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Commentary: Forgotten former Buckeye Mike Conley Jr. is best Ohio State alum in NBA

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During the past Ohio State men’s basketball season, a pregame video was played before home games featuring many past Buckeyes, such as Michael Redd, Greg Oden and Evan Turner. One player who was not included was Mike Conley Jr.

The former Buckeye point guard was part of a trio, along with Oden and Daequan Cook, who left OSU after one season following the 2007 NCAA Tournament runner-up campaign. Conley was drafted No. 4 by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2007 NBA draft.

Since then, it seems like Conley has been forgotten by Buckeye faithful. Maybe it is because many fans did not agree with his decision to turn pro, particularly after he promised to return following the championship game. Maybe it has something to do with playing for a small-market, perennial lottery team like Memphis. For whatever reason, it never seems to me that Conley gets recognition as a Buckeye legend with others such as Oden and Turner.

Now in his fourth season as a professional, the 23-year-old Conley is starting to establish himself as a solid NBA player. After receiving a five-year, $40 million contract extension before this season, Conley set career highs in points, assists and steals. He is one of the leaders of a young Grizzlies team that is contending in the NBA Western Conference playoffs.

The Grizzlies entered the postseason as a No. 8 seed and upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round in six games. Memphis is now battling the fourth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals. The series is tied, 2-2.

For the postseason, Conley is playing 39.4 minutes and averaging 15.9 points and 6.2 assists per game. Going up against two of the NBA’s top point guards, San Antonio’s Tony Parker and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Conley has held his own.

Still, Conley is going largely unnoticed. Most basketball analysts and pundits have been raving about the play of forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol, two of Conley’s teammates — and rightfully so. Randolph and Gasol have been putting up gaudy numbers throughout the playoffs.

The orchestrator of those performances is Conley.

As the point guard, he makes sure the Memphis big men are getting the ball in places and situations where they can take advantage, just like he did with Oden during their time together at OSU.

He can take matters into his own hands, as well. During Game 4 against the Thunder on Monday night, Conley made a game-tying 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

Remember the 2007 second round game against Xavier?

Conley scored 11 points in overtime, single-handedly closing out the game for the Buckeyes when Oden fouled out on the bench.

Memphis coach Lionel Hollins understands the importance of Conley to his team.

“Mike’s our head,” Hollins told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “Mike controls the game for us. He’s our director.”

With a slew of young talent, the Grizzlies are on the rise and could be a formidable contender in the West for the next several years, and with Conley signed to the long term, he should get plenty more opportunities to showcase his abilities on the big stage.

Now showing: Mike Conley, the best OSU player in the NBA right now.

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