Trying to fit in ... midway
Jason Conley isn't a typical mid-season transfer. Not because he led the country in scoring as a freshman two seasons ago, but rather because he's actually ready to accept a supporting role with his new team.
As the country catches up with what Conley has been doing in Columbia, Mo., we come to find out he didn't leave VMI midway through last season because he wanted more attention. And as he prepares to debut for Missouri this week, he certainly doesn't want to be a distraction. He simply wants to blend in. Something he certainly didn't do while averaging 29.3 points a game in 2001-02.
"This is new for me. To play with a whole bunch of talent," said Conley, who made a name for himself as a Keydet before deciding to leave VMI last December. "I've accepted my role. It's not scoring. I'll be the guy who comes in and shuts down the opposing star. That's my main focus. Everybody sees me as a scorer but I'm going to come out and shut people down.
Wait a minute. Defense? We are talking about the Jason Conley who seemingly outgrew the Southern Conference in less than two seasons, right? The same big-time scorer who tallied 30 or more points in 12 games as a freshman and torched Villanova for 38 points and combined for 49 more in games against Virginia and Kentucky?
Yep, it sure sounds like the 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior would rather be a top defender. And it certainly seems as though Conley has bought into what Quin Snyder and the staff have been selling him while he redshirted the past two semesters. But, it remains to be seen if Conley's words are backed up by selfless actions.
At least Conley has the right attitude when it comes to a player joining a top-25 team midstream.
"If I play defense well, the offense will come," Conley said. "I'm real excited. Real pumped up to get out there and I don't think I'll freeze up because we've already got two All-Americans."
Yes, that might be the key to Conley's role. Missouri has the luxury of not needing Conley to come and dominate the offensive categories with the likes of Rickey Paulding, Arthur Johnson, Linas Kleiza and Jimmy McKinney running up the most numbers. Instead, Conley can come in and help lock up one of the top opposing perimeter scorers.
But, there is no doubt Conley can and will score plenty of points -- whether it was in the SoCon the past two seasons, or the next two seasons in the Big 12.
Snyder has been impressed in the way Conley doesn't hunt for his shot but still scores in the flow of the offense. And despite his gaudy numbers at VMI, Conley is grounded about what he can do for the Tigers.
Conley has been practicing every day as he prepares for Sunday's game against UNC Greensboro. He's sharpened his defense by matching up with Paulding. And along with JC transfer Randy Pulley, the pair will make the Tigers' deep bench that much longer.
Pulley could have played against Indiana and Gonzaga last week, once his eligibility issues were cleared up by the school and the NCAA. But Snyder chose to have Pulley and Conley join the action together, so the team wouldn't have to deal with more than one transition. Snyder also wasn't about to make the same mistake he admittedly made with Travon Bryant in 1997, when Bryant became eligible in time for the Illinois game and Snyder threw him out on the court where he struggled.
Pulley and Conley will have the Greensboro game under their belts before playing the Illini three nights later. Another difference between this year's midseason additions and Bryant's situation is that Pulley and Conley have been able to practice with the Tigers.
Snyder reiterated that Conley has been a part of the team the past 12 months. He also has Division I experience -- albeit at a low-major level. Synder isn't worried about the chemistry of this squad by adding two players who will command major minutes. The Tigers knew coming in that Conley would be one of the top perimeter players off the bench, while Pulley will likely be the top backup at the point to McKinney.
Like Missouri, Georgia Tech is already a team playing well and doesn't necessarily need to tinker with what's working so well. But the Yellow Jackets added former Arizona guard Will Bynum (six points, three assists in 18 minutes in Saturday's win over Saint Louis).
Yes, the Yellow Jackets were already loaded on the perimeter with B.J. Elder, Isma'il Muhammed and Jarrett Jack. But Bynum, a scoring guard, will certainly give the Yellow Jackets even more depth. He just has to accept his role and not come in and try to be a star.
The pressure is off him, just like it is for Conley and Pulley.
"Will has been great," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "He has watched us be successful and isn't doing anything dramatic. He just wants to fit in, and it has been great for Jarrett Jack for practice. He adds more ballhandling, better pressure on the ball, and he will free up B.J. Elder to be a big-time scorer. "There is going to be a certain amount of rust. Will's handle wasn't as tight. It's a matter of getting back in game shape. He got winded at the end Saturday. Not sure if that's nerves."
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Cincinnati, meanwhile, adds James White for Friday's game against Middle Tennessee State, after the former Florida guard serves a one-game suspension for an unsanctioned summer league game (he'll miss the Clemson game Wednesday). White, who is being heralded by the staff as having the highest basketball IQ on the team, could come in and be a perfect fit for the undefeated Bearcats. He, too, doesn't have to be a big-time scorer, but if he runs the floor, defends and rebounds, he'll play plenty of minutes.
And, in case you're wondering, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins isn't fretting about White fitting in with the Bearcats.
"I don't soothe egos," Huggins said. "Our guys play who are ready to play. It will be his first game and everybody else's sixth, or eighth with exhibition games. But we always play a bunch of people, so it's not a big deal."
But Huggins did schedule this season with White's eligibility in mind, backloading the schedule and not playing Dayton until the end of the month. He also didn't hesitate when television wanted to push the Wake Forest and Xavier games into February.
But the onus won't be on White to come in and take over, either. That will, however, be the case at New Mexico where the Lobos add Bradley guard Danny Granger and Portland State transfer Troy DeVries. Both are expected to immediately come in and help the Lobos offensively. But, no matter how big of an affect they have, they're not expected to lead this team into the postseason.
Each of these cases is different from the one Louisville faced last season when Marvin Stone left Kentucky and was expected to arrive in Freedom Hall as the Cardinals' main man inside. He, too, was eligible in mid-December for his senior year. But the emphasis on Stone's contributions was so much more than it'll be for Conley, Pulley, Bynum or White.
Stone didn't disappoint with 19 points and 11 rebounds in his opening game against Eastern Kentucky. He scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards in a win over Kentucky. He finished with 12 double-figure games and four double-doubles, although he had only two points in an NCAA Tournament loss to Butler.
The biggest concern about mid-season transfers is if these players think they can come in and do too much, too soon. That was the case in Memphis, where Billy Richmond thought he would come in and be an instant hit. The Vanderbilt transfer was an erratic scorer last season, averaging just over eight points in 23 games.
"The guys who sit out always look like All-Americans because they're on the second team," Calipari said. "They're the ones always shooting the ball. They're the only guy out there on that team. It's not easy for them when they have to move to the first team. Billy struggled with that intensity level."
Conley said he'll be anxious but isn't worried about jumping up a level of play. He has been studying his team during games, trying to see where he would fit in.
"I just know that it's my time now," Conley said. "It's my time to play."
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