Conroy's Tulsa time a bus stop away from NBA
Seattle Times staff reporter
Where are they now?
Will Conroy: Playing for the Tulsa 66ers in the National Basketball Association Developmental League.
Nate Robinson: Playing for the New York Knicks and averaging 8.3 points per game, again coming off the bench after a brief run as a starter.
Hakeem Rollins: Finishing up his degree at UW, he should graduate in June, with plans to then find a job playing overseas.
Tre Simmons: Playing for PAOK Marfin in Thessaloniki, Greece. The team plays in the Greece A-1 League. Averaged 10.3 points in his first six games. Had brief stints in France and Italy as well, interrupted by knee problems, before finding a home in Greece, where he will play through early next month.
A year ago this week, Will Conroy had one of his greatest moments as a collegian, leading a late Washington rally as the Huskies won at Oregon in front of a raucous 9,087 at Mac Court.
Huskies players and coaches referred to it from then on as the game "where Will took over."
But as the Huskies prepare to return to Eugene for their annual trip Thursday night, Conroy is instead holed up in Tulsa, Okla., where tonight he will play for the hometown 66ers in a National Basketball Association Developmental League game against Roanoke. If it's a good night, maybe 2,000 will be in the stands.
"It's nothing like it used to be, I'll tell you that," said Conroy, a backup point guard for the 66ers. "I really, really miss school."
Just how much Conroy loved it at UW was evident the day he played his final game at Edmundson Pavilion last February and kissed the floor on his way out.
But trudging through the D-League, taking five-hour bus rides to play in front of crowds the size of those that waited outside Hec Ed just to get in for big games, is the price Conroy is paying for a shot at achieving his dream of playing in the NBA.
It's a shot that's tantalizingly close to reality as Conroy has put up some big numbers in recent games for Tulsa, especially during a several-week stint as the team's starting point guard when John Lucas was called up to the Houston Rockets.
When Lucas was away, Conroy averaged 16 points, six assists and almost nine rebounds in 13 games as a starter, including one night when he posted 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Now that Lucas is back, Conroy is again a reserve. But not before opening some eyes.
"I think he's gotten noticed," said Tulsa coach Joey Meyer, formerly the coach at DePaul. "We've had a lot of teams inquire about him. But there's a big difference between inquiring and calling up."
Just one of many lessons Conroy — one of four scholarship players from last year's UW team now trying to find their way in life after college — is learning on the run.
All four of last year's seniors have taken different paths since leaving UW.
Nate Robinson was a first-round draft pick and is playing for the New York Knicks, already guaranteed of making millions of dollars.
Tre Simmons, who went undrafted and then was cut as a free agent by the Sonics, is playing in Greece, having decided for now that his best long-term option is overseas, where lots of American players make comfortable livings.
Hakeem Rollins is still in school — he sat in the stands behind the UW bench during Saturday's win over UCLA — finishing up his degree, with plans to head overseas to play once he has graduated.
Conroy, who signed with the Lakers as a free agent and was released before the season began, decided to play in the D-League, having determined that to be the quickest route to the NBA.
"Everybody tells me the best idea is to stick around here," Conroy said.
But it's all been a vast change from a year ago, when he was leading the hometown Huskies to one of the best seasons in school history.
Not only does he miss Seattle, but he's had to adjust to a completely different vibe in the D-League, where many players inevitably care more about getting noticed than winning, though he has made some friends, particularly former USC Trojan Desmon Farmer, with whom he shares an apartment.
And most of the fans who come to the games want to see Lucas, who played at nearby Oklahoma State.
"He's had to mature in a hurry," said Conroy's mother, Renee.
His basketball skills also appear to be growing up.
He knows that NBA scouts have questioned his ability to hit the open jumper.
But Meyer says Conroy's shooting has been a strength — he's making 48 percent overall and 33 percent from three-point range.
"I told him the real key is his shooting percentage, his assist-to-turnover ratio and his defense," Meyer said. "I think he's done those things."
Still, Conroy waits eagerly for an NBA team to call, which he hopes may come after the trade deadline Feb. 23.
He'd love it to come from a familiar area code.
"What's really frustrating is that the Sonics won't give me a chance to come home," he said. "They say they need a backup point guard but they won't even give me a 10-day call-up. I don't understand it."
Other than seeing Bob Weiss at a few of his games, he said he hasn't heard a word from the Sonics.
So for now, he waits, bracing for that bus ride to Austin on Saturday.
"It's not a lot of fun, man," Conroy said. "But you've got to make the best of it."
• Coach Lorenzo Romar said UW's starting lineup will remain the same, with Mike Jensen at forward.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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