Category Archives: Tiger Basketball

Joe Jackson Arrested, David Fizdale Speaks Out, Politics & Sports

JOE JACKSON ARRESTED

The news broke Wednesday evening that former Tiger great Joe Jackson was arrested in Memphis on gun and drug charges.

Even with the presumption of innocence, it’s a depressing turn for a guy who once held the entire hopes of the Memphis Iprogram on his slight but legendarily sturdy shoulders.

Here’s hoping that Jackson, a 2014 U of M graduate, moves past this incident and onto better things.

For fans of the program, the narrative arc of Jackson’s basketball career is just more evidence that the overwhelming majority of D1 caliber Memphis High School players are better off at non-local colleges and that the U of M Basketball program is better off with a roster made up primarily of non-local prospects.

That fact has now been proven, in my estimation, beyond a reasonable doubt.

FIZDALE SPEAKS OUT

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out Wednesday on President Trump’s recent comments regarding the racial violence last weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

My first reaction after reading Fizdale’s comments was to think that the “stick to sports” takes would pile up pretty fast and ignite something of a firestorm in Memphis.

As of this evening, it appears my first reaction was wrong.

That’s a good thing for all of us.

It’s 2017.

Sports and politics are irreversibly intertwined.

People seem to be getting used to that fact.

Sports as a powerful political platform are nothing new.  Whether it’s Muhammad Ali taking a stand against the Vietnam WarBlack Power salutes in 1968 Olympics or Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem – athletes have been using their platform to draw attention to political causes for decades.

Furthermore, in the Twitter age, everyone has a platform.  Why should athletes and coaches be criticized for doing what the rest of us do all day long?

They shouldn’t.

Thankfully, it appears increasingly that they aren’t.

SPORTS DIMINISHED & DEBASED

Political viewpoints aside, one sad development to me is how much the current social media and political environment seems to have taken away from our collective enjoyment of sports.

Politics and sports overlap quite a bit. The same types of people are drawn to both and follow both.

In a normal political and social environment, the month of August (for sports fans in Memphis, anyway) would be dominated by anticipation of the upcoming football and basketball seasons. Twitter and casual conversation would be geared toward SEC football practice, the Tigers, etc…

2017 isn’t normal. 

In our current environment, politics is sucking all the oxygen out of the room.  Watching national politics in 2017 is akin to binge watching 5 seasons of a Netflix series in the course of one weekend.  It’s riveting, but the laundry and grocery shopping won’t be getting done.

Even the local sports dialogue that does break through the noise has necessarily assumed the same toxic divisive tone of our political discourse. The local media’s coverage of Memphis Tiger Basketball Head Coach Tubby Smith, for example, has been dark, cynical and I wonder if it isn’t tinged with a vague subconscious racial animus.

Would a white coach with Tubby Smith’s credentials be taking the same kind of heat?

I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ask isn’t it?

Has Gary Parrish Been in a Coma Since 2014?

Tuesday morning, on Geoff Calkins’ radio show, Gary Parrish continued his assault on both the University of Memphis Men’s Basketball program and history itself.

To hear Parrish discuss the state of Memphis basketball, one would have to assume the man fell asleep in 2014 and woke up yesterday.

Accordingly, Someone should tell Gary Parrish that Mayweather beat Pacquiao.

Also, let him know that the Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage legal and that Donald Trump performed surprisingly well in the GOP primaries in advance of the 2016 Presidential election.

And someone should definitely catch Parrish up on the condition of the Tiger Basketball program from 2014 to 2016.

While answering a question about the Tigers’ non-conference home schedule, Parrish initially took the opportunity to diverge into a disparaging riff on the Tigers’ roster – for those loyal listeners who missed the exact same discussion Monday afternoon.

After that, he proceeded to paint a picture of Memphis Basketball attendance that would make a revisionist historian blush:

“There are people who want to be there and feel like they should be there who have forever been there who I think are going to start to disappear simply because, what is fun about watching a bad basketball team lose over and over again?”

So, according to Parrish, there is a subsection of Memphis Tiger fans who have forever been there, but now they’re going to disappear.

In the immortal words of Clay Davis, sheeeeeeeit. 

Gary Parrish wants you to believe that declining attendance at Tiger basketball games is a new trend ushered in by Tubby Smith in the past year.

Apparently, Calkins didn’t feel like reminding Parrish about Fred Blose.

Fred Blose, for those who don’t recall, was the fan profiled in Calkins’ somewhat infamous column entitled: “What happens when Memphis Tigers fans give up?”

The column appeared in January of 2015 and chronicled the “cratering” attendance at Memphis Basketball games.

That’s right. January of 2015

More evidence that apparently Parrish wasn’t paying much attention to Tiger Basketball in 2015.

A few weeks ago it became clear he has either forgotten or never internalized that 7th place AAC finish, those 15 losses, and that rash of transfers amidst a 2-year absence from postseason.

Now Parrish seems to have forgotten about the ongoing civic obsession with declining attendance at Tiger basketball games over Josh Pastner’s final 2 seasons.

Here’s a refresher from June of 2016, courtesy of Parrish’s former employer – the Commercial Appeal:

“Memphis averaged 12,028 in announced home attendance for 2015-16, a 13.6-percent decrease from 2014-15 (when it ranked 21st nationally at 13,915) and a 25.4-percent decrease from 2013-14 (when it ranked 10th nationally at 16,121).

But those numbers don’t accurately reflect what was clearly a massive drop-off in home attendance last year during former Tigers coach Josh Pastner’s final season. Memphis needed a late-season push from fans just to keep its average turnstile count for the season above 6,000.”

So the facts are this:

  1. Tiger basketball attendance dropped precipitously over a multi-year period earlier this decade and has never recovered.
  2. Gary Parrish wants you to believe that next year’s low attendance will be the beginning of that trend.

Parrish isn’t stupid and I can’t imagine he’d be deliberately misleading, so I’ll be generous and assume his memory and judgement are momentarily clouded by animus and the need to fill air-time.

But that actually wasn’t the worst part of Parrish’s appearance on Tuesday.

The worst was this musing:

“We’ve reached a point where I don’t understand why a single person, like honestly anybody, would go to a University of Memphis basketball game over a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game.”

Tigers vs. Grizzlies. The tiredest of all tired Memphis sports topics. Also the most unnecessarily toxic.

I won’t delve too deeply into the host of possible reasons one might attend a College Basketball game, some of which Calkins immediately alluded to – being a lifelong fan of a program, being an alumnus, having an emotional connection to the program, it being a less expensive form of sports entertainment, distaste for the professional game, etc….

Instead, I’ll just openly wonder why this guy is trying to drive a wedge between the Grizzlies and the Tigers.

It’s not like we haven’t heard this bullshit before.

We certainly heard it in late 2015 – when Parrish’s buddy Josh Pastner dropped a home game to Texas-Arlington. And again later that season when the Tigers fell at home to East Carolina.

Someone should tell Parrish about those performances – he seems to have missed them entirely.

Closing Arguments

Today I was a guest on the Geoff Calkins show and asked to defend my recent columns criticizing Calkins and his fellow radio pal, Gary Parrish for their hit pieces on the Memphis basketball program run by head coach Tubby Smith.

If you’re interested, the audio can be found here.

The conversation ended up being a friendly debate, and we were essentially arguing separate points.

We stipulated a few points as the discussion progressed:

  • The Tubby Smith experiment can still theoretically go either way, and we’re hoping it goes well.
  • To win at Memphis in the past has usually (if not always) meant operating in the gray areas in terms of recruiting, NCAA compliance, etc.
  • Josh Pastner wasn’t capable of managing the high level players he was able to recruit to Memphis.

Calkins challenged me to argue why the Tubby Smith tenure hasn’t been a disaster thus far, and I basically responded by saying it’s just too early (1 year in) and too drastic to issue that judgement.

But that wasn’t what I set out to establish.

My basic argument was that the criticism of Smith often ignores or distorts the facts and the recent history of Memphis Basketball.

The obvious evidence of this distortion, which I set forth at the outset, was Parrish’s assertion that the mess at Memphis was
“created” by Tubby Smith.

This assertion simply ignores the fact that by the time Smith got the job, Memphis Basketball was already an undisputed (expect perhaps by Parrish) mess. Calkins wasn’t interested in defending Parrish so we moved on.

I regret not asking Calkins point blank to defend or explain his previous statement that not getting into the Big XII would begin a “decline into irrelevance” for Memphis athletics. Because if Calkins stands by the “decline into irrelevance” statement, than it’s a tacit acknowledgement that Tubby Smith is fighting against forces that his critics (including Calkins himself) now seem reluctant to acknowledge.

The argument now seems to be it’s as easy as it ever was to win big at Memphis.

Indeed, the evidence just doesn’t support the seemingly ubiquitous idea that programs at Memphis’ level (AAC / MWC)  can succeed at a top 25 level simultaneously in football and basketball.

It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that it hasn’t been done.

Therefore it’s hard and might take a while (which is all Tubby Smith is saying).

It’s not defeatist to point that out, it’s an acknowledgement of reality.

Yet nobody with a platform wants to acknowledge that. I’ll even concede that it’s not Tubby’s place to point it out, just like I didn’t like Pastner’s winning is hard schtick.

So Calkins and I really weren’t far off.

Given that this debate took place on Calkins’ turf, and that I was a bit awestruck to just be on that platform, I probably lost some points for lack of clarity.

Nevertheless I stand by the position that the criticism of Tubby is over the top, and that when it comes from Calkins and Parrish it cements a narrative that permeates the sports culture in the entire city (and in Parrish’s case – across the college basketball landscape).

Finally, I appreciate that Calkins admitted that he’s genuinely sensitive to the suggestion that he’s too hard on Tubby. I don’t believe Calkins is “out to get” Tubby just because the media doesn’t have great access to the program, though that fact is true.

I think if Tubby wins, Calkins will write nice things and everyone will be happy.

Except maybe Gary Parrish. He’ll probably still find a way to rile up the Memphis fans in order to sell used computers and vodka.

 

 

 

Calkins Contradicts Calkins

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/1/2017

Harsh words.

But what was Calkins saying about Memphis’ ability to “compete in the world” last year?

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/3/2016

What a difference a year makes, huh?

A year ago, according to Geoff Calkins, Memphis’ place in the college basketball universe depended on things like money, resources, television contracts and conference affiliation.

Today, also according to Calkins, it’s entirely dependent on Tubby Smith’s recruiting philosophy.

Geoff Calkins is a great columnist. I enjoy his work and even own his recently published book.

So it’s with sadness that I’ve been enduring his blistering attacks on Tubby Smith.

It’s not that Tubby Smith doesn’t deserve to be questioned. Obviously, that goes with the territory at Memphis.

I just can’t figure out why Calkins (and Gary Parrish) continue to write hit pieces based on demonstrably false premisses.

Last week, Parrish falsely implied that Tubby Smith inherited a program on the rise.

Um, ok.

Now, Calkins is contradicting his own previous statements by telling us that nothing has changed at Memphis vis a vis their competitive realities.

It boggles the mind.

Again, the latest false attack, from Calkins today:

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Only?

Only?

Just so we’re clear about how wrong and unfair this is, let’s consult a dictionary.

According to the fine folks at Google, the wordOnly is an adverb that means “no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively. “

So Calkins is claiming that, apart from the philosophy of the head basketball coach, there have been no other impactful (to recruiting) changes at Memphis over the past 10 years?

This is so unfair and so false, it’s almost not worth taking apart.

But let’s do it anyway, with a few assists from Calkins himself.

As an outside observer, it’s clear that perhaps the biggest difference in the Memphis basketball program between 2007 to 2017 is the Athletic Director overseeing it.

Everybody knows that then Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson gave basketball coach John Calipari complete dominion and everything he wanted.

Memphis has the NCAA probation to prove it.

How do I know Calipari had unfettered control?

Because Geoff Calkins told me so.

Here’s Geoff Calkins on May 29, 2009, in the aftermath of NCAA allegations against the UofM:

“The most serious allegation is that former Memphis player Derrick Rose had someone take his SAT for him. What’s the big deal about that? R.C. Johnson had someone else run his whole athletic department.”

Boom.

But how does this differ from the kind of athletic department in which Tubby Smith operates – a department currently run by Athletic Director Tom Bowen?

Again, who better to ask than Geoff Calkins himself?

Here is Calkins’ tweet from January 3, 2013 the day after Bowen publicly contradicted then head basketball coach Josh Pastner on a minor scheduling issue:

“If I’m Josh Pastner, I try to win a tournament game, then take the best job that comes available. Totally gutted by his AD.”

So 10 years ago the Memphis basketball coach gets to run the entire athletic department, and under the current boss the basketball coach should expect to be “gutted” publicly if he has an opinion about the schedule.

Got it.

No difference.

Again, nothing is different, other than the Head Coach’s philosophy.

It’s absurd.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it also bears repeating that over the past 10 years Memphis’ primary geographic rivals (Ole Miss, UT, Arkansas, etc.) have developed an incredible resource advantage.

Surely, this effects recruiting budgets.

Over the past decade, the SEC’s television revenue distribution has gone from $10.2 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2016. Over the same time period Memphis’ television revenue went from a meager $1.1 million per year to a meager $2 million per year.

Desperate to keep up, Memphis tried, and failed, to get into the Big 12.

So what? What does not getting into the Big 12 have to do with basketball recruiting?

Good questions. For the answer let’s again turn to Geoff Calkins.

Here’s he is on May 3, 2016 describing what it would mean if Memphis failed to get into the Big 12.

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

How can you square this May 3rd, 2016 statement with blaming Tubby Smith exclusively for the fact that Memphis’ 2017 recruiting isn’t up to snuff?

You can’t.

Again, I’m a big Calkins fan, but this is getting ridiculous.

 

Zero Sum Game

With the University of Memphis enjoying unprecedented football success in the midst of a prolonged dry spell for its traditionally strong Men’s basketball program, the question has inevitably been asked:

Is Memphis now a football school?

The typical response, of course, is to deflect the question.

The typical response is to suggest that, like Florida, Wisconsin or Louisville; Memphis will find a way to achieve and sustain success in both football and men’s basketball.

Unfortunately, the evidence strongly suggests that’s unrealistic.

First, let’s define sustained success.

Let’s stipulate that a typical Memphis fan’s expectation is that Memphis should both qualify for the NCAA tournament and participate in a Bowl game every 4 out of 5 years.

There are 41 Bowl games (82 spots) and only 128 teams, so most fans rightly realize that qualifying for a Bowl isn’t that hard.

And there are now 68 teams selected annually for the NCAA tournament. Memphis fans have always expected to at least qualify for the Big Dance.

So, again, let’s use 80% (4 out of 5 years) in each / both sport as a measuring stick.

Would it surprise you to learn that virtually no other school at Memphis’ resource level succeeds at that rate in both major sports?

Point of fact: Of the 23 schools at Memphis’ approximate revenue level, only one has qualified for the NCAA tournaments in at least 4 of the previous 5 seasons. Furthermore, that school (Cincinnati) emerged from a BCS league (BIG EAST) and thus had a built in revenue advantage.

Consider the following:

  • Memphis competes in just one of two conferences (AAC / MWC) who attempt to field both high level men’s basketball programs and football programs despite the lack of a lucrative television contract.
  • The average athletic department annual revenue in the AAC / MWC is approximately $43m. Both leagues have relativity minor TV payouts.
  • The AAC / MWC revenue figures compare favorably to true mid-major and single NCAA tournament bid conferences like the MAC ($30m), but pale in comparison to so called “power” leagues.
  • In the SEC, the average revenue per athletic department is over $100m annually.
  • Having less than half the money of its wealthy major conference peers has consequences beyond not being able to retain coaches, build new facilities, pay for chartered planes, etc.
  • It also means dedicating less resources to marketing both basketball and football. It means less resources for recruiting high school athletes for both sports. It means less resources for compliance advisers to process high school transcripts for prospects for both sports.

The list goes on.

Indeed, the evidence indicates that schools at Memphis’ level essentially have to choose between men’s basketball and football when it comes to resource allocation.

Most, for obvious reasons, choose football.

Football success, it is rightly imagined, will lead to better conference and TV / media alternatives which will then lead to higher revenue which will then be used to enhance the entire athletic department.

In the meantime, however, basketball clearly suffers.

Of the 23 schools in the AAC / MWC, a startling 14 have earned zero or one NCAA tournament bid(s) over the past 5 seasons.

Houston, USF, UCF, Tulane, East Carolina, Air Force, San Jose State, Utah State, Colorado State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State.

Memphis’ college basketball neighborhood is basically a wasteland of woebegone programs.

Other than Cincinnati, only one other school of the 23 has more than 2 NCAA tournament appearances over that period of time.

San Diego State.

The Aztecs have been to 3 of the past 5 NCAA tournaments and qualified for Bowl Games each of the past 5 years.

San Diego State?!?!

Memphis fans like to be mentioned alongside Tennessee, Louisville, Ole Miss and Kansas.

Not San Diego State for crying out loud.

But the evidence suggests Memphians all need to get a better grip on the current landscape.

Not a single peer (AAC / MWC) institution outside of Cincinnati has hit the aforementioned 80% (4 out of 5) success rate in both sports over the past 5 seasons.

I talked to a high level administrator in the PAC 12 who formerly worked at an AAC school. He confirmed the difficulty of trying to win in both sports outside the major conferences:

“It’s very hard. How many non Power 5’s have a top 30 men’s basketball program and football program? There’s less money in all aspects and usually a smaller donor base. Less TV money. It effects academics, athletic training, etc.”

So the bottom line is this: if you’re the kind of fan who thinks Memphis should qualify for the NCAA tournament roughly 4 out of every 5 years then you’re asking them to be better than 21 of their 22 true peers.

That’s a 95% mark.

If you want them to go to 4 bowls every 5 years, you’re asking them to be better than 15 of those same 22 true peers.

If you’re asking them to do both, there’s literally zero precedent for it.

The Immediate and Long Term Future

Memphis’ conference commissioner Mike Aresco isn’t sitting still. Recognizing that the basketball product has suffered, the AAC is trying to improve its hoops reputation in the hopes of making it easier for league schools to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Towards that end, Wichita State is joining the league for the 2017-18 season.

Soon, Aresco will go to go to work on the TV / revenue situation. As a former TV executive, there’s some indication that Aresco is positioning the AAC to be the first league to take advantage of non traditional digital platforms such as Amazon.

I’m skeptical, however, that there are windfalls to be had in the current configuration. Instead of catching up to the so called “Power” conferences, the AAC may have to struggle along and be creative until the currently wealthy schools come back to the pack.

Indeed, the latest round of lucrative TV deals for conferences like the Big XII and ACC may ultimately represent the beginning of the end of an era. If you thought the last round of conference realignment was crazy, the next decade may be even less stable.

ESPN is hemorrhaging revenue and laying off large swaths of its staff in part because millennials don’t buy cable.  How much longer will schools like Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, etc. receive the equivalent of college athletics welfare checks? I’d be shocked if the college landscape doesn’t drastically shift again within a decade.

Of course, all this may come to a head much sooner.

In the meantime, Memphis fans might want to embrace the idea of being a football school and enjoy whatever success, modest or otherwise, comes along as a result of Tubby Smith’s efforts with the men’s basketball program.

 

 

Fake News: Gary Parrish Edition

If geopolitical events of the past year have taught us anything – it’s that we should all be more discerning consumers of information.

We should all be on the lookout for fake news. 

Which on Tuesday night led me to ask the following question:

Why is Gary Parrish writing misleading columns about the University of Memphis men’s basketball program?

I don’t know the answer.

Nor am I here to defend the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis, or its head coach Tubby Smith – neither of which are easy tasks these days.

This is just a clear acknowledgement that local resident Gary Parrish, a radio host and respected national college basketball writer at CBS Sports, wrote a misleading column about the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis on Tuesday.

In the first paragraph of his hit piece, Parrish paints a picture of a Memphis basketball program in very good shape when Tubby Smith inherited it in April, 2016.

Never mind the fact that nobody remotely familiar with the Memphis program in April, 2016 saw the situation that way.

In 2014-15 Memphis lost 14 games, finished 5th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

In 2015-16 Memphis lost 15 games, finished 7th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

Here’s a fact that Gary Parrish knows to be true: 29 losses and no-postseason appearances in 2-consecutive seasons at Memphis is a bad situation.

Period.

Tubby may take it from bad to worse. 

Again, I’m not here to argue otherwise.

But Parrish is arguing that Tubby took it from “not bad” to bad.

To be fair, Parrish was referring specifically to the returning roster when offering his assessment. He neglected to include the context of recent performance. He also neglected to mention the already (as of April, 2016) constant parade of transfers out of the program – a fact which is highly relevant to the point of his column.

To support the false premise that the Memphis program was in decent shape, Parrish pointed to the presence on the roster of “four former top-100 recruits (Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, Nick Marshall) and another top-100 prospect (Charlie Moore) signed to a national letter of intent.”

Parrish, being a college basketball expert, knows that top-100 prospects like Moore rarely stay committed to their school after a coaching change. In fact, he’s probably made this exact point no less than 1000 times on his radio show.

Parrish, being a local college basketball expert, knows that Marshall went AWOL from the program shortly after Smith was hired, that his absence from the program could hardly be attributable to Smith.

At best, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were misleading.

At worst, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were intentionally misleading.

Parrish then went on to discuss the topic du jour on talk radio in Memphis on Tuesday: the fact that Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen issued a statement on Tuesday that contradicted a statement released by Tubby Smith on Monday.

The contradiction?

On Tuesday Bowen said he and Tubby Smith weren’t surprised by the rash of transfers following Smith’s first year as head coach in 2016-17.

Yet on Monday, when responding specifically to the Lawson news, Smith said in a statement that he was in fact “surprised and disappointed in the decision, as they had a strong year for us, and were a big part of our success during the season.”

Guess what?

There was also a 3rd quote!

The 3rd relevant quote was delivered by Smith himself on March 28, 2017.

Smith was asked at his end of year press conference if he was surprised by Guard Craig Randall’s decision to transfer.

Smith’s answer:

“I’m never surprised at anything young men decide to do.”

So there you have it folks, Tubby Smith is not surprised.

Parrish’s column never mentioned the 3rd quote (found here at the 6:20 mark). In fairness, I doubt Parrish even knew about it, because I doubt he cared to attend the end of year press conference for the coach of a 19-13, 5th place AAC team.

On the other hand, if Parrish is willing to dedicate space in his national column to pillorying Tubby Smith, one could argue he should have the courtesy to attend his end of year press conference – or at least listen to it on the Commercial Appeal website afterwards.

But I’ve wandered from the point.

The point is this:

Was there an unfortunate, obvious contradiction in the Bowen / Smith statements? 

Clearly.

But was it hard to figure out what Tubby Smith meant?

Not for anyone who cared to listen to the March 28 press conference or for anyone that is trying to be intellectually honest.

I think we can all assume that Tubby Smith, after 26 years as a collegiate head coach, isn’t astonished at players transferring – even if he was clearly disappointed and taken aback by the Lawson’s announcement on Monday.

Hardly confusing, and hardly a reason to kill the guy.

Parrish then moved on to his bread and butter – shady recruiting. He proceeded to recite the now tired trope that Tubby Smith has “burned his most valuable bridge” to the fertile Memphis base by having demoted Keelon Lawson last Spring.

I’m not interested in litigating the details of the Lawson / Smith situation. Parrish, being connected, clearly knows them better than most people.

Yet it seems obvious to me that reasonable people should be able to agree that both of the following facts are true:

(a) Kansas offered a better situation for the Lawson family than Memphis did, and…

(b) Tubby Smith has earned the right to build his program and staff the way he sees fit.

In fact, if Smith decides he’s still dedicated to recruiting Memphis, he will have a line of Memphians 100-deep by Wednesday morning ready to take Lawson’s old job. Many of those 100 would be qualified, connected and hungry.

I’ve said that Smith should think carefully before re-committing to a local recruiting strategy.

Which brings me to my final beef with Parrish. The not-so-thinly disguised message of his column, and indeed of much of his daily radio program over the years, is that college basketball recruiting is an unsavory endeavor – and especially so in Memphis.

Of course, Parrish is right on this point. But how he goes about presenting this narrative is a tad irksome.

On his show, Parrish often shares stories of college coaches skirting NCAA rules. Parrish protects the anonymity of these coaches, presumably to protect the confidence of his sources.

It’s understandable, and makes for great radio. But at times it also makes Parrish seem less like a journalist and more like a P.R. guy for coaches he clearly likes – especially when he’s openly advocating for certain coaches to get certain jobs.

In the past, Parrish has suggested that Steve Forbes of ETSU and Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss would be a good fit for the Memphis job. These are hardly guys with sterling reputations as regards the NCAA or the law in general.

But again, I’m slightly off the point.

The point is that the column was misleading and unduly harsh. Parrish is out here killing Tubby Smith for trying to win the only way he knows how.

The point is it seems as if Parrish, whose work I’ve admired and followed for years, has an agenda.

The point is that it seems as if fake news has hit Memphis basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tubby’s Staff

I spoke with someone this morning who was very close to one of Tubby Smith’s former programs. He had some interesting things to say.

He got to know Tubby well and said he’s “truly a great person.”

Like everyone else, he recognizes the good fit:

“Memphis is much easier to win at than Minnesota and Texas Tech.”

He also echoes the other narratives about this hire:

“There is no better representative of the program than Tubby, he’s as good of a person as you’ll find at this level, but it’s a concern if he still has the passion and fire in the belly.”

Regarding the staff, he had some interesting things to say:

“If he brings Vince Taylor, Saul Smith (Tubby’s son) or Joe Esposito it’s a bad sign. If he hires local Memphis guys who are great recruiters then you’ll be in good shape.”

“Vince is a great guy and the best recruiter of the three, but he’s not the relentless recruiter Tubby needs. Saul has been in over his head from the get go and had some off the court issues, and Esposito is way over his head as an assistant. Hire a couple of well connected AAU guys from the area and Tubby will have the program turned around quickly.”

So again, this is an exciting hire for Memphis – but Memphis fans should pay close attention to what Tubby Smith does with his staff before they start blocking off dates for future Final Fours.

Cautiously Optimistic About Tubby Smith

USA Today sportswriter and former Commercial Appeal Tiger beat writer Dan Wolken broke the news today that the University of Memphis is zeroing in on Tubby Smith to replace Josh Pastner as the head men’s basketball coach. The deal could be done as soon as today:

Initial Reaction.

First off, let’s not breeze past the fact that Tubby Smith is likely going to be in the Naismith Hall of Fame at some point. After replacing Rick Pitino, Smith coached Kentucky to a National Title, and then 3 more Elite 8 appearances.

His Kentucky legacy is obviously overshadowed by Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but he had a solid run there. Even after he ran out of Pitino’s players, he guided the 2002-2003 Wildcat squad to 32 wins and an Elite 8 following an undefeated SEC regular season. 2 years before he left for Minnesota, Smith finished with 28 wins and guided the Cats to another Elite 8 performance.

Tubby Smith may not have been up to Kentucky standards, but he wasn’t Billy Gillespie either.

He also went to the NCAA Tournament as Georgia’s coach, as Tulsa’s coach, as Minnesota’s coach and as Texas Tech’s coach.

That’s a big deal.

Those are all pretty much coaching graveyards, and Tubby won at all of them. He took each of them to the NCAA tournament.

So what should we expect at Memphis?

Given that history, it should be expected that Tubby Smith will win at Memphis. He’ll go to the NCAA tournament. He’ll presumably have well coached teams (though I can’t honestly say I know much about his style of play).

He’ll run a clean program, not that Memphis fans really care about that.

Memphis in the AAC is not relative exactly to Kentucky in the SEC, but it’s closer to the best job in its league than the other spots Smith has coached. Way closer.

I expect that Smith, if he can find a way to get talent to Memphis, will restore excitement and optimism at Memphis.

Does that mean Sweet 16’s? Elite 8’s? Final Fours?

My best answer to that is it depends on what kind of talent he can accumulate.

Recruiting, Recruiting, Recruiting.

So ultimately, this will come down to whether or not Smith can recruit well. A source close to one of Smith’s former program’s told me that he is a “very lazy recruiter.” I’ve seen others say that while that’s true, he’s a good closer.

This necessitates a sound plan to support Smith with some player-getters. Perhaps a coach in waiting (Smith will be 65 this year) like Penny Hardaway? Perhaps someone like Tony Madlock on staff?

Obviously the news that Dedric Lawson is coming back will help. Perhaps Keelon Lawson will stick around to deliver the youngest Lawson.

I don’t care what the plan is, but there better be a plan. I assume there is.

Something Different.

Memphis hasn’t hired a coach like Tubby Smith in my lifetime. John Calipari was just as accomplished, but he had baggage. Josh Pastner was unproven. Both were upwardly mobile – and at first you feared they’d be moving along to the next stop. At the end, Memphis fans were praying Pastner would move along to the next stop.

Tubby Smith, if hired, is an elder statesman of the game. A Hall of Fame candidate, widely respected throughout the industry. A solid pro who will surely be coming to his final stop.

Memphis is a place where maybe Smith can put the capstone on a wonderful career by achieving the same levels of success he saw over a decade ago in Lexington. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but it’s kind of exciting.

It’s a far cry from where we were a week ago.

Race and Gravitas Matter.

And let’s not ignore the racial reality of this hire.

There was no imperative to hire an African American coach. Memphis fans of all races prioritize winning over anything else. Memphis basketball has always done more to unite races in the city than to divide them (though the Larry Finch saga was certainly a strain).

That being said, Memphis needs to hire a coach that can inspire local talent to stay at home and thrive at home. Josh Pastner failed in that regard.

I think Tubby Smith could succeed in that area, and not just because he happens to be African American.

Smith was one of 17 children born to sharecroppers.  He gradually worked his way up the coaching ladder and has now had a 25 year basketball coaching career with great success. I can imagine him inspiring and motivating young, talented Memphis basketball players to play with passion in a way that Josh Pastner never did.

For that reason especially, I’m optimistic.

 

Is Today the Day?

I remember exactly where I was when Dana Kirk was fired.

I cried when Larry Finch coached his last game.

I watched the John Calipari introductory press conference in giddy disbelief.

I was sitting in class when I got a Blackberry message that Memphis had struck a deal with Josh Pastner.

Memphis isn’t a school that changes basketball coaches all that often – essentially 4 transitions in the last 30 years.

The next transition appears to be happening today.

Be Thankful to Pastner

Memphis fans are grateful for a new start, and they should be. But they should also take a moment to be grateful to Pastner for what he did here.

No established coaches wanted to follow Calipari. Not only was his win loss record intimidating, but the school was facing NCAA probation (the fans didn’t know it, but I’m guessing those in the coaching community might have).

Additionally, don’t forget that Memphis was still rotting away in CUSA at the time – behind schools like Houston and UCF in terms of a workable exit strategy (i.e. a viable football program).

Pastner came in and piled up the recruiting victories. Though he never won at a level that satisfied Memphis fans, his 2nd and 3rd teams were on the cusp of post-season breakthroughs. A better draw in the NCAA tournament and maybe this whole conversation, this whole era, is different.

But that’s over now and Memphis fans should simply say thank you to a man that kept their program relevant and competitive in the immediate aftermath of Calipari.

And in the biggest understatement of the day, let’s also pause briefly to acknowledge that Josh Pastner has been a terrific part of the Memphis community. He’ll be missed on that front by thousands.

What’s Next?

Now, on to the fun part. If indeed Pastner is gone, to whom will Memphis turn?

Here are some ideas:

Everyone says start with Marshall and make him say no. Seems right to me. Marshall has a history of turning down great jobs for good jobs. He stayed at Winthrop for a while and then finally jumped to….Wichita State? He’s a weird guy – maybe he fits at Memphis. Some seem to think so. That would be a home run.

I have other ideas as well, and I’m not sure how I feel about all of them but they seem somewhat realistic.

Gravitas needed.

My list is heavy on older, more established coaches because I think that’s what Memphis needs in the aftermath of Pastner.

I don’t think hiring Penny makes sense unless he’s groomed. Maybe Jim Calhoun wants to work for 2 or 3 years. He seems to be in good health and is younger than Larry Brown. He’s the approximate age of Coach K, and Boeheim. People will make fun of me for pushing this one, but I don’t care. I like the idea even if it’s a long shot.

If you’re going to go with youth – Archie Miller seems like a great idea too, and perhaps realistic.

Steve Forbes is a reasonably safe backup. Completely do-able if everyone else falls through.

This Better Happen

Now that the news has broken, Pastner better get the Georgia Tech job. Memphis fans were apathetic before. If Pastner somehow doesn’t get the Tech job at this point, they’ll be apoplectic.

Charge your phones and get your Twitter ready – gonna be an exciting day (hopefully).

 

Prominent Big 12 Columnist: “Memphis is a non-starter”

Lots of rumors floating around Memphis the last few months that Memphis is a strong candidate for Big XII expansion, which is almost certain to take place in a few months.

I’m not getting my hopes up, and one of the prominent journalists in the heart of Big XII country gave me another reason to remain skeptical.

According to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Memphis is a “non-starter” for the Big XII.

In his weekly online chat, I asked Tramel about fan speculation that BYU, Boise, Cincinnati and Memphis could be added in order to bring the conference membership to 14 before adding a conference championship game and conference network.

Tramel had some harsh words to describe Memphis’ chances:

“Way down the list.”

He was not as harsh regarding the other candidates:

“Now, Connecticut is a different story. You put UConn and BYU into a Big 12 Network, and you’ve got a lot of eyeballs. Cincy and Boise State would be fine, too. But not Memphis. No football fan base. None at all.”

Someone should let Tramel know Memphis averaged over 43,802 per home game at the Liberty Bowl last year – a 29% increase from 2014 and higher than at least a dozen so called “Power 5” programs.

Also more than BYU, Boise, and Cincinnati and at least one current Big XII member (Kansas). But who’s counting?

Nevertheless, it’s always advisable to understand that when it comes to expansion rumors – those of the homegrown variety should be taken with a grain of salt.

 

 

Josh Pastner is Going to be Just Fine (& Other Thoughts)

 

Diving right into my thoughts about Tiger basketball – including why people don’t need to feel bad for Josh Pastner, the program’s complex “issues” regarding the head coach position, and where to go from here…

Not as Sad as You Think

At this point, literally everyone I talk to about Tiger Basketball agrees that it would be best if the program had new leadership.

And almost everyone agrees that’s a sad conclusion to make – because they all like Josh Pastner.

But maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad, especially in light of the circumstances. First of all, Memphis has made Pastner a very wealthy man. Whenever his reign as head of the men’s program comes to an end, Pastner will have cashed in the neighborhood of $20 million in checks. The guy has a lot of mouths to feed, but that’s a lot of cheese so the Pastners should be ok.

He’s also had a chance to build his resume – and will be highly employable.

Regardless of the condition of the Tiger program currently, Pastner has accomplished a lot in Memphis. His reputation as a relentless recruiter is still in tact, which should put him in line to land an elite assistant job if he’s willing to take a step back. This happens all the time. See Jeff Capel at Duke for example.

And lets not forget that Pastner has had exclusively winning seasons, 6 of them heading into this year, all while playing by NCAA rules. Surely some lower profile schools will have interest in hiring him if and when Memphis parts ways.

Pastner might also be attractive to an NBA franchise looking for an assistant coach. NBA benches are often occupied with former college coaches with less success under their belts than Pastner. Jeff Bzdelik, for example, is currently cashing checks from the Memphis Grizzlies and he once had 6 losing seasons in a row as a college coach.

Bottom line – a lot of employers in the industry would be satisfied with a guy like Josh Pastner.

But Memphis fans are now hoping that David Rudd (President, UofM) and Tom Bowen (Athletic Director) are employers with a different mindset.

As Memphis fans await that decision, they should understand that Rudd and Bowen don’t have the historical context that they (Memphis fans) posses.

A History of Contradictions

After all, neither Rudd nor Bowen was at Memphis when John Calipari led the program to 4 consecutive 30-win seasons (and deep NCAA runs) in a row from 2005-2009. And neither was in the Bluff City in the immediate aftermath when Memphis basketball’s decades long “character problems” were again exposed.

Neither was around when Josh Pastner’s Good Samaritan persona first took the city by storm.

And that’s really what all this is about, isn’t it? What makes this situation so difficult is that Memphis basketball is built upon some troubling contradictions that have come to define the head coaching position at the school, if not the program itself.

These contradictions, or issues, go back further than I do.

In 1973 Memphians celebrated an NCAA finalist led by a local hero, Larry Finch, who went on to lead the program as head coach. The popular story is that the 1973 team helped heal a racially divided city – but keep in mind the story didn’t actually end until 25 years later when the program turned its back on the hero in a racially divisive manner.

Finch as head coach during my childhood (1986-1997) was in some ways a precursor to Josh Pastner. Well liked, did things the right way, but didn’t have a style pleasing to a majority of the fan base and ultimately didn’t win enough.

Sound familiar?

Finch won a lot (2 Sweet 16s / 1 Elite 8  / 8, 20 win seasons in 11 years) but he never got to the Final 4 and starting losing local recruits due to pervasive negativity and a perception that the program was languishing under his leadership.

Sound familiar?

It didn’t matter that Finch had cleaned up a program that under Kirk had tattered NCAA rules, broken federal laws, and had such little interest in educating its minority players that the NAACP called for the coach’s removal. The bottom line was that the fan base eroded greatly under Finch, so he was gone – unceremoniously asked to sign his buyout at a hot dog stand after a home game.

After hiring Tic Price, which was a complete debacle, Memphis was thoroughly desperate for a winner.

Enter John Calipari.

Enter 30-win seasons, night club fights, Sweet 16 appearances, allegations of fraudulent SAT tests, Final 4 appearances, failed drug tests, #1 rankings, domestic abuse arrests.

NCAA probation.

Enter Josh Pastner, and now everything has come full circle.

Again.

The Lesson

So what’s the lesson here? That Memphis basketball will settle for nothing less than Final 4 level success, even if it takes criminal activity or at the very least academic fraud to achieve it?

Yes, that’s exactly the lesson. That’s why the first name that folks throw out when they dream about Pastner’s replacement is Auburn Coach and famed cheater Bruce Pearl.

Let’s go get the dirtiest guy available!

But college basketball is different these days. Cheating in recruiting has become SOP. Everyone does it systematically, including probably Pastner’s Memphis program. Assistant coaches do the dirty work and take the fall. Head coaches skate.

Every other aspect of the industry has also become standard. Academic “support staffs” make the graduation rates look pretty. Basketball programs look more like departments in a Fortune 100 company.

This isn’t the 1980’s.

In 2016, the dividing line is less about cheating and more about resources. We’re talking ‘Power 5’ vs. ‘Group of 5’ distinctions.

So Pearl probably isn’t leaving Auburn for Memphis.

And Memphis, in the aftermath of Pastner, doesn’t necessarily have a clear direction to go.

What Next?

If money were no object, Memphis would go after Wichita State’s Greg Marshall or Dayton’s Archie Miller. These are the best coaches outside the “Power 5.” Everyone is going to want these guys. Both have “elite” written all over them and would almost certainly succeed at Memphis.

Would they come?

Hard to say, but probably not even though Marshall has historically preferred schools outside the limelight.

First off, the financial thing has to be figured out and I don’t have those answers. Secondly, does Memphis under Bowen and Rudd still consider itself a basketball school? Clearly football is a priority, as it should be with conference realignment in mind. Like it or not, life in the ‘Group of 5’ will probably prevent Memphis from hiring one of these guys.

Should Memphis try a proven coach who’s had success at a lower level? Guys like Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), or Tim Cluess (Iona). Both are guys that got their first opportunity at an older age and might relish the Memphis job. There’s plenty of other guys out there at the mid-major level (Pearl’s former top assistant Steve Forbes is now coaching at ETSU), but hiring them is like taking a shot in the dark.

Hiring a mid-major is a shot in the dark. You could get Dana Kirk (came from VCU) or you could get Tic Price (came from New Orleans).

Or Memphis could turn within and look to guys with deep knowledge of the program. Some have suggested Penny Hardaway. Derek Kellogg at UMass would be a possibility and Damon Stoudamire is already on the payroll. The Pastner experiment has suppressed everyone’s appetite for guys with zero track record in the main chair.

Then there’s the retread option. Larry Eustachy, Tim Floyd. Maybe Mike Anderson, who has basically failed at Arkansas, could be persuaded to finally take the Memphis job. A dozen more guys like that are out there that would be intrigued by Memphis, but none of them get the blood pumping.

Here’s an idea that checks a lot of boxes:  Hire Manhattan’s Steve Masiello.

He’s won some games, learned under Rick Pitino, and already has an ethics fiasco under his belt. He lied on his resume a few years back – which cost him the South Florida job.

That seems to be the perfect mixture for the Memphis job at this point, and at any point over the past 40 years.

 

 

To Penny Or Not To Penny?

Speculation flew around Memphis today that Penny Hardaway could potentially be tapped to be the next Tigers basketball coach. Our resident bloggers Scott Hirsch and Jay Brenner debate the idea here….

Scott:  Penny Hardaway should be the next coach of Memphis Basketball. The clearest reason for this is that it would re-energize the fan base. Fan morale is, if not at an all time low, a two decade low. The stands are empty and no one has any confidence left in Josh Pastner, not even @roll1697, who was previously the last Pastner defender standing. Anyone near my age or older, and probably lots of people younger, are going to be pretty fired up if Penny is announced as the new coach.

Secondly, it’s hard to argue that Penny wouldn’t be able to recruit well.  He has great Nike ties, he’s been involved in the AAU scene and his name still resonates. Certainly in the city of Memphis he’s a legend and it would be hard to imagine any high profile Memphis recruits not wanting to play for him.

Third, what exactly would the other options be? Bruce Pearl ain’t coming. You could promote Stoudamire, and that might work out great, but it might not. Otherwise we’re probably talking about a relative unknown taking over a program on the precipice of irrelevance.

Penny has expressed an interest in coaching college. Though it’s definitely a big risk that could backfire terribly, ya know like the one they took hiring a 32 year old assistant. But when you look at the other options it’s hard to see one that’s a better fit and has the same potential to be a home run. Hopefully he could assemble an experienced staff full of people who fill in his gaps, the thing Pastner wasn’t willing to do. Mostly, it’d be fun as hell. Lets do it!

Jay:  Well, you said it in your last paragraph when you referenced how big a risk hiring Penny would be, but to illustrate that point more clearly I’ll give you four words: Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. When Houston Cougar basketball was spiraling towards irrelevance in the 1990’s they hired Drexler, an alum with legendary status on campus. He completely tanked. The Cougars went 19-39 in his 2 years and he was replaced. Word on the street was that “The Glide” was more interested in being on “The Golf Course” than on “The Practice Floor.” Hardaway, who is probably just as wealthy or wealthier than Drexler is also an avid golfer. My point being – does this guy really want to work that hard?

I acknowledge that hiring Penny Hardaway would fire up everyone who loves Memphis, including myself. At this point the program just needs something different, but the truth is being a head college basketball coach in 2016 is more akin to being the C.E.O. of a small business. In other words, it’s not the kind of job you hand to someone with no experience in the specific industry.

Sure, Hardaway knows the game, but is he ready to handle all the ancillary responsibilities that come along with running a multi-million dollar operation? He would have to hire and supervise a staff, handle media appearances, coordinate recruiting, player development, and discipline. This isn’t just holding a press conference and then coaching games. I think Penny Hardaway would probably be a good floor coach, but I could see him getting swallowed up by the other responsibilities associated with the position.

Also, I just think hiring Penny Hardaway reeks of desperation.  Actually, it’s not a thought, it’s a fact. If Memphis buys out Josh Pastner’s $10m contract they’ll be desperate to find someone on the cheap. Perhaps Penny would do it for less than market value, but then that raises the concerns even further about how much he’d devote to all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the job.

Bottom line, I’d be way more inclined to hire someone with coaching experience. Heck, if I wanted a low-cost option I’d look at hiring a crusty old-timer that might jump at a higher profile gig. There are guys that have appreciation for the history of Memphis basketball like Tim Floyd or Larry Eustachy who might do very well here connecting with the fan base. Here’s an outside the box option – maybe you could convince Jim Calhoun to try the Larry Brown septuagenarian coaching plan? Perhaps Penny (or Stoudamire) could be his coach in waiting and learn the industry? That’s a plan I could get behind.

Scott:  Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy? Holy buzz kill. That doesn’t reek of desperation that reeks of resignation. As to Calhoun, come on, get real. Maybe we can dig up Red Auerbach and see if he wants the job. You’re right though, we are desperate, no sense pretending we aren’t.

As to the Clyde Drexler comparison, I’m not sure that’s fair. Lots of coaches like to play golf. And Penny is coaching high school right now, which seems to indicate a more than passing interest in coaching. Whether or not he’s up to the job, we really don’t know. But being a CEO is exactly what I think he’d be good at. Hire a tactician, an ace recruiter, and let Penny close recruits, glad hand boosters and get kids to buy into his message or philosophies.

Drexler counterpoint is Hoiberg, the mayor. Zero coaching experience and that worked out pretty well.

If the choice is between washed up re-treads, young nobodies, or Penny, gimme number 25 in your hearts every time. Let’s do this!

Jay:  Not to get too detailed, but Hoiberg worked in an NBA front office before he got the Iowa State job. According to Wiki he even spent some time on the Timberwolves coaching staff after retiring from the NBA. He was around high level basketball people and working for a living. Penny has been coaching middle school for the past few years. It’s a resume that inspires less confidence. And again I’d point to motivation, Hoiberg didn’t make the kind of coin Penny did in his playing career. The dude has to work for a living, Penny almost certainly doesn’t.

As for Jim Calhoun, I’ll admit I have an unhealthy obsession with over the hill basketball coaches, but keep in mind he’s 2 years younger than SMU head coach Larry Brown – and I’d take the results the Mustangs have gotten the past few years (aside of course from that NCAA probation). I’ve heard rumors Calhoun wants to coach again so perhaps he’d be tempted by the idea of competing in UConn’s league at a school with Memphis’ pedigree. Also, the guy has 3 championship rings. You probably wouldn’t get him cheap, so it’s a silly conversation but I think Memphis could do a lot worse than giving him a 5 year contract with a coach in waiting.

I’m also a little afraid that if the Penny Hardaway thing went south it could end up toxic, like the Larry Finch situation 20 years ago. How do you fire a legend? Not at a hot dog stand. Memphis can’t afford more acrimony around the basketball program. It would have to go really well for it to work.

So again, I’d get on board with Penny, but if I’m Tom Bowen or a booster tasked with this decision I’m looking at (a) current head coaches that would jump at the opportunity to work at Memphis and that (b) have an understanding and appreciation of the Tiger fan base. A past history of high level success would be nice too. I’m willing to go outside the box for dudes like that and less likely to do so for guys that have never coached at the college level.

 

Tiger Basketball YouTube gems (ETSU, 1991)

Tuesday night’s win over Temple aside, we’re in the middle of another garbage Josh Pastner season.

All the hallmarks are present.

Compete hard but lose against a few really good teams, thus engendering some excitement? Check.

Disappointing efforts and eventual losses to inferior competition? Check.

Inconsistent execution and strange, sudden changes to the rotation? Check.

Disciplinary issues and suspicious injuries and illnesses? Check.

Cliched recycled answers in post game interviews? Check.

Because we are in the middle of another basically depressing season, I thought we should take a look at some YouTube gems and find an exciting Tiger game from the past.

Shout-out to @roll1697 for pointing out  a 1991 match-up between Memphis (Memphis State) and East Tennessee State University. Now, I should note that this particular season was not necessarily a more successful one than the current campaign. The Tigers finished only 17-15 and 7-7 in the Metro Conference. Luckily for Larry Finch, Penny Hardaway would show up the next year to extend his tenure several years.  Nevertheless, this game was extremely entertaining and well played.

Here are just a few reasons for you to watch this game on YouTube.

  1. There are two incredible individual performances in this game. Keith “Mister” Jennings was a 5’7 point guard for ETSU who was absolutely electric. Jennings made seemingly every play in this game, either with incredible passes or great shot making. He is a great, forgotten college basketball player. On the Memphis side, Elliot Perry was a one man team for Memphis State. He made something like 13 shots in a row down the stretch. I had forgotten how much of a shoot first guard he was. I’m not sure I saw him make a play for a teammate the whole game but that was quite alright because he got serious buckets. I believe both players ended up with 40 + points.
  2. This was a very well played and entertaining game. The pace was absolutely frenetic. There were very few half court possessions, but also very few turnovers and tons of great shot making – especially by ETSU, who was on fire for much of the game.
  3. The Tigers made a great, late second half comeback after trailing the whole game by double digits. It seemed like every time Memphis State made a run, ETSU had an answer. Memphis finally broke through late in the second half and the Coliseum crowd was LIT. I had forgotten how bonkers that place could get.
  4. The announcers are a gem. The YouTube video is of an ETSU feed, so it’s their local announcing team. They are homers, but not comically so. The color analyst has a thick southern accent and employs many amusing colloquialisms. These dudes became pretty apoplectic during the Memphis run. Let’s just say they didn’t like that the refs swallowed their whistles – it’s pretty amusing. They had a point, the refs seemed totally intimidated by the crowd. They also consistently refer to Jennings as either “Mister” or “The Mister” which I thoroughly enjoyed.  At one point they come back from the break and the camera is focused on an attractive woman in the crowd and the guy says, “There are a lot of pretty women in Memphis, Tennessee and that’s one of them.” Brent Musburger would be proud.

Looking back 25 years, here are some other random thoughts about this classic game:

    1. Billy Smith was absolute garbage in this game. I have no idea why he got so many minutes. He reminded me of a right handed K.J. Lawson in that he has absolutely no conscience and shoots the ball every time he touches it.
    2. College basketball seemed like more fun back then. Maybe it was just this game but the up and down, frenetic nature of the game was refreshing. There wasn’t much coaching interference, aka a bunch of timeouts to draw up plays that don’t work, etc. This was high level, skillful and entertaining, something that teams like Kansas and Kentucky (and a few others) can deliver, but that we don’t see consistently enough from CBB. Obviously some of that has to do with the fact that in this game the two best players were both Seniors.
    3. The 3pt point line wasn’t as big of a deal back then. ETSU actually took a bunch of 3’s but Memphis State attempted very few. There were also 3 lines on the court, a college one, international and an NBA line. It was a bit of an eye-sore.
    4. Todd Mundt was not terrible. I had forgotten that. I think I confuse him with Brett Mundt who was, in fact, terrible.

In summary, if you clicked on this article you’re probably kinda bored anyways, so go ahead and commit to the 1:15 it will take you to watch this classic College Basketball game. The video in part 1 starts off pretty rough but it improves.

 

Curses Aren’t Real

Curses aren’t real. Neither are jinxes, hexes, or voodoo.

There’s bad luck though, and it sure seems like great Memphis Tiger basketball players have suffered more than their fair share of it after leaving college.

I’m going to limit this mostly to players during my lifetime. The obvious place to start here is Keith Lee.  If you are somehow not familiar with Keith Lee, first off shame on you, secondly you should know he’s unquestionably one of the greatest college basketball players in history.

Lee was a four time All American at Memphis State. He averaged around 18 and 10, and was a stretch four before that was a thing that even existed. In high school, in West Memphis, Lee won 60 straight games and two state championships. He had great hands, great touch and a high basketball IQ. Unfortunately, Lee had bad knees and flamed out in the NBA. He played three unremarkable seasons after being drafted 11th and then was forced to retire.

As great as Lee was, he might not have been the most talented player on his college team. William Bedford was a 7-foot, extremely skilled player.  He had touch around the rim, was a terrific shot blocker, and ran the floor like a guard. Bedford averaged 17 and 8 his last year (1986) at Memphis State and was then drafted 6th by the Phoenix Suns in the subsequent lottery.

Things went south pretty quickly for Bedford in the NBA.  His performance on the court was poor: he averaged about 4 points and 2 rebounds.  Off court things were much worse as Bedford struggled mightily with a drug problem.  He was arrested several times and eventually, in 2003, after numerous drug arrests he was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The next in the line of great Memphians is Anfernee Hardaway. This is obviously a different kind of story from the previous two. Hardaway was a Memphis legend by the time he was 16.  His high school games were events.  He was Lebron before Lebron, 6’7 with the passing vision of Magic and the athleticism of Jordan. He was a force.

Hardaway dominated in college and carried an otherwise not very talented team to an Elite 8. He averaged 22.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.4 spg his Junior year.  He was basically the number one pick in the NBA draft. (Chris Webber was selected 1st by Orlando and Penny 3rd by Golden State but the teams then traded the players to each other.)

Hardaway’s pro career started off incredibly. In his 2nd year he averaged 20.9 ppg, 7.2 apg, 4.4 rpg, and 1.7 spg. He was an All Star starter and 1st team all-NBA. The next year he was all-NBA first team again, and finished 3rd in the MVP voting.  The next year Shaquille O’Neal left for the Lakers and Penny’s numbers suffered, but only slightly.  He finished All-NBA 3rd Team.

Hardaway dragged his team to the playoffs only to fall to Jordan’s Bulls.  He averaged 31 points, 6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.4 steals in the playoffs.

The only reasonable conclusion to draw after the first 4 years of Anfernee Hardaway’s professional career is that he had a chance to be one of the greatest players in NBA history.  Other than outside shooting, there were no holes in his game.

In 1997-1998, Hardaway was entering what is considered a player’s basketball prime – 24-29 years of age. Early that year he suffered a massive knee injury and basically never recovered to his previous form. He ended up having four more surgeries, two microfracture, and lost a good deal of his athleticism.

Penny still managed to put up decent numbers and have a 16-year NBA career.  He made an insane amount of money as well, buoyed by one of the richest contracts in NBA history. He also had an iconic Nike shoe campaign. Still, it’s hard not to look back and wonder what could have been had injuries not derailed his playing career. At minimum, it seems he would have had a Hall of Fame career. At most, you’re looking at a possible basketball immortal, remembered forever.

Here’s another kind of story: Lorenzen Wright. Most of you are probably familiar with this one.  Great college career, 7th pick in the NBA draft.  A very solid if unspectacular 13 year NBA career, including a productive stint with his hometown Grizzlies. Then, the ultimate tragedy. A year after his retirement, he went missing. Ten days later, his body was found dead in a wooded area off Hacks Cross Road. The homicide remains unsolved, though Wright had financial troubles, marital troubles, and had ties to known criminals.

The first big time player of the John Calipari era was Dajuan Wagner.  Wagner was another high school legend, a cult hero in his hometown of Camden, NJ.  He reportedly scored 100 in a high school game, and averaged 42 points a game his Senior year.

Wagner’s lone year at Memphis was a little disappointing as the team never gelled, but they did win the NIT. I’m sure everyone remembers the parade Calipari threw for winning that championship.  Wagner averaged 21 points that season and was subsequently taken with the 6th pick in the 2002 NBA draft, by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wagner had a mediocre rookie season, scoring 16 a game but shooting a pathetic 37 percent from the field. Things only got worse. The next year he was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis.  After not responding to medication he eventually had to have his colon removed.  Wagner attempted a few comebacks after that but they never materialized. His professional career can only be described as a total disappointment.

That brings us to Derrick Rose.  Having only logged one year at Memphis, he cannot be remembered alongside some of the other Tiger greats but in terms of sheer talent he’s probably just below Penny.  Rose was a free throw away from winning an NCAA Championship and was subsequently the number one pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, his hometown team.

Rose was terrific right away, an All-Star in his second season, an MVP in his third, the youngest player to ever win that award.  Much like Penny, the sky was the limit for Rose. He had won the MVP before entering the prime of his career.

In the playoffs of Rose’s 4th season, he tore his ACL. He missed the entire next season in a prolonged rehabilitation. The following season he came back but tore his meniscus in November and missed the rest of that year also. It’s been one setback after another since the first injury and Rose hasn’t come close to the form he showed in his MVP season.

Rose injured his orbital bone before the start of this season and currently ranks as the WORST veteran starter in the NBA. He’s shooting 36 percent from the field.  He simply doesn’t resemble the player he was.

Injuries, drugs, murder, illness. The fate of some of the greatest talents in Memphis history is pretty depressing.

I have, of course, glossed over some players who have had less turbulent success. Tyreke Evans is having a nice NBA career. Will Barton is turning into a real NBA player. Back in the 70’s Larry Kenon had a long and successful career, although his teammate and fellow Memphis legend Larry Finch had only a disappointing three year ABA career.

I didn’t even get to Shawne Williams, another extremely talented product of the Calipari era who has had endless legal troubles since getting into the league, including a recent DUI arrest.

I don’t really draw any larger sweeping conclusion from this list but maybe others do. I think it’s basically just odd, rotten luck. Though it’s certainly a tempting tableau for those who want to see Memphis as a cursed, sad sack, never-can-quite-get-there city.

Luck can change though. Hopefully the next Memphis stars, maybe beginning with Dedric Lawson, have long, successful, productive NBA careers, not marred by injury or scandal.  One can hope.

 

Has Memphis Finally Destroyed Josh Pastner?

3 weeks ago, I fired Josh Pastner after watching Memphis drop a non-conference home game to UT Arlington at FedExForum.

The Tigers haven’t lost since.

They’ve beaten Ohio State, Louisiana Tech, Southeast Missouri and Manhattan. Good teams, these are not.

Yet the most important defeat has come internally, and it may have come the very same night Memphis lost to UT Arlington.

Memphis has destroyed Josh Pastner.

This is a good thing.

I’m not talking, of course, of Josh Pastner the person or Josh Pastner the basketball coach.

Those dudes are still here.

I’m talking about the effervescent, relentlessly optimistic, jumpy, flash card waving, everyone is good-ing, Memphis has the best fans in the whole wide world-ing Josh Pastner.

That dude is gone.

That Josh Pastner hasn’t been at FedExForum the last few games.

I’ve been there, I’ve watched with my own eyes. The guy on the sidelines for Memphis looks defeated, surrendered, relaxed. No relentless clapping, no waving of the arms, very little jumping up and down. The guy roaming the sidelines for Memphis looks as if something has been taken from him.

He looks like a kid at Christmas the first year after being told Santa isn’t real. Sure, he’ll show up for the presents but the magic is gone.

This is a very good thing.

Realness. 

Josh Pastner is a good dude. We all know the stories, and we’re not tired of them. The service calls, the greater perspective, the life lessons. That’s all fine, and it’s good.

But when it comes to basketball coaches in the modern era, the best ones are almost all cynical, ornery and seemingly teetering on the precipice of a major depressive episode.

Think Jim Boeheim, think Rick Pitino, think Tom Izzo.

These guys are never happy or satisfied or pleasant or able to conduct a post-game press conference without epitomizing defeat, regardless of the outcome. Disdain for the questioners, doubt about their own team, relentless scorn.

Boeheim’s team can win by 20 and he attacks the press conference as if he’s a hostile witness testifying in front of Congress.

Pastner has long needed more of this, and judging from his post-game comments last night he’s finally got some:

“It was just ridiculous.”

“Markel stunk.”

“Ricky stunk.”

Music to my ears.

Granted, Pastner was talking about the first half and went on to say positive things about the second half and was courteous the whole time but still, this was after a 32 point win.

Once upon a time this was a guy that would find ways to praise his guys after a 32 point loss.

Maybe Pastner is finally tired of all the bullshit. Maybe he’s finally given up. Maybe he’s finally flashing signs of, dare I say, cynicism and defeat.

I hope so.

Because it looks like a defeated Josh Pastner is a better basketball coach than that other dude.

Norvell Parallels Run More with Pastner Than Fuente

It’s natural to compare new Memphis football coach Mike Norvell to his predecessor Justin Fuente.

Both men were in their mid-30’s when they got the job. They were both successful offensive coordinators. They were both relative unknowns to fans but highly regarded within the industry.

They both inspired confidence based on their prior achievements working in successful, high level, college football programs.

There are a lot of similarities.

But there’s another, more cautionary comparison filled with parallels that no one seems to have noticed.

It struck me as I watched Norvell speak at his opening press conference.

Mike Norvell has a whole lot in common with Josh Pastner.

Pastner also got his first opportunity at Memphis in his 30’s. He and Norvell were both raised in Texas, and both got their coaching start in Arizona, in the PAC 12.

Unlike Fuente, both Norvell and Pastner got their jobs in the immediate shadow of perhaps the most successful coaches in their respective program’s history.

Both Norvell and Pastner were / are in the position of having to soothe the hurt ego of a fan base stinging from the sight of a beloved coach moving on to a more prestigious opportunity.

Fuente took over a program that some people legitimately thought should be disbanded whereas Pastner and Norvell took over programs that the community and athletic department were / are counting on to achieve the highest levels of success.

Fuente is shy, almost reclusive. Pastner and Norvell both seem naturally inclined to work the room, to shake hands, to make sure supporters of the program feel attended to and important.

Norvell can learn as much from Pastner’s experience as Fuente’s.

After watching Pastner navigate this terrain for the past 6+ years, I have some pertinent suggestions for Norvell:

  1. Don’t unnecessarily build expectations, but don’t make excuses either. At his initial press conference in 2009 Pastner talked about the fact that he didn’t want the program to have any “slippage” whatsoever. It was music to the ears of Tiger fans, but it wasn’t realistic. Pastner himself has acknowledged as much in recent years. He’s since harped on how the achievements of John Calipari can never be duplicated. Norvell should avoid both of these extremes. Don’t promise the moon, but don’t remind us that you can’t be as good as the last guy.
  2. Be accessible, but focus on what really matters. According to Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal, Norvell has promised a more open program. That’s great. Perhaps in his zeal to market the program, Norvell will be more like Josh Pastner than Fuente. Pastner doesn’t turn down media appearances. He spent 20 minutes on the phone with me for this blog last year. He returns every single email. He does everything he can to help out anyone who asks. It’s actually pretty amazing. Fuente, on the other hand, focused on coaching football and preparing his team and not surprisingly happened to do an excellent job with both tasks. While it’s great that Norvell wants to accommodate folks, and I’m sure Tiger fans will genuinely love knowing more about their coach and their program, it’s most important that he win football games. Preferably lots of them. Norvell shouldn’t let the desire to please people get in the way of his primary focus.
  3. Pray that Tiger fans understand that they again have a first time head coach. Norvell ought not be too quick to remind folks that he’s never been a head coach before, but it’s a fact that Tiger fans should understand when setting expectations for next year. The unavoidable, harsh truth is that anyone doing a job for the first time is going to make mistakes solely attributable to their inexperience. I remember thinking about this fact as I watched Fuente in his post game press conference after losing to UT Martin in his first game. I remember thinking about this after Pastner’s first team was upset in a close game against an inferior UMass squad. Stuff happens, especially to the new guy. Tiger fans should adjust their expectations accordingly – but if they don’t, Norvell should remember #1. Don’t make excuses.
  4. Have a former head coach on staff. I’m in no position to make staff recommendations, but in looking at the success Justin Fuente had with bringing former head coaches onto his staff, I’d advise Norvell to do the same. Fuente was able to lean on guys like Darrell Dickey and Bill Blakenship as he gained valuable experience. Pastner had former Rice head coach Willis Wilson on his first staff, but hasn’t hired a former head coach for any of his subsequent coaching staffs. Norvell needs to bring in some vets to lean on as he grows.
  5. Be selective about bringing in Memphis kids. Again, I don’t presume to know the first thing about football recruiting and from what he said at the press conference I don’t think Norvell needs any advice from me about how to select guys that fit his program. Nevertheless it’s worth pointing out that when Fuente took kids, he made sure he took the right type of kid, guys he thought would flourish in the culture he created. In his early years it seemed Pastner recruited based on rankings and stars and was thus willing to take Memphis kids without careful enough consideration as to how they might handle the unique challenge of playing in their hometown. I say this because after watching the careers of Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black, Nick King and Austin Nichols, it’s fair to say that Memphis kids have not thrived in Pastner’s program. Norvell should be careful on this front and I’m sure he will be.

So for all the comparisons to Fuente that Mike Norvell heard yesterday and will continue to hear, for educational purposes the Memphis coach whose story he needs to learn from is still on campus.

His name is Josh Pastner.

Tiger Droppings (11/24/15) | Time to Give Stoudamire a Look?

When a Tiger fan older than 50 starts talking about the Moe Iba era, you know things are bad. Tonight, my Dad was talking about the Moe Iba era.

When a Tiger fan younger than 40 starts talking about the Tic Price era, you know things are bad. Tonight, I was thinking about the Tic Price era.

The Tigers lost to an institution named UT Arlington at FedExForum tonight in front of maybe 5,000 fans. Keeping in mind that the same UT Arlington squad beat Ohio State last week, it was still awfully depressing.

It’s going to be a long year. Quite possibly a Tic Price / Moe Iba kind of year.

Will it be a Larry Finch fired at the hot dog stand type of year?

From the team, it was a frustrating display of missed shots, dejected body language and overall discombobulation.

The Tiger players argued calls, got booed by their own fans, reverted to 1 on 1 moves – and basically choked out the positive vibes left over from the close loss to Oklahoma.

So now we’re left to consider that this team is likely in trouble. That they’re going to have tremendous difficulty scoring and shooting (the two tasks go hand in hand) all year. Left to consider how far the program has fallen – not just since the previous regime, but even since the Joe Jackson / Chris Crawford era.

The crowd was sparse, frustrated and figures to continue shrinking.

Which brings me to the most painful conclusion – that perhaps its time to shake things up in the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis.

It’s painful to voice this opinion, because I think Josh Pastner actually deserves to continue on as the coach.

What deserves to happen and what needs to happen are two different things.

Pastner is a good man, and in some respects I think he’s a quality coach. His detractors will disagree, but there’s an aspect to his coaching that exudes preparedness. Maybe it’s just the flash cards fooling me, but I’ve always said I think Memphis is more over-coached than under-coached. I still believe that.

Furthermore, in a vacuum Pastner’s record is more than adequate. It’s actually pretty good. 4 NCAA Tournaments in 6 seasons after inheriting a gutted roster. Memphis would probably take heat nationally for replacing him, and they’d deserve it.

Additionally, so much of the culture issue around the Memphis program has nothing to do with Josh Pastner at all. A lot of the negativity facing Pastner stems from his predecessor’s success which fostered unreasonable expectations. Other issues inside of the Memphis administration, impact of boosters, the realities of conference affiliation, the overall state of college athletics…these are all factors that contribute to the difficulty of the Memphis job right now.

So the problems at Memphis go well beyond Josh Pastner.

On the other hand, the environment around the program has really sunk to a low (Iba / Price type stuff). Fan support has dwindled, and the energy is low.

Pastner is an energy guy, so even he would have to admit that it doesn’t appear that the players respond to him. Frankly, in 6+ years it has almost never appeared that the Memphis players respond to Josh Pastner.

Perhaps they do, but it doesn’t appear that way.

I’m not sure if it’s a motivation thing, a leadership thing, or a strategy thing. Like I said before, I think Pastner knows how to coach.

What I am sure of is that something is missing.

People say it would cost a lot of money to buy Pastner out, and while that’s true – it misses the point. Josh Pastner is going to be paid a lot of money either way.

He is either going to get paid to coach, or he is going to get paid not to coach.

I’m suggesting that perhaps the program would be better off paying Josh Pastner not to coach. They could elevate Damon Stoudamire (at his current salary for the remainder of the year) to serve as the interim coach. This would essentially function as a tryout – a chance for Stoudamire to earn the job.

If Stoudamire earns the job (the way Kevin Ollie earned the UConn job a few years ago), great. If he doesn’t, the athletic department can move on at the end of the year.

I think this would be good for Pastner too. He will land on his feet, possibly as an assistant. He’ll continue to learn and grow and prepare himself for another opportunity as a head coach down the road. And he’ll get paid a lot of money. He’s an elite recruiter.

For a cost conscious athletic department, paying Pastner millions to not coach may ultimately dictate hiring a lower cost option as a full time replacement [after all, Memphis doesn’t have the resources like LSU, where apparently they passed the hat (no pun intended) to scrape up $15m in order to fire a highly successful football coach].

But perhaps it’s smarter to take that approach than to continue on in the current toxic environment (which again, I don’t blame Pastner entirely for).

Someone in power has to at least be considering that option.

 

Tiger Droppings (11/20/15)

Watching the Memphis – Grambling game on ESPN3, after watching the OU – Memphis game from a hotel in Dallas. I have thoughts:

  • If the current overall national profile of the Memphis program doesn’t evoke the 1990s enough for you, tuning into ESPN3 to find the duo of Greg Gaston and Jon Albright calling the Memphis-Grambling game should do the trick. These 2 are actually pretty solid, and they’ve come a long way from WPTY / WLMT or whatever station they were calling Tiger games on 20-25 years ago (okay maybe ESPN3 isn’t that long a distance). Great Midwest Conference, baby!
  • Josh Pastner promised to trim the rotation this year and, so far, he’s kept his word. Once again, 8 players got the majority of minutes against Grambling. The Lawson Brothers, Ricky Tarrant, Markel Crawford, Avery Woodson, Jeremiah Martin, Shaq Goodwin, and Trahson Burrell. Raw big man Nick Marshall was the only other player with double figure minutes. Letting guys play through mistakes should help when conference play rolls around.
  • Dedric Lawson is the best looking Tiger freshman since___________. Hard to fill in this blank, isn’t it? The Tigers have certainly had some elite Freshman in the last 10 years (Rose, Evans, Barton, Nichols, Jackson, etc…) but almost all have struggled early. Conversely, Lawson looks entirely comfortable and is pretty clearly the best player on this team already. When I look at him I see a rich man’s Shawne Williams.
  • Without being privy to the exact details of Kedren Johnson’s health issues, I really like the way Pastner has handled the PG situation. He’s decided to go entirely with Senior transfer Ricky Tarrant as starter and Freshman Jeremiah Martin as the primary backup. Pastner isn’t messing with Johnson at all at this point. Though Johnson was strong at the end of last year, I like that Pastner has decided to stash him on the bench rather than try to awkwardly manage his minutes / injury-situation / pain threshold. Presumably, because Johnson hasn’t had surgery, he’s available for duty if needed. But I think it’s a much better idea to get Martin adjusted to the College game while letting Tarrant know this is his squad.
  • Keeping an eye on the American – and it looks pretty good so far. The top 8 teams are 15-2 with the only losses to Oklahoma (#8) and top ranked North Carolina. Temple beat Minnesota of the B1G last night in Puerto Rico and SMU blew out Stanford (of the PAC 12) in Palo Alto. Tulsa upset Wichita State (#10) this week as well. Houston, UConn, Tulsa, Cincinnati, SMU, and East Carolina are all undefeated thus far. All of this matters because Memphis needs as many of these teams to end up in the top 100 of the RPI as possible before conference play begins. It should be noted that USF, UCF and Tulane all smell – really bad.
  • Football Related News: News out of Houston is that the school has approved a raise for football coach Tom Herman to $3m per year. That’s an astounding number for a so called “Group of 5” school but of course it doesn’t mean that Herman still won’t leave for a more prestigious job. It just means that it will take in excess  of $3m per year to get it done.
  • It makes one wonder what the Memphis administration and boosters are doing to make a run at enticing Justin Fuente to stay in Memphis. At this point, I’d put the odds on that happening at around 20%. There are just too many good situations already available and more (LSU? Texas?) still rumored to be opening. Either way, we’ll know more in about 2 weeks. Can’t imagine this situation dragging through the bowl season, but you never know.

Weird Expectations

There was an odd moment in Josh Pastner’s press conference after the Southern Miss game – and I think it explains (perhaps more than) a little about Tiger basketball and where we’re at as year 7 of Pastner’s era gets rolling…

Media member:  “Josh does Dedric surprise even you sometimes with what he sees as it’s in the process of happening?”

Presumably the questioner was referring to court vision, passing, and the overall ‘feel’ that Freshman Dedric Lawson has for the game of basketball as he begins his career.  The younger Lawson brother had 5 assists in his college debut.

Simple, specific, question – which makes what happened next seem out of place.

Pastner:  “I think Dedric and KJ (Dedric’s brother, also a Freshman), will be two of the best to come out of Memphis to play here at Memphis.  I really believe that.”

Say what?

I’ll take Pastner at his word that he really believes that. But even so, why would he say it?

Now to be fair, Pastner went on to remind everyone that the Lawsons are Freshmen and will get better with time. But is this really the type of expectation building statement that is productive for the Lawsons, the program, or the fan base at this point in time?

Going into a higher pressure test against Oklahoma on Tuesday?

I can’t imagine that it is.

Maybe Pastner is right. Maybe the Lawsons will have careers that rank right up there with Anfernee Hardaway, Larry Finch, Lorenzen Wright. Maybe they’ll both have lucrative NBA careers.

But the question was about court vision.  Not about whether or not KJ Lawson will be as good as Penny Hardaway.

But after one game of their freshman season, against Southern Miss, in which the brothers combined to shoot 7-20 from the field?  Seems counter productive in a lot of ways.

Not a big deal, just sort of weird.

13 Thoughts on Friday the 13th

  • Well, Tiger Basketball season is about to tip off – and this blog is still here. So now I’m going to type some words.
  • Just got word that Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is out at the end of the year. There are already a lot of great openings that perhaps don’t make sense for Memphis’ head football coach, Justin Fuente. Miami’s culture just doesn’t seem like a fit with Fuente’s style. Southern Cal is considered too good to pass up and while there’s probably truth to that, Fuente isn’t a west coast kind of guy. Does he really want to follow Spurrier at South Carolina or Beamer at VT? For one reason or another, I’m just not sure these, albeit attractive openings, make complete sense for Fuente.
  • On the other hand, Missouri makes sense. Former Memphis Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom is on staff and former Associate AD Wren Baker is part of the administration. Missouri is an SEC job now, and right in the heart of Fuente’s known geographic footprint. Though the SEC is tough, Missouri did win the east in 2 of its first 3 years. I think this is a good job and I think it would probably interest Fuente.
  • I haven’t written much since last basketball season ended. A day job and other responsibilities / distractions got in the way.  This blog is still a nebulous enterprise, but the recent addition of Scott Hirsch as a contributing writer has me reinvigorated – for at least the present moment.  Check out Scott’s piece on why you are stupid.
  • I’m glad I wasn’t trying to write about the Tigers’ 8-1 (so far) football season – because I’m at a loss for words about it. I’m obviously enjoying the hell out of it and though it would have been great to keep the undefeated season going, having been a Tiger football fan for 30 years instills some perspective.
  • So the proper perspective is this: no matter how the next month unfolds, this season has been a clear turning point season for the Memphis football program. Memphis is now (perhaps along with a few others) a clear leader among so called “Group of 5” athletic programs. That’s worth something in the world of conference realignment.
  • On the other hand, Memphis has always seemed a little late to the party and perhaps this is no different. Conference realignment will surely happen again – but in light of recent events at the University of Missouri and in light of the overall instability of the amateur model and in light of the potential downfall of the sports TV model – the future of college athletics has never been murkier.
  • Despite all the uncertainty and upheaval anticipated in college athletics – Memphis is well positioned for future success based on the fact that they finally have a well put-together, successful football program. That wasn’t the case 4 years ago – and it wasn’t clear that it would ever be.
  • The ultimate optimism is that even if Fuente leaves, he’ll leave behind a program that will continue moving forward – a la Boise State after Dan Hawkins (the first coach to have major success there) left.

Now, on to basketball:

  • This is kind of a fun scenario: coach on the hot seat, low expectations, fly under the radar type of stuff. Of course, it only stays fun if the team surpasses said expectations, the coach re-emerges as a legitimate entity and the team shows up on various radars. Obviously, that’s the scenario Josh Pastner seems to be counting on.
  • If I’m looking for a reason to be optimistic (I am), I recall the stretch of basketball at the end of last season without Austin Nichols. Even without their leading scorer (Nichols) the Tigers played some inspired basketball at times- including during a late season win at Gampel Pavillion (UConn). Add McDonalds All American Dedric Lawson to the mix and maybe you’ve got something.
  • I don’t, on the other hand, take much from the quotes about how team chemistry has improved. This is a story that gets sold every year and I simply won’t believe it until I see it. Memphis basketball teams under Josh Pastner have never appeared to have terrific chemistry, even though some of his teams have won alot of games. I attribute this to over-coaching, so we’ll see if this group can play a loose yet determined brand of basketball. It would be a surprise.
  • If I’m looking for reasons to be pessimistic – I look no further than the fact that more than 1/2 of the roster has never played major college basketball before – and several of those pieces were after thoughts in recruiting. Add to that the fact that the returnees are a group that missed the post-season entirely and there’s just not great reason to believe that this is an NCAA tournament team.