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