Conley Sr. has high hopes for new career
The Ohio State freshmen will continue to blaze new territory when one, likely two and possibly all three of them sign with an untested, but familiar face in Mike Conley Sr. as their agent.
Conley, a former Olympic gold medal-winning track and field star in the 1992 Barcelona Games, is embarking on a new career filled with massive egos and plenty of gossip and behind-the-back sniping at a time when there is a new era of megadeals off the court.
On Sunday, Conley left for Beijing, where he will be a part of the Chicago 2016 Committee. There the goal is to help bring major sporting events to the Windy City, to build contacts and learn more about the International Olympic Committee and international sports federations, as well as corporate marketing.
When he returns, he said he's expecting to meet with Greg Oden and his family to officially sign the 7-foot-1 Ohio State freshman and likely No. 1 pick in the June NBA draft. According to a number of sources, no one associated with the draft can remember a No. 1 draft pick in the NBA going with a brand-new agent. Conley was recently certified as an agent and opened Mac Management Group, based in Chicago.
At some point in the next few months, though probably not until after the June 18 deadline to withdraw from the draft, Conley will likely sign his son. Mike Conley Jr. is projected as a top-10 pick, likely to be the first point guard taken overall thanks to his stellar play in the NCAA Tournament.
And if another Ohio State standout, Daequan Cook, gets a good vibe that he'll go in the first round, then he too could sign with his teammate's father. Conley Sr. said his son didn't realize he was a lottery pick until someone mentioned it to him the day before the national title game against Florida in Atlanta. He said his son plans to attend the Orlando pre-draft camp May 29-June 1 for a physical only, like Oden, but that Cook will play in the event to increase his stock.
"As far as Michael is concerned, his mind is set on training [for the draft] and he's planning on playing in the NBA next year," Conley Sr. said before he left for China. "That's where his mind-set is. Daequan is in a different situation. He has to improve his stock. He's gearing up and wants to show what he can do. His mind-set is that he's in but he definitely plans on going to Orlando. I'm hoping Mike doesn't have to play there."
But the most interesting question going forward is how Conley Sr. is going to handle being Oden's agent.
One high-profile agent, who requested not to be identified, said there are a number of issues Conley Sr. will have to face in this new world of opportunities for a top pick.
Among the issues will securing a life insurance policy for the expected top pick, how he handles signing the contract before summer league starts to protect Oden against potential injury and the numerous marketing aspects that are constantly evolving. Those include ensuring that a player's likeness isn't sold completely, especially with respect to digital media, in order to preserve opportunities in the mobile telephone market.
"When someone is at that magnitude in this LeBron-Carmelo era, there is a lot of stuff you want to protect when it comes to likeness, imaging and the globalization," the agent said. "You need to know what kind of royalty information is out there when you're signing a sneaker deal."
With the salary set for the top picks every year in the draft, the issue for an agent isn't about the contract with the team. It's the outside deals that are critical.
Because Oden is a center and not a guard or forward, he won't get a huge shoe deal, certainly not like what Kevin Durant could receive, according to a number of sources in the shoe business. The key, though, will be for Conley Sr. to hire a marketing whiz to help him where there are deficiencies. And that's exactly what Conley Sr. is planning on doing.
"I'm going to partner at some level in the near future," said Conley Sr., 44. "That's always been my plan. I will form a relationship at some level with an existing agency or a marketing firm."
Conley Sr. said he decided five years ago that he would get into representing players but only recently went in the agent business. He coached the Spiece Indy Heat, an AAU team, that featured the trio during their high school careers. So he had a pre-existing relationship that was only natural to continue once he decided to become an agent.
"I used to dabble in the business with the track and field [federation], and was the first to write the certification program over the agent program for the sport of track and field," said Conley Sr., who represents the city of Chicago as the executive director of World Sports Chicago, which is trying to bring sporting events to the city with the biggest goal of getting the Olympics. "I represented myself when I competed, too."
The one thing that Conley Sr. has that no one can criticize is his closeness with the Ohio State trio.
"If there was ever a person to take on a venture like this it's Mike," said Sonny Vaccaro, the former grassroots basketball shoe czar. "He's going to do good things for Greg. They won't be easily recognized now but they will. Greg will be the perfect first client for him and Mike has negotiated contracts before -- in track and field. Mike Jr. will be more difficult because it's his son and he'll want what's best for him and he'll want to max everything. Daequan won't go high enough for a marketing need. It's all perfect for him.
"He has a No. 1 pick, a midrange lottery pick and one that is possibly in the first round," Vaccaro said. "He's probably one of the most personable, likable and honorable people I've met. I knew he was thinking about this for a while. And he also has this going for him -- his clients totally believe in him."
Vaccaro said he doesn't buy that Oden isn't marketable, something that Conley Sr. agrees with, too. Vaccaro said Oden won't command the same numbers that Durant will with sneaker companies but that Oden will still get big-time endorsement deals from cell phone and sports drinks companies.
"It's not fair to compare him to other No. 1 picks like LeBron," Vaccaro said.
Conley Sr. added that the dream scenario would be for Oden to land in Boston where the Bill Russell comparisons are ongoing. The Celtics have the second best chance at the No. 1 picks behind Memphis, which has the most Ping-Pong in the lottery based on their league-worst record.
"We're in the process of laying out [the game plan for Oden]," Conley Sr. said. "He's the next generation of a big man. He's a center who wants to be a center with great athletic ability. Greg is going to be unique.
"Greg has a lot of personality and he's a great kid," Conley Sr. said of the perception that Oden is quiet and introverted. "He's a great dancer. He loves to have fun. He'll be what every mom would want. He's not shy with the media, either. He's just very focused and has paid attention to the things he's been told to do. I'm not concerned with Greg."
Conley Sr. said he is overjoyed that his son is on the fast track to the NBA, even if he is surprised it happened so quickly. He figured it would take another year of seasoning in the college ranks, but when he saw the point guards who were available in this year's draft, he realized that his son could be the first one taken. As it turns out, Mike Conley Jr. is likely a high lottery pick.
So, Conley Sr. has plenty on his plate, but he says he can handle it all and eventually will get help as he embarks on one of the more challenging tasks of his life -- representing the No. 1 pick, his son and likely their longtime good friend, who will have to struggle a bit more to keep up with his friends, classmates and teammates.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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