Less than 1-year ago, on 5/2/14, Maryland sophomore Seth Allen officially announced he was leaving the Terrapin basketball program after 2 years. The news was alarming to Maryland supporters because Allen was the fourth player to leave Mark Turgeon’s program following the end of the 2013-14 season.
Washington D.C. media called into question Turgeon’s competence and said that the program was “in disarray.” The timing was particularly troublesome as Maryland was preparing for their first season as members of the Big 10 conference.
Essentially Turgeon – who has never led Maryland to the NCAA tournament – was thought to be coaching for his job in 2015.
As The Washington Post put it last Spring:
“Either Turgeon has made major errors in recruiting or he has mismanaged players once they’ve arrived on campus. What’s clear is that Athletic Director Kevin Anderson and his superiors at the university should be concerned about the troubling situation. For Maryland officials, Allen’s decision has made it worse.”
In light of current speculation regarding the future of Nick King – and the overall state of the Memphis program, the situation last summer at Maryland should sound familiar to Tiger fans.
But there’s a twist….
Maryland currently has a record of 18-3 and is ranked 13th in this week’s USA Today Coaches Poll. They’re very much in the running for a conference championship in their first year as a Big 10 member.
This isn’t to suggest that a similar turnaround is likely for Memphis. As Jeff Goodman noted in an interview with the CA’s Michael Cohen published today, Memphis basketball’s future prospects depend much more on finding a solution at point guard.
But the Maryland situation can and should serve as a reminder to Memphis supporters of a few important things:
1. Transfers aren’t always a bad thing. THIS IS NOT A “BLAME NICK KING” or “ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION” statement. The idea that “Memphis will be once XYZ player leaves the program” is no longer viable. That statement was made when Will Barton left, when Adonis Thomas left and when the so called 4-Kings left. If something is wrong with the Memphis program – it’s not the presence of an individual player or two.
King is clearly a talented player, and seems by all accounts to be a great kid. Nobody has ever suggested, to my knowledge, that Nick King is a problem in any way for the Memphis program. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that his leaving would be the end of the world. Memphis has players in the frontcourt – with more coming in. As the Maryland situation has evidenced, there’s a lot of turnover in College Basketball – and suffering from it doesn’t foreclose the possibility of success.
According to a recent report, NCAA basketball has a transfer rate of 13.3 percent – the highest of any college sport. This, undoubtedly, has a lot to do with a culture where almost all participants believe they should be starting – playing big minutes – and heading to the NBA.
Again, it’s important to note that King has never publicly complained or shown any bit of dissatisfaction.
2. Pastner does have to shorten the rotation. I have no real opinion on whether or not Nick King should be playing. Seems like maybe he could have Chris Hawkins’ minutes and the team wouldn’t lose anything. But one way or another – Pastner has to get the rotation down to 8 or 9. According to the research I’ve done and some minor statistical analysis thereof – successful college basketball programs in 2015 play about 8 guys significant minutes. Pastner had been playing 11 – before cutting the rotation for the Tulane game.
Hopefully, for Tiger fans, Pastner won’t feel the pressure of this King situation and use it as a reason to again lengthen the rotation – even in a blowout. What may be best for the program isn’t always best for the individual players.
3. Recruiting Memphis kids is a different ballgame. Again, this has nothing to do with King per se – but think about it this way: Chris Hawkins is a 6’6 forward who was rated a 3-star JUCO prospect after a successful high school career in which he was a 2nd team all state selection.
King is also 6’6, and was rated a 4-star coming out of high school.
Both came in with reputations as tough competitors and high motor players who attack the basket – though King was regarded, and probably still is, as the prospect with the higher ceiling. Though King earned recognition as a top 50-level recruit, the two players have similar games.
The one biggest, most relevant difference between the two?
Hawkins is originally from Sun Prairie, WI. King is originally from Memphis, TN.
In Memphis, that matters.
To illustrate the difference, one simply needs to answer the following question: if Hawkins were being asked to cede his place in the rotation to King, would it be a topic of discussion on the Geoff Calkins Show?
I don’t think so.
Memphis fans like to see local kids succeed. That’s part of the deal when you bring local prospects into the Tiger program. Pastner’s predecessor was very strategic in deciding which kids he brought in from Memphis. The kids John Calipari had from Memphis- Antonio Burks, Jeremy Hunt, Andre Allen – excelled because they were mentally tough and were prepared to fight for whatever role they were going to get on the team. Perhaps King will display this same attitude and eventually supplant Hawkins – who has hardly made an irrefutable case for playing time – in the rotation.
Either way, supporters of Memphis basketball need look no further than College Park, MD if they want a more hopeful context within which to envision the current trajectory of their program.