Conley, Oden linked by winning streak

Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:42 p.m.

ATLANTA It was an awkward initial meeting that eventually blossomed into a very close friendship.

Greg Oden was a gawky kid trying to grow into an oversized 12-year-old body while stumbling through basketball in those goofy rec specs, while Mike Conley Jr., was Indianapolis' confident sixth-grade super-stud point guard. Eventually, they would win 103 of 110 games and three state titles together at Lawrence North High School. And tonight, as freshmen, they will lead Ohio State (35-3) into the national championship game against defending champion Florida (34-5) at the Georgia Dome.

However, sitting down playing video games that first night ...

"We ignored each other," Conley said. "We didn't talk."

The times and the roles changed through the years.

As expected, Conley, the son of the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, developed into one of the nation's top prep point guards.

Not that anyone noticed.

That's because Oden continued to grow in stature and skill, the latter in great part due to daily 5 a.m. workout sessions that helped him improve his footwork, coordination and post moves. Along the way, he became more confident in himself, and every college coach, national magazine and scouting guru in the nation wanted to know more about the manchild folks in Indianapolis were calling the next Shaq.

Even with Lawrence North coach Jack Kiefer telling anyone who would listen "we can win without the big guy, but not the little guy," the attention continued to be showered on the 7-foot Oden. Conley was so much of an afterthought he once received a recruiting letter from then-Indiana coach Mike Davis meant for another player (not Oden).

At one point, Oden went to Conley, who had become one of his best friends, and made a suggestion.

"Mike, maybe you might want to sign somewhere different than I do," said Oden, the Gatorade national player of the year as a senior. "You deserve to be somewhere where you can get all the recognition."

Conley considered it, but decided he enjoyed playing with Oden and liked coach Thad Matta and the system he employed.

And quite a few times this year, Kiefer's words have proven correct.

Such was the case in Saturday night's 67-60 national semifinal victory against Georgetown, when AP first-team All-American Oden (15.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg) was saddled with foul trouble that limited him to 13 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes total (less than three in the first half).

Meanwhile, the 6-1 Conley was the biggest factor in the game, scoring 15 points, dishing out six assists, grabbing five rebounds and perhaps biggest of all, turning the ball over just once.

But they'll need both to beat the Gators and extend their streak of title wins to five a streak that began as high school sophomores and now includes the Big 10 Tournament championship.

"We've made it through a lot of tests," said Conley, who averages 11.1 points and 6.6 assists. "Hopefully, we can get through this one.

"We've talked about doing this together for years."

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