FAYETTEVILLE – It's been five years since Mike Conley, Jr., left Fayetteville and moved to Indianapolis with his Olympic gold-medal winning dad, a former University of Arkansas track standout and former Razorback basketball player.
Conley has grown from a 11-year old little guy who used to shoot after Arkansas' basketball practices and be a ball boy for games into a 6-1 point guard and 16-year-old who is one of the nation's best junior basketball prospects.
"There is a lot of things I recognize, but also a lot of things that have gotten better," Conley said. "It's really amazing how the football stadium has changed and how it's just bigger and better around here. I've really enjoyed being back, seeing my friends and just taking back in everything."
Conley and 7-0, 240-pound Greg Oden, his Indianapolis (Ind.) North High School and Spiece Indy Heat AAU teammate and the nation's top ranked junior, are taking in the sights this weekend in Fayetteville along with Mike's dad of the same name.
The duo – on hand with Mike Conley, Sr. and other members of the family - took in basketball practice on Saturday afternoon and were excited about going to the Razorbacks' football game with Georgia on Saturday night.
"Mainly I just wanted to bring Mike back – and Greg, too – and let them see the University of Arkansas and give it a chance to be on their minds," Conley, Sr. said. "I like them to be able to go out and see places. This is really the last visit they will have before their season starts. After the season's over, it's almost time for them to commit in this day and age."
Little Mike has admitted he has thought about how great it would be to play in a Razorback uniform.
"That's something that I have always dreamed about when I was growing up," Conley said. "I guess we'll just have to see how it all works out, but I certainly can see myself doing that."
He's amazed at how big old friend and current Razorback sophomore Ronnie Brewer (6-7, 210) has gotten.
"We used to be about the same size, he was a little taller," Conley said. "But he's gotten big. Maybe I'll shoot up and get big like that."
Oden is visiting colleges even as many experts are already projecting he will be the top pick in the 2006 NBA draft unless the league institutes a proposed rule that will establish a minimum age of 20 to be drafted.
"I am just trying to keep humble and not to get the big head," Oden said. "I don't think I am anywhere near developed enough for the NBA so I can't see myself doing that. If I develop I will see what happens, but right now all I am thinking about is going to college. I'm just working hard and let what happens, happens. That's all I can control right now."
He's been impressed so far with his visit to Arkansas.
"I haven't got to see a lot of the campus yet, but they have a great arena and great facilities," Oden said. "I'm looking forward to finding out a lot more about them."
The trio will be back next April 15-17 when the Fayetteville hosts an AAU tournament featuring 32 of the nation's top AAU squad. The elder Conley coaches the pair on his Spiece Indy Heat summer team.
"It is going to be just great basketball after great basketball every game – just the best of the best," Conley said. "The good thing about summer basketball teams is they like to compete against each other and want to play the best of the best. It's going to be a select invited bunch."
It's not a stretch to say that most of the Top 100 players of the 2006 class will appear on the court next spring at Bud Walton Arena.
"It's going to be very exciting," Conley said. "Obviously we have got one of – if not the – best team in the country and everybody wants to play us and it looks like all the best teams and all the best players are all going to be here in Fayetteville. What a lot of people don't realize is this is one of the best arenas in the country and all the top players and coaches will get a chance to see the facility."
Since it is an open period, the nation's top coaches will be on hand as well for an event that will also have games at Fayetteville High and Ramay Junior High.
"It's an open period for the college coaches and it's early in the year," Conley said. "College coaches will be coming from all over."
The younger Conley is looking forward to playing in the tournament at Bud Walton Arena.
"I played in this arena for many years just playing around and not really playing a real game and it's going to be real interesting to come back here and actually play a game next year," Conley said. "I can't wait."
Conley and Oden have taken unofficial visits to Indiana, Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State and Michigan State.
"I'm looking for a good atmosphere," Oden said. "If I can see a good atmosphere and coaches and assistant coaches, then it's a place I will consider because I will feel comfortable there."
The elder Conley says he gets a phone call every time a story comes out on his son and doesn't include Arkansas on his list for some reason or the other.
"When you go different places, whoever does the interview always spins their way to say that school is on top," Conley said. "That's part of it. But I can tell you for sure, Arkansas is part of the mix. That's why we are here."
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