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VOL. 129 | NO. 108 | Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Teeing Off

Grizzlies players, former coach talk hoops at golf tourney pro-am

By Don Wade

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Everyone was in a good mood. Not just normally affable Grizzlies players Mike Conley and Mike Miller, but former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown, a couple of hard-nosed throwback types.

Mike Conley tees off at the eighth hole at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic Danny Thomas Pro-Am. He joined other Grizzlies players and celebrities in the annual benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

But it was, after all, the Danny Thomas Pro-Am to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at the start of FedEx St. Jude Classic week at TPC Southwind.

“It’s St. Jude, it’s FedEx, it’s what Memphis is,” Miller said. “Play a little golf and see some of these guys that really know how to play golf. It’s fun.”

After Hollins finished practicing his putting, reporters asked if he had a few minutes to talk.

Smiling, Hollins said, “As long as you don’t ask about coaching jobs.”

Hollins reportedly has interviewed with the Los Angeles Lakers and is also a candidate for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coaching position.

When Conley and Miller saw Hollins on the putting green, they greeted him warmly. Hollins said he played golf with Conley a couple of weeks ago and runs into Conley, Miller and Zach Randolph from time to time and still gets texts from former Grizzlies, including Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.

“It’s about relationships,” Hollins said. “It’s about what you develop outside basketball. I care about them. They care about me. We accomplished a lot. And it’s always fun to see those guys.”

While Hollins has been waiting for his next opportunity since the Grizzlies didn’t bring him back after a team-record 56 wins and first-ever trip to the Western Conference Finals in the 2012-2013 season, this offseason saw even more upheaval as controlling owner Robert Pera gave team CEO Jason Levien and player personnel director Stu Lash the boot. Then came the news that first-year coach Dave Joerger would interview with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

When everything settled, Joerger was back with the Grizzlies and in possession of a contract extension and Pera and Joerger appeared to have a full-on bromance after their first in-depth one-on-one conversation.

Players, at least initially, were left watching from afar just like fans were.

“It was surprising for everybody,” Conley said of the changes. “Nobody expected that. I’m just happy that Joerger’s back and that we can find some stability and just go forward.”

Said Miller: “At the end of the day, you play for the guys in the locker room, you play for the city.”

Although in Miller’s case, it’s not certain he will be here going forward. A free agent, he said he wants to return to Memphis but that there has not been much discussion on that front. He also said other teams have reached out to his agent.

“They’re committed to win here,” Miller said. “Like I said, I want to be back. It’s basically up to them.”

After the season ended, and before the tumult started, Conley expressed confidence that Randolph would return to the team, possibly with a contract extension; Randolph also can pick up a player option for next season or test the free-agent market.

“Yeah, I’m still confident,” Conley said. “As long as Zach wants to be here – and I think he does – we’ll make something work.”

Center Marc Gasol can become a free agent after next season. Conley said they spoke multiple times as the front office changes were happening and that players were reaching out to one another.

“We all had our own questions,” Conley said. “We’d call each other and text each other and see what everybody was thinking and see if anybody knew anything because we were all trying to figure it out.”

Pera hasn’t been a big presence in Memphis to this point, but Conley expects that will change.

“It’s really like this year will be his first real season as owner (to) be hands-on and interact with people,” Conley said.

Brown, 78, called St. Jude a “tremendous charity” and said age has forced him to become a “short-game expert. When you get old, you can’t hit it long so you go to the short game.”

From 1957 to 1965, Brown ran through NFL defenses with the Cleveland Browns. He says he is looking forward to meeting the team’s recent first-round draft pick out of Texas A&M, quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“Exciting, talented young man, a lot of personality,” Brown said. “He’s gonna bring some life to Cleveland. I like him. A lot of people don’t like him, the fact he speaks up, but he’s a winner.”

The 57th FESJC tees off Thursday morning and the field includes well-known players such as Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Patrick Reed, Geoff Ogilvy and Lee Westwood, plus last year’s champion Harris English.

Cordova native Zachary Olsen received a sponsor’s exemption into the field after playing in the NCAA Championship Final, where his Oklahoma State Cowboys lost 4-1 in match play to Alabama. Fan favorite John Daly also received an exemption.

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