Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Joe prepares for draft with assist from Conleys
Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe (1) runs the ball down the court during the second half of the Razorbacks' 72-68 win over Valparaiso on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE — Isaiah Joe has spent the past week in Columbus, Ohio, working out with Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley Jr.
Conley, a Fayetteville native who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 Draft by Memphis after his freshman season at Ohio State, has a full-court gym, weight room and training room in his house.
“Every second I’ve been up here with Mike has been great,” said Joe, a former star at Fort Smith Northside and the University of Arkansas. “He’s definitely somebody I look up to as a role model.”
Conley is going into his 14th NBA season, including the first 12 with Memphis. He has career averages of 14.9 points, 5.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds.
Where will Joe go?
Here are some mock drafts that project where former Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe will be selected tonight. Some mock drafts also list former Razorback guard Mason Jones. The draft lasts two rounds with 60 picks:
34 Joe (Philadelphia 76ers)
57 Jones (Los Angeles Clippers)
49 Joe (Philadelphia 76ers)
58 Jones (Philadelphia 76ers)
35 Joe (Sacramento Kings)
52 Jones (Sacramento Kings)
28 Joe (Oklahoma City Thunder)
GARY PARRISH CBS SPORTS
39 Joe (New York Knicks)
44 Joe (Chicago Bulls)
49 Jones (Philadelphia 76ers)
40 Joe (Memphis Grizzlies)
43 Jones (Sacramento Kings)
“Mike’s a great basketball player, and he’s an even better person,” Joe said. “I’ve learned a lot from him being up here. We’ve been getting in the work every day.”
Joe is getting ready to join Conley in the NBA.
The 2020 NBA Draft, pushed back five months because of the coronavirus pandemic, will begin at 6 tonight and have two rounds with 60 selections.
Joe, a 6-5 guard who entered the draft after his sophomore season at Arkansas, is projected as a second-round pick in most mock drafts.
Mike Conley Sr., a former Arkansas track and field star who is Joe’s agent and the father of Conley Jr., didn’t completely rule out Joe from being a late first-round pick, but said he most likely will go early in the second round.
“The first round is a possibility,” Conley Sr. said. “If a team wants to make a trade to jump ahead of everybody to a spot late in the first round to make sure they get Isaiah, yeah maybe. But he’s solid in the 30s or so in the second round.”
Joe will have a small watch party with his family and friends at a new fitness center owned by Steve Conley, a former Arkansas and NFL defensive end who is Conley Sr.’s younger brother.
ESPN will have a camera at the watch party, Conley Sr. said, so it’s possible Joe and his family and friends will be shown during the draft telecast as they wait for his name to be called.
“I think it’s exciting to make it this far and finally have the draft,” Joe said. “We know I’m going to have a future in the league. Right now it’s just about waiting for my moment. This is a dream for me, and it’s beginning to come true. Just to go through this process with my family, it’s truly a blessing.”
Joe could be one of two former Razorbacks drafted tonight along with Mason Jones, a 6-5 guard who is projected as a late second-round pick in some mock drafts.
“As far as where they’re going to go, nobody knows,” said Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman, a former NBA head coach with Golden State and Sacramento, and assistant with Orlando, Atlanta and Memphis. “I’ve been in draft rooms where a GM has promised 13 different players that they’re going to draft them prior to the draft, and they only had one draft pick.
“That means 12 guys were told something that never happened. So, mocks are really good in the lottery. Mock drafts are pretty good in the first round. Mock drafts in the second round are meaningless.”
As a freshman at Arkansas, Joe averaged 13.9 points and hit a school-record 113 three-point baskets in 273 attempts (41.3%).
Last season, Joe missed six games because of a right knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery, but he still led the SEC in three-point baskets with 94 in 275 attempts (34.2%) from the NCAA’s deeper line and averaged 16.9 points. He hit 81 of 91 free throws (89.0%).
Jones, who entered the draft after his junior year, averaged 22.0 points to lead the conference and was The Associated Press co-SEC Player of the Year with Mississippi State forward Reggie Perry.
Jones led the nation in free throws made and attempted — 233 of 282 for 82.6% — and shot 35.1% on three-pointers (68 of 194). He also averaged 5.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists to lead the Razorbacks.
“I think both Isaiah and Mason will get drafted,” Musselman said. “Where that is, I don’t know.
“For Isaiah, teams are really intrigued by his perimeter shooting and depth with his range. With Mason, I think his ability to draw free throws attempted and create off the bounce.
“I think both guys have helped themselves because people have gone back and watched a lot of video. That’s helped both guys [for NBA teams] to see how they played in game situations.
“Some guys have moved down in the draft when teams have started focusing on game film, and some players across the country have moved up. I think both guys have moved up in some of the NBA eyes, based on those scouts and general managers really diving into more video.”
Joe said he believes Conley Sr.’s estimate that he’ll be picked in the 30s is a good take, but that it’s impossible to know for sure.
“When it comes to the draft boards, I really don’t look at that a lot because when it comes to draft day, there are a lot of trades that go on,” Joe said. “You just never know what’s going to happen.
“But getting picked anywhere is still an opportunity. All I need is an opportunity on a team that really values my skill set, and we’re going to go from there.”
Conley Sr. said NBA teams knew before the pre-draft process about Joe’s shooting and perimeter defense, but how well he handles the ball has surprised them.
“I think I am an underrated ball-handler,” Joe said. “I definitely can handle the ball in a lot of situations.
“I had the ball in my hands a lot playing for the U of A this past season. Some teams told me, ‘We may need you to bring the ball up the court a few times,’ so I’m definitely able to do that.”
After Joe underwent knee surgery in February, he had a second minor procedure in June.
“They had to clean up something that was floating in there,” Conley Sr. said. “That set Isaiah back a little bit working out wise, but he’s worked hard to get back and do the things he needed to show teams.”
Joe said his knee is now 100%.
“The draft getting postponed kind of worked in my favor,” he said. “The extra time let my knee fully recover. I’ve been working out full throttle for a while now.”
In addition to being represented by Mike Conley Sr. and practicing with Mike Conley Jr., Joe also has been lifting weights supervised by Steve Conley.
“With the Conley family, it’s a package deal,” Joe said with a laugh. “They’ve all been great for me.”
Joe said Conley Jr. has helped him work on a floater to improve his touch around the basket and also has answered his questions about the decision-making process during games.
“I think I’ve made huge strides working out with him,” Joe said. “Picking his brain from a point guard standpoint is really going to help me see the floor better and slow the game down for me.”
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