crowds. Given the adversities he has managed to conquer during his life, he’d be the first to admit that he was built to handle such work.

“I just don’t believe any person should live a life that they are not happy with,” Payton said. “We are all created for the same thing…to serve humanity. Serve with our gifts, talents, and abilities with the sole purpose of gaining resources that will expand our platform. Ultimately, we must press repeat and do it all over again…a simple reason of why we all exist.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Kali Is Speaking or to contact him for a speaking engagement, check out Kali Payton III at:

www.regeneratemypurpose.com

DrePicAndre 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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Kevin Durant on criticism in bolting Team USA: ‘I’ve put in work for my country’

DALLAS — Kevin Durant insists he hasn’t lost any sleep.

Even after the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player was criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash.

“To be honest, I really don’t care,” Durant told reporters after Friday’s shootaround in American Airlines Center. “I slept the same right after I made that decision.”
An eight-year NBA veteran, Durant withdrew from Team USA, citing “mental and physical fatigue.”

KEEP IT MOVING --- Despite being criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash. (Photo by Jim Cowert/AP)

KEEP IT MOVING — Despite being criticized for withdrawing from Team USA before the FIBA World Cup in August, Oklahoma City Thunder superstar and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant on Friday said he wasn’t fazed by the backlash. (Photo by Jim Cowert/AP)

Durant’s decision to leave the team came days after Paul George sustained an open tibia-fibula fracture. The Indiana Pacers star landed awkwardly at the base of a basket stanchion after fouling James Harden during a Las Vegas scrimmage and is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

Durant’s departure followed previous withdrawals by All-Stars Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

Consequently, various media pundits questioned Durant’s timing in leaving the team, going as far as to label the 2010 FIBA World Championship MVP a “quitter.”

“If you attended camp in Las Vegas, and if you called coach (Team USA coach) Mike Krzyzewski to ask for advice on how to be a “leader” when camp resumed in Chicago, and then you blindside Coach K and every other member of the national team, you have “quit,” longtime NBA writer Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com wrote in an August 15 column.

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks on Friday refuted the criticism surrounding his star player, saying Durant’s decision to leave Team USA had “nothing to do with quitting.”

“Well, I haven’t heard anybody call him a quitter,” Brooks said. “Quitting is when you’re not playing, when you fall down and don’t get back up again. And that’s the last thing on Kevin’s mind. Kevin’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. And he’s obviously very talented and his work ethic is definitely at a high, high level. He goes into every offseason looking to add to his game on both ends (of the floor). “This year is no different. He’s gained some strength through all of the work he’s put in with our group. He’s come back. His attitude has always been great. His leadership skills have improved every year. I think he’s in a good position right now to lead us where we want to get to.”

Still, Durant, who scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 17 minutes in OKC’s 118-109 preseason win at Dallas Friday night, said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA.

Many, in fact, sensed the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by George’s gruesome injury.

 

While addressing the media on Friday, Durant said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA in August. Many speculated the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by Paul George’s season-ending leg injury during a scrimmage.

While addressing the media on Friday, Durant said he understood why he was criticized for bolting Team USA in August. Many speculated the five-time All-Star left the team, largely because he was affected by Paul George’s season-ending leg injury during a Las Vegas scrimmage. (Photo by C. L. Guy)

“I made the decision based on me, but it makes people uncomfortable,” Durant said. “So I understood and it comes with the whole territory when you do something like that. So I understand that. I try not to let it affect me and I’ll keep pushing. It’s one of those things where if you keep throwing rocks, it’s not going to penetrate because I know what I really do. I’ve put in work for my country.”

Since George’s injury, Durant said he often reaches out to the two-time All-Star, who appears to be recouping comfortably and haven’t ruled out a comeback this year.

During an interview last week, the 24-year-old George told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth, “It’s very possible that I can play this season.”

“I talk to him all the time,” Durant said of George. “I call in and check on him. He looks like he’s doing extremely well. I saw him the other day walking with the boot. So that’s good to see that his recovery is coming along pretty well.”

As for the criticism that ensued amid a withdrawal from Team USA that “blindsided everyone,” according to Krzyzewski, Durant said that didn’t affect his offseason routine of doing the necessary things to ensure OKC remains a serious contender to compete for a championship.

Last year, the Thunder lost to eventual NBA champion San Antonio in six games in the Western Conference Finals.

“(The offseason) was fun,” Durant, the reigning NBA scoring champion, said. “I worked hard. I enjoyed my summer. That’s really it. I had a lot of off-the-court stuff to do. But what it really boiled down to was the court. I always make time to get out on the court.”

DreColumnAndre 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.

Spurs star Tim Duncan on retiring from NBA: ‘I’m going to play it day by day’

Tim Duncan fielded the question as if he expected it.

 

STILL AIMING HIGH --- San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn't shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn't sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

STILL AIMING HIGH — San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan hasn’t shown any signs of a slowing down during an NBA career that spans 16-plus seasons. The 37-year-old Duncan said Tuesday he isn’t sure when he will call it a career with a Spurs team that is destined to return to the NBA Finals this year. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“I’m going to play it day by day,” the San Antonio Spurs superstar said following Tuesday’s shootaround in FedExForum, when asked how much longer he plans to play professional basketball. “I don’t know what the end of the year will bring. I don’t know what next year will bring. But I’m going to enjoy every game out there, knowing that it’s coming to an end.”

While the 37-year-old Duncan hasn’t shied away from discussing his NBA future, he appears to be in the best shape of a Hall-of-Fame career that spans 16-plus seasons. Duncan, to his credit, was the catalyst last year of a San Antonio team that came within seconds of capturing its fifth world championship since the 14-time All-Star was drafted No. 1 overall by the Spurs out of Wake Forest in 1997.

Having averaged the most minutes (30.1) in three years, Duncan registered 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.7 blocks per game last year in helping the Spurs to the NBA Finals, where they lost in the decisive Game 7 to the Miami Heat. Add to the fact that Duncan shot an impressive 50.2 percent from the field and a career-best 81.7 percent from the free throw line, and it’s no wonder a number of his peers contend that the 6-foot-11, Saint Croix, U. S. Virgin Island native hasn’t shown any indications he’s ready to call it quits.

“Man, how can you tell a guy to hang it up that’s averaging 17 and 10…18 and 10?” Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph said of Duncan. “Tim can play until he’s 44 if he wants to. He’s one of the greatest of all time, hands down, period. He’s the type of guy you look up to and pattern your game after because he’s not a super athletic guy. He’s not a high-flyer. He plays off skills.”

During the Spurs’ remarkable postseason run last year, Duncan certainly performed as if he was in his prime. Displaying such poise and resilience that enabled him to evolve into one of the NBA’s premiere power forwards, Duncan witnessed his numbers soar significantly during the season’s latter stages as he logged 20.8 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per contest for a San Antonio team that swept the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. He was especially dominant during the NBA Finals much like when he engineered the Spurs to four NBA titles during an eight-year stretch between 1999 and 2007.

No doubt, he was the biggest reason San Antonio was seconds away from dethroning the Heat, particularly with his epic Game 6 performance, when he went on a tear by scoring 30 points and 17 rebounds, although the upset-minded Spurs sputtered in the waning seconds.

“We had another opportunity (in Game 7) to win it,” said Duncan, recalling his mindset after the Spurs had squandered a five-point lead over the game’s final 28 seconds. “That’s all that mattered at that point. We didn’t want to talk about what we had given away or what position we were in. We had another opportunity. We just came up short. But honestly, we gave it our all and we’re happy with that.”

If there were questions swirling as to whether Duncan’s effectiveness had been reduced for an NBA veteran, he silenced

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complentary of Duncan following Tuesday's shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he's one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph (right) was highly complementary of Duncan following Tuesday’s shootaround. Randolph said the 14-time All-Star is not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but he’s one after whom he patterns his game. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

an array of critics last year, particularly when it mattered most — on the NBA’s grandest stage.

“Tim will play as long as he thinks he’s helpful to the team,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has coached Duncan since he entered the NBA. “You know, that’s what he said to me. He really enjoys the competitiveness. He enjoys being around the guys. He likes the challenges. He really takes care of himself well. You know, he watches what he puts in his body as you can see just looking at him. As long as he feels he can help this team, he’ll be playing. If he feels he can’t do that, he’ll be the first guy to walk off the court.”

Duncan, just as he’s done on numerous occasions during his illustrious career, aided San Antonio mightily Tuesday night. He scored a 13 of his team-high 24 points (10 points better than his season average) in the second half for the Spurs, who outlasted the Grizzlies, 110-108, in overtime, despite squandering a 16-point second-half lead.

Whether the two-time NBA MVP will walk away from the game for good at season’s end is anybody’s guess. As Duncan tells it, however, his primary focus is not on how much longer his 230-pound frame can hold up with his 38th birthday just three months away, but rather he’s concentrating on savoring what’s left of an NBA career that will culminate with him being christened a Hall of Famer.

Asked how he would like his legacy to be remembered if he retires after this season, Duncan once again fielded the question as if he expected it.

“My legacy will write itself,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what I think of it. I’m just going to go out and play every night and see what happens from there.”

Judging by his display Tuesday night for a Spurs squad that boasts the NBA’s third-best record, it’s safe to assume Duncan still has gas in that 37-year-old tank.

More than people realize.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Jason Kidd responds to soda cup incident before Saturday’s game against Memphis

MOVING FORWARD ---Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach Jason Kidd said before Saturday night's game versus the Grizzlies that his soda cup incident that resulted in a $50,000 fine by the NBA is behind him. Brooklyn beat the Memphis, 97-88, to hand the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss in FedExForum. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

MOVING FORWARD —Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach Jason Kidd said before Saturday night’s game versus the Grizzlies that his soda cup incident that resulted in a $50,000 fine by the NBA is behind him. Brooklyn beat the Memphis, 97-88, to hand the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss in FedExForum. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Jason Kidd insists he has said all he’s going to say about the shady soda cup incident that forced the NBA to impose a hefty fine on the Brooklyn Nets rookie head coach.

“Well, I can only think about the Memphis Grizzlies,” Kidd told MemphiSport before Saturday night’s game in FedExForum. “So I’m just focused on what we can do. The league took care of whatever happened in the past, so we’re moving forward.”

Kidd, 40, who played 18 NBA seasons for four different teams before retiring last year while with the New York Knicks, was responding to Wednesday night’s incident against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he appeared to say “hit me” to point guard Tyshawn Taylor with 8.3 seconds remaining to force a stoppage of play so his team could draw up a last-second offensive play. The NBA on Thursday announced that Kidd was fined $50,000 for appearing to intentionally drop a beverage on to the court.

The Nets were out of timeouts at the time Taylor bumped into Kidd, whose cup tumbled on to the court in front of his team’s bench. While the spillage was being cleaned up, the Nets coaching staff drew up a play. But to no avail, veteran small forward Paul Pierce misfired on a potential game-tying 3-point basket with 2.2 seconds left and the Lakers escaped with a 99-94 win to drop the struggling Nets seven games below the .500 mark.

Although video footage appeared to show Kidd uttering the words “Hit me” to his reserve point guard, Taylor denied that Kidd said nothing of that nature. However, on Saturday, Taylor said the Nets’ primary focus is to break out their early-season slump and that they have put Kidd’s controversial incident behind them.

Brooklyn (5-12) seized its second win in its last three outings with a resounding 97-88 victory Saturday to send the Grizzles (8-8) to their fourth consecutive defeat in FedExForum.

“That’s a league matter for sure, man, so I can’t speak on that,” said Taylor, when asked if thought Kidd’s fine was excessive. “It was what it was. That’s a decision that they made. I mean, we can go back and forth about how I feel about it. It’s not going to bring the money back. Like I said, that’s a decision the league made, so we’ve got to live with it.”

Though Kidd’s apparent staged cup spill attracted national headlines — the incident was the lead story on ESPN’s SportsCenter following Wednesday night’s game — for a Nets team that made a number of notable offseason trades with the acquisitions of veterans Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, but have struggled immensely through the first month of the season, there were a number of NBA players who hastened to various social media sites, applauding Kidd for his intentional late-game stunt.

“I didn’t actually see it, but I heard the stories and from what they told me,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said of Kidd’s soda cup incident. “You know, it was pretty clever, a clever move. But obviously, I don’t think the league liked it pretty much because they fined him pretty heavy for it. But it is what it is.”

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger acknowledged before Friday’s practice that he heard about the stiff fine the league imposed on Kidd. However, he declined to comment further, saying Kidd’s situation isn’t remotely connected to the Grizzlies organization.

“I don’t really have anything to say about it,” Joerger said. “I’ve got enough issues coaching my own team.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist