About Those Memphis Kids…

Let’s connect a few dots here.

John Calipari didn’t recruit Memphis kids because he determined they were too much trouble.

Josh Pastner was run out of town because the Memphis kids he recruited didn’t win enough and then repeatedly quit on his program.

And now Tubby Smith should be run out of town because he’s not ‘doing what it takes’ to keep Memphis kids happy.

Maybe the problem isn’t the coach.

Maybe the problem is…wait for it…Memphis kids!


For 30 years Tiger Basketball fans have held on to a dream that the right coach will assemble the best Memphis kids and return the program to the Final Four.

Maybe it’s time for this dream to die.

The dream took root in 1973 and flowered in 1985.

1973 took place 44 years ago. Richard Nixon was still hanging on.

44 years is a long time. Back then, for example, players couldn’t offer two middle fingers in a Tweet.

Also, upon closer inspection 1973 and 1985 aren’t the same dream as you might remember.

Larry Kenon, arguably the most talented player on the 1973 team, was from Birmingham, AL.

That 1985 team? Its legacy is pure tragedy. We eventually found out that the beloved coach of that team was a criminal, the players had been paid, and that the NAACP had determined that the program was exploiting black athletes. One starter died in an apparent murder-suicide, and another saw his career derailed by drug addiction.

So again, maybe it’s time for Memphis basketball to seek a new legacy rather than coast on the deluded dreams of yesteryear.

And maybe you’ll understand why I wanted to throw up when I tuned into local radio yesterday and heard our self proclaimed “local college basketball expert” radio-host tell us everything Tubby Smith is doing wrong.

Tubby Smith has been a head College Basketball coach for 26 consecutive seasons. He’s had 24 winning seasons and led his teams to 18 NCAA tournaments. He’s won 7 conference championships and an NCAA championship. He’s won multiple National Coach of the Year Awards, including as recently as 2016. He’s won at the best job in the profession (Kentucky) and at the worst (Texas Tech) and at levels in between (Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota).

So with all due respect to the radio host, I think Tubby Smith is our local college basketball expert.

The guy on the radio clearly thinks the best strategy for Memphis basketball is to ‘keep people happy’ in the local college basketball scene, collect a bunch of Memphis kids, and wait for the NCAA tournament wins to start piling up.  The guy on the radio is aghast that Tubby Smith is doing anything but this….

Yet where is the evidence that this approach will yield the most success? It certainly isn’t to be found in the Josh Pastner era, or the Dana Kirk era – assuming of course that your idea of success involves not getting called out on the carpet by the US Department of Justice and the NAACP.

Alternate theory:  perhaps the best approach for now is to let the coach assemble a roster of players and coach his team. After all, until the Memphis kids quit on the season, the 2016-17 team was looking quite promising. Individual players were improving. Tubby Smith appears to understand the game of basketball. Maybe he can actually develop a core group of 4-year players that will find some success. Maybe he’ll even find one or two Memphis kids that fit his program and (gasp) actually want to play for the Tigers.

Or maybe he’ll fail and be replaced in a few years. Maybe believing that Tubby Smith can win at Memphis, with his particular approach to recruiting, is a pipe dream.

Either way, it’s a more realistic dream than the one our ‘local college basketball experts’ have been peddling for years now – that Memphis kids can somehow be the nucleus of a high level, consistent college basketball program.