Kuran Iverson Situation Typifies Pastner’s Primary Problem

According to CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish, Kuran Iverson is finished at Memphis after his 2-game suspension and subsequent Twitter outburst.

Iverson’s situation embodies the primary problem with Memphis basketball under Josh Pastner – the failure of individual, role and team development. This is not about recruiting or X’s and O’s – generally speaking. It’s about relationships.

Getting guys to accept roles is about relationships.

I don’t want to put Pastner on the couch too much here, but in watching Iverson over the past few weeks, it’s clear he wasn’t happy with his role. His body language during the Tigers recent 5-game winning streak was the worst on the team. In reading his Twitter comments today, it’s now abundantly clear he isn’t happy with Pastner. Ending the relationship now will give the team a chance to move on, and clear up some rotation issues. Not having Iverson taking minutes at the wing positions should allow Avery Woodson, Markel Crawford, Nick King, and Trashon Burrell to get more comfortable knowing there’s one less guy available to share minutes with.

Unfortunately this is yet another failed relationship for the coaching staff. While the loss of Iverson itself is not that alarming considering that transfers in college basketball are at an all time high, it highlights a major failure for Pastner – of being unable to convince players to accept limited roles on the team – assuming he’s even attempting to define them in the first place.

After 6 years at the helm, it’s hard to go beyond DJ Stephens when compiling a list of the best role players at Memphis under Josh Pastner. Who else has thrived in a limited role? Hard to think of anyone. Ferro Hall? David Pellom? Underwhelming list.

Sure, these are college kids and they all want to start and be superstars and play in the NBA, but it’s a coach’s job to get guys to buy in to whatever role they have to play. Pastner seems incapable of it. Historically, Pastner’s most effective method to trim his rotation and thus get guys entrenched in roles is via injury or suspension. For example, Pastner’s second team began hitting its stride when Wesley Witherspoon was suspended, (following the dismissal of Jelan Kendrick and Angel Garcia’s mid-year defection) freeing up minutes in a crowded rotation for an emerging Will Barton. Charles Carmouche’s mystery suspension the following year cleared out a crowded back court and allowed Joe Jackson to begin to play well. Antonio Barton’s recurring injury problems always propelled Jackson into playing better.

Iverson’s minutes went from 9 per game as a Freshman to almost 12 per game this year. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that at this stage of his overall development 12 is an appropriate amount of minutes for Iverson (probably not true, but let’s just say it). The problem is that it wasn’t clear what role Iverson was assuming during those 12 minutes. To onlookers, it was a complete mystery. He wasn’t assertive as a slasher, he’s not a perimeter scorer, though he was often camped in the corner (seemingly by design) in Memphis’ offensive sets. At the very least one could imagine utilizing Iverson’s length by asking him to become a great defender or energy guy- things that a natural athlete should be able to do without any particular skill development – but that never happened. I’m sure there’s blame to go around, but this was a colossal waste of talent. That’s on Pastner to some degree.

This is yet another top 100 prospect that will leave Memphis after failing to live up to expectations, joining basically everyone but Austin Nichols before him of that category. That kind of track record developing players is not good for recruiting – and clearly the effect is already being felt in that regard. Outside of pulling out all the stops to lock up the Lawson brothers, Pastner has not secured an elite high school prospect in over 2 years (since signing Nichols).

Memphis fans are spoiled. Pastner’s predecessor excelled at getting guys to understand they had 1 or 2 jobs on the court and willing them to accomplish those specific tasks. That’s how a guy with basically no talent like Arthur Barclay becomes a double double machine, or how a pure athlete without much of a history in the game of basketball like Rodney Carney becomes an NBA player, or how a guy like Antonio Anderson becomes an all time program guy. Kuran Iverson has more talent and pro potential than Antonio Anderson had – but he’ll never develop it, at least not at Memphis.

That’s Josh Pastner’s problem, and it’s a relationship problem.