Bill Reynolds: PC's dream weaver
01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, October 25, 2005
PROVIDENCE -- He is 37 now, and it's been 15 years since he left Providence College, a basketball odyssey that has taken him around the world. Marty Conlon, nearing the end of a career no one ever could have envisioned back when he first came to PC as a young player trying to catch up to his dreams.
What were the odds back there at PC that Conlon would go on to play nine years in the NBA?
What were the odds that Conlon would go on to be one of the best success stories in the last quarter of a century of PC basketball?
Back there 15 years ago, they were as high as a long jumper.
"I know how fortunate I've been," be says.
Conlon no longer is the wide-eyed innocent he was when he first came here in the fall of 1986, back when the 3-point shot was new, and no one had ever heard of rap music, never mind most of the people who now play in the NBA. He's come to know that who makes it in professional basketball and who doesn't can be as mysterious as chance, as elusive as dreams. That it often comes down to being in the right place at the right time. That, and hard work, of course. And Conlon always had that, ever since he first came here as a gangly 6-foot-10 freshman as part of Rick Pitino's first recruiting class. That and his dreams. He always had those, too.
"I always had faith in my ability," he says. "I always felt I had game. The
problem was, I was probably the only guy who felt that way."
Conlon had starred on two Friar teams that went to the NCAA Tournament, right there with Eric Murdock and Carlton Screen. But even then he wasn't drafted by the NBA. That, too, became part of his motivation, to prove everyone wrong. As if so much of his career had been fueled by the desire to go further than a lot of people thought he could, further than a lot of guys who supposedly had more ability.
So began his odyssey.
That first summer, in 1990, he went to rookie camp with the NBA's Sacramento Kings. That fall, he went to Rockford, Ill., of the CBA; then, in the middle of the year, he got on a plane in Chicago, flew all night to Paris, drove two hours to the middle of nowhere, slept for a couple of hours in the locker room and played for a French team that night. The glamour of professional basketball.
He made the Seattle SuperSonics the following fall, a dream come true.
"It was one of the best days of my life," he says, "the culmination of a lot of work."
Add it all up, and it was eight NBA teams in nine years, including a year with the Celtics, in 1996-97. Never the most athletic guy. Never really a starter. Certainly not a star. But Conlon had skills, he knew how to play, and he learned how to fit in. So when it apparently ended when he was 32, and bothered by back spasms, he figured he'd had a good run in the NBA. Certainly a longer one than most people would ever have envisioned.
Then it was off to Italy, to Verona. Then a year in Athens. Then back to Italy, this time to Naples. Then off to Spain, before going back to Naples. Have jump shot, will travel. Following the bouncing ball.
"I learned to love Italy," he says. "Maybe it was all those western civ courses at PC."
He's also became one of the captains of the Irish National Team, courtesy of an Irish passport. The result is he's played around the world, from Spain to some bombed-out gym in Belgrade, a career that's taken him to places he never knew existed back when he was just a PC freshman, as green as a newly mown lawn.
"I learned to speak Italian, and back then I couldn't even speak English," he says with a smile.
For the last week or so, he's been here working out with the Friars, waiting to go back to Europe for another year. He's friendly with coach Tim Welsh. He followed the Friars when they toured Italy three years ago; has gotten to know several of the current players.
In a sense, it's been a homecoming, every day practicing in Alumni Hall on the PC campus, as if it still were the late '80s and the names were Murdock and Shamsid-Deen, not McGrath and Brewington. Back when it all was ahead of him --all the teams, all the games, the kind of dreams the current Friar players are all trying to get to.
"I feel honored to be part of the PC tradition," Conlon says, "but I love the school more than I love the basketball tradition. And it's not like I'm going to come back here and teach some algebra courses. I'm going to come back and try to teach some post moves to Randall Hanke."
The plan is to play one more year overseas, then come back and be a teacher/coach somewhere. He says he would like to work with young players, the way he's been working with some of the Friars the last week or so.
He knows what they cannot yet know. He knows that professional basketball is "a great lifestyle, but a tough business." Knows that it's not always about talent as much as it is about perseverance and hard work, about learning how to fit in -- qualities Conlon always has had.
Qualities Conlon used to chase his basketball dreams.
Dreams that came true.