What do you feel it needs to happen for Memphis to make the playoffs this year?
Mike Conley: We have to get on a couple of winning streaks. There were a lot of tough games for us early in the season and now we have to start putting it all together offensively and defensively as a team to get back above .500 because in order to make the playoffs in the Western Conference you have to have a very good record.
Why is the team a little worse than last season so far?
MC: I think last year we were a better rebounding team than we are this year. I think we did a lot better job helping Zach (Randolph) and Marc (Gasol) with the rebounding. This season we haven’t done as well and we haven’t done as well in the transition and the fast-break points.
Do you think the chemistry of the team is as good as it was last year?
MC: Yes. I think this team is just as good as last year’s team. I think we’ve gotten better in a lot of areas. We just have to find a way to put it all together.
Does the big contract you just signed make you feel any added pressure?
MC: I don’t feel any pressure at all. I think actually signing took a lot of pressure off. More than anything, this allows me to play basketball, concentrate on basketball and not worry about anything else. I’m just thankful I’m coming back to Memphis for five more years.
You know the Grizzlies got some criticism for giving you that deal. Does that bother you?
MC: It’s tough to take any kind of criticism. A lot of players take criticism, a lot of teams take criticism… That’s just part of business. They believed in me and they made a decision. They were happy with me and I’m happy with them. It’s just a matter of time. Hopefully one day the media will look back on it and not be so harsh about it.
How much has Lionel Hollins helped your career?
MC: Coach has helped me tremendously. He’s challenged me every day in practice and during summer time to get better. He’s my biggest critic and has tried to push me further and further. That has helped me to become stronger and a better player and a better leader for our team.
Do you have any point guard, from the past or currently in the NBA, that you see as a model for you?
MC: I do. I would say Tony Parker is a guy I always looked up to and modeled my game after his. He’s one of those guys that’s very aggressive with the ball and finishing in transition, creating for other guys and doing everything fast. He uses his speed very well and those are the traits I want to bring in the NBA.
What is the aspect of your game that you are most concerned about improving?
MC: I think the part of my game that I want to improve the most is shooting and being a consistent scorer and playing defense as well. Those are the things that I’ve worked on a lot and continue to work on.
You hired a psychologist over the summer. How much did that help you?
MC: It helped a lot. Basketball is very mental. There’s a lot of emotions and stress from losing games. A lot of players go through that in their careers. You have to deal with things and move on. It really helped me form a different mindset towards the season and when bad things happen be able to move on, focus on the next game and perform well – be assertive and aggressive every night.
Did it hurt your confidence when people in the media were looking at you kind of like the weakest link on the starting five?
MC: Yeah, I felt that I was a much better player than that. I want to be a guy that people speak of in a positive manner, not anything negative. I just have to prove it and show that I’m way better than what those people said I was.
When was the last time you spoke with Greg Oden?
MC: Last time I spoke with him was about two weeks ago. I talked with him before the surgery and after he had the surgery. Just checking up on him and say, “How you doing?” He was definitely sad for having to go through another surgery, but I think he feels it’s for the best and eventually and hopefully he will be able to play for a full season.
You come from a family with a lot of athletes. Did you always look at sports as the way in which you wanted to make a living?
MC: No, the NBA for me was just an opportunity – the opportunity of a lifetime. I always planned on going to college, graduate, get a job and work like everybody else. But thankfully I got better and better at basketball and got a chance to play in the NBA. Who knows how’s going to work out for me, but right now I’m very happy with my decisions and being where I’m at.
Was the focus always on basketball or did you play other sports?
MC: I played every sport growing up – soccer, football, baseball… I did all sports and I thought that I was good at all of them, but I always had the passion for basketball and always wanted to stay in the gym and get better and better. So I just picked basketball over everything else and stopped playing other sports in high school and just play basketball.
You didn’t do triple jump or long jump? (Michael Conley Sr. is an Olympic and World Champion in triple jump).
MC: I did. I did long jump, 100 metres, 200 metres and high jump.
Were you good? What were your records?
MC: My best in 100 was 10.8 and best long jump was 23 feet, I think.