Rock Chalk Weekly: Rich Bloodlines
Written by Casey Craig, Kansas Communications Student Assistant
If you ever find yourself at an athletic competition and you see a Conley family member listed amongst the participants, prepare yourself for a battle. The immediate family includes an Olympic gold medalist, NBA point guard and an NCAA All-American long jumper. Not many families can boast those credentials. Kansas Jayhawk senior long jumper and track star Sydney Conley is the latter of this star-studded group, who has achieved success on the high school, club, collegiate, professional and even world stage.
Conley’s father, Mike Conley, Sr., competed in the long jump and triple jump and garnered much success, while representing the United States. He won gold in the triple jump during the 1992 Olympic Games and still owns the American and world indoor triple jump record at 17.76 meters (58-3.25 ft.), a record that has stood for over 28 years. At the University of Arkansas, Conley won 16 NCAA National Championships from 1983-85 in the indoor and outdoor long jump. As his daughter, Sydney, began competing in athletics, she found herself being drawn to the same sport and eventually even one of the same events in which her father became a national star.
“For me it really started to take off in middle school,” Sydney said. “I was doing basketball and track then. In track, it started when I realized that I was pretty good in track and I stood out a lot better than I did in basketball. When I got into high school, I was still playing basketball and track, but then I started getting noticed by different colleges. I thought then that I should start to take track as seriously as I could, so I ended up quitting basketball my senior year to focus solely on track.”
Sydney is also related to current Kansas track head coach Stanley Redwine, who is married to Sydney’s aunt Jacque and has known Sydney’s parents since his college days at Arkansas. Redwine watched Sydney grow up and immediately recognized her potential as she began competing in middle school and high school.
“As she became better and better in track we just knew she was going to be good,” said Redwine. “She’s very talented and also very competitive. Obviously, when you see a talent like that you aren’t going to try and push her somewhere else. We tried everything that we could to get her to come here and, fortunately, she did.”
Despite calling him “Uncle” for all of her life, Sydney says their relationship on the track is like she would have with any coach.
“In the beginning during the recruiting process, I was against playing for him,” said Sydney. “When I got here though, I was just another athlete to Coach Redwine. Half of the team doesn’t know he’s my uncle. It’s also nice to have him as a coach, because if anything were to happen family-wise, he my aunt and cousins would be there for me.”
Redwine echoed Sydney’s sentiment when he described the dual nature of their relationship.
“Yes, she is my niece and I think she’s a great person and a great student, but she’s a member on the team and I’m not a believer in favoritism at all,” said Redwine. “Her event coach is Wayne Pate, so that makes it a little easier since I’m not working with her on a daily basis. She’s still my niece, though, and she always will be.”
Anyone who competes at the club level of sports growing up knows how much of a commitment it can be, not only from an athletic standpoint, but from an endurance one due to all of the traveling. The Conley’s were no exception. Sydney’s older brother, Mike Conley, Jr., has played basketball his whole life and Sydney often traveled with him.
“We would always travel a lot when we were young, because my brother played AAU basketball,” said Sydney. “I just grew up around it and it was no big deal to me.”
At Lawrence North High School (Indianapolis, Indiana) Mike, Jr., won three state championships, finished second in voting for the Indiana Mr. Basketball Award and was named a McDonald’s All-American before choosing to play for Ohio State University. In his only year at Ohio State, Mike, Jr., averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.1 assists per game in a successful year for the Buckeyes. The entire Conley family traveled to Atlanta for the 2007 Final Four and National Championship.
“I was in sixth or seventh grade at the time, so it wasn’t really a big deal for me at the time as it was for him,” said Sydney. “For me it was another just game, another National Title. He had been winning nationals and championships from sixth grade all the way through college. The game was in Atlanta, so it was just another place to travel. Now that I’m older I realize how big of a deal it was for him to reach the National Title.”
As a professional in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Mike, Jr., has become a regular fixture for the Memphis Grizzlies as their point guard. Over his eight-year career for the Grizzlies he has appeared in 549 games, averaging 32.7 minutes, 5.6 assists and 13.4 points per game. This season, he scored a career-high 36 points in a 120-115 overtime win verses the Philadelphia 76ers and has been averaging 17.9 point-per game.
“I really do admire him for everything that he has done from the aspect of reaching his dreams and becoming a professional athlete,” said Sydney. “He did all of the little things, like getting up at 6a.m., to go shooting and that’s why he is where he is right now. I just hope I can be half of what he is in track.”
Like her brother Mike, Jr., Sydney demonstrates the same work ethic that has led both of them to success on the athletic stage.
“Track and field is an encompassing sport where everything matters,” said Conley. “It’s not only working hard on the track but off the track as well dieting, drinking water and getting a lot of sleep. When I started, I didn’t take some of those things seriously. Now though, especially with the World Championships and the Olympics coming up, every little thing matters. If I can get in the cycle of doing these things I know I’ll get better and progress.”
Sydney’s elevated focus on the smaller details has already established her as one of the top-collegiate long jumpers in the nation. After the first half of her KU career, which saw her earn first team All-America status on two occasions as well as a pair of Big 12 runner-up finishes, Sydney’s sights are set even higher. Her future goals include winning NCAA titles and eventually competing on the world stage. She knows that, to attain these goals, she will need to take her athletic career, year-by-year, meet-by-meet and jump-by-jump. This all begins with her season in 2015.
“For the indoor season, to be straightforward I just want to win it,” explained Conley of her goals in 2015. “The competition is always stacked year in and year out, but there is no one this year I haven’t competed, jumped against, beaten or beaten by in the past. I feel like this year is anyone’s year and I just want to go out there and win the long jump. In the sprints, I want to get my 60 time down. For the outdoor season it’s the same. I have to go out there and get it.
Along with Mike, Jr., Sydney serves as a role model to her other siblings. She has two other brothers, Jordan and Jon, who both have some noteworthy achievements in high school athletics. Jordan competed in track and Jon is currently a freshman in high school playing football and running track. With so many world-class athletes living under one roof, competitions can get fierce. When the Conley children get together for a pickup game, the family’s competitive nature will undoubtedly make it a little heated.
“A lot of the time, especially with me and my brothers, we liked to talk brashly,” said Sydney. “We all like to talk a big game, more so when it’s about sports. For instance, I got into an argument with Mike, Jr., that track and field is a much harder sport to practice for than basketball. I said, ‘You don’t even practice anymore.’ I was giving him a hard time and he denied it. We like to butt heads a lot. “
Each of the Conley children have chosen athletics like their father, but each has put their own unique and personal characteristic into carrying on this family tradition. Unlike her father, Sydney loves to compete in sprinting events and Mike, Jr., has become an outstanding NBA point guard. Sydney carries this attitude of making it her own with the hope of carving out her own niche in the family trade.
“It’s a great honor,” Sydney concluded. “I don’t like to think about it too much, because I don’t want to worry about the pressure of doing good, because my dad did this and my brother did that. I just try to focus on what I have to do and what I need to do. If success comes from that and the whole family thing comes after, then I’m totally fine with that. As long as I’m trying to represent the family the best way I know how by doing my own thing, then that is all I can ask for.”
If there was such a thing as an athletic gene, it would surely show up in the Conley’s DNA. With all of their success, Redwine sums up the family perfectly in just eight words: “They’re just an athletic and great family.”
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