CHICAGO | Many professional athletes have an imaginary moat between them and the media, the public, with the drawbridge up at all times.
They are forever guarded, distant, aloof, suspicious.
But native Hoosiers Zach Randolph and Mike Conley Jr., cornerstones of the Memphis Grizzlies' franchise are none of the above. They have personality.
They are kid-like in their excitement, despite this being Randolph's 12th NBA season and Conley's sixth.
The 6-foot-9 Randolph led Marian High School to the 1998 Class 4A state championship, was MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game and finished runner-up to Jared Jeffries in the Mr. Basketball balloting.
Conley teamed with 7-footer Greg Oden in leading Lawrence North to three straight state championships, a 103-7 record in his four seasons as starting point guard, and was second to Oden in the Mr. Basketball race.
Jeffries has since bounced around the league and is now a scrub at Portland. Oden hasn't played in three years because of reconstructive surgery on both knees and a history of season-ending microfractures.
Randolph and Conley, meanwhile, have been exceptional. Their current star status has them thankful, but hardly surprised.
"I was 16 and at Nike camp as a sophomore. They had a player from Alabama, Marvin Stone, the best player in the country," Randolph recalled. "The guy was a beast at 7-foot and I dominated him.
"That's when I got a ranking, like top 15 (prep player) in the country. It was then I thought I might be pretty good and that I could play against the best."
They became friends but Stone died at a young age.
Randolph went on to play collegiately at Michigan State, then turned pro after one season, figuring he was more than ready.
"I was real dominant in high school. I'm dominant now," Randolph said before Saturday's game with the Bulls. "I'm the 'old man' on our team at 31 but my love for the game keeps me going.
"I keep my body right, I have a passion for the game, and I compete. That works for me."
His stat line backs that up: 16.4 points per game, a league-leading 25 double-doubles and ranked second in rebounding at 11.6.
Conley didn't see the NBA as his future until after his freshman season at Ohio State when he and Oden led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten Conference title and the 2007 NCAA Regional championship game.
"In high school, we were really good, but I just worried about school, worried about ball, and all the things you worry about in high school," Conley said. "And then when I got to college, I thought this could be a job for me one day.
"And lo and behold, it was."
All Conley wanted at first was to fit in with other NBA players. "I'm a humble guy," he said. "I just wanted to test myself against the best guys in the world.
"Now, look where we're at in Memphis."
They're right on the heels of the Southwest Division-leading and four-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at email@example.com.