Forget Jeff Green, It’s Lionel Hollins Week for the Grizzlies

The Grizzlies beat the Suns Sunday in 2OT to snap a 2-game losing streak and move to 26-11 on the season. On Monday, they’ll welcome Jeff Green and Russ Smith to the team and then gear up for the final 4 games before the literal halfway point of the NBA season. The Memphis Grizzlies are legitimate NBA Title Contenders.

With the Green trade finalized and the team moving back to 15 games over .500, these are heady times for Grizzlies fans. But none of that qualifies as the most exciting part of the upcoming week.

The most exciting part of this week? A reunion with former Head Coach Lionel Hollins – who now coaches the Brooklyn Nets.

The Grizzlies play at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

Hollins had his new team solidly in playoff contention and playing .500 ball before a recent 5-game losing streak. The Nets, now in the 8th spot in the East, will be desperate to break their losing streak against the Grizzlies.

You gotta figure the NY media will ask Hollins about the Grizzlies, about the past, about the split. And you gotta figure Hollins will answer the questions. And you gotta figure his answer will be spontaneous, unfiltered, honest and probably hilarious.

Hollins, as you would expect, hasn’t stopped being a quote machine since moving north.

  • Last Thursday, Hollins called Brook Lopez “lazy” after he gave up on a play too early.
  • Hollins has been blunt in his assessment of his current team overall: “We are not a very good team.”
  • Hollins made waves when Prince William and Duchess Kate attended a Nets game earlier this year. Asked how he felt about their visit, Hollins made it clear he wasn’t impressed (from a FTW story, via Netsdaily):

“I don’t like answering those questions. What does it mean to me, or to any normal person? I wouldn’t be crazy even if the Pope came over…unless I was Catholic…. I mean, they’re just people that everybody sees on TV. Does that make them better people? They have more money than you, does that make them better people? It doesn’t make them better than you. I know a lot of people with money that I wouldn’t want to hang with…. They serve their purpose for their country, and they do what they do. If they came in and said they wanted to meet me, I’d be honored. But if they don’t, no sweat.”

That’s Lionel Hollins. He doesn’t GAF about the Prince of England and he doesn’t GAF about telling you that he doesn’t GAF. You really have to respect that. Let’s not rehash the stories about why Hollins fell out of favor with Grizz management and how all that stuff went down – Hollins will probably do that himself this week if someone bothers to ask him, which I’m sure they will. And whatever you think of it, it will be funny, and honest, and refreshing.

So let’s not re-litigate that conflict. Everyone has moved on anyway.

For now, let’s just admire a man who isn’t a corporate mouthpiece. Let’s admire a man who isn’t afraid to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And don’t misunderstand that. There are plenty of people in all walks of life who aren’t afraid to run their mouth – but who should be more discriminating because what they say isn’t true, or is hurtful, or hateful or otherwise ill conceived. What Hollins says is usually true, or merely his opinion, and it isn’t typically hurtful – and a lot of times it’s just funny as hell.

Hollins, as followers of the Grizzlies are well aware, is a throwback. Here’s a good piece done on Hollins by Johnette Howard of ESPN New York. In it, Hollins explains his methods, which are more about leadership and bringing about change than anger or politics:

“I am combative. I’m not afraid of conflict or confrontation. I am confrontational,” Hollins adds. “As a leader, you have to be. I mean, what do you get out of people if you just sit back and let them do what they want to do, without any confrontation? My feeling is there can be no change without confrontation. You go back through history, every change had some kind of conflict before there was change. Nobody is doing something different because they want to. It’s because somebody creates conflict that makes them.”

It was this brand of leadership and attitude that, in large part, made the current Grizzlies what they are. The players, the franchise, heck even the fan base – all have Hollins’ fingerprints on them. Before Hollins took over the Grizzlies in January of 2009, they had absolutely zero identity beyond that of a struggling, wayward franchise.

Sure, there are plenty of other people – players, management, etc – who have poured massive amounts of energy and effort into what the Grizzlies have become. But sometimes you get the feeling that Hollins burned so many bridges in Memphis that maybe he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I suspect we’ll hear more about that this week, too.

But let’s try not to really worry about that. This week, let’s just admire Hollins’ style as Memphians continue to enjoy the product he helped develop.

 

 

Philosophic Phil, Realistic Ralph & Negative Nellie (Post @ Houston)

Well, the Tigers won a road conference game. That’s always nice. Winning being hard and all. Better Tiger teams than this one have lost at Hofheinz, so overall it was a good day.

Let’s hear from our friends after the Tigers’ 62-44 triumph over the lowly Cougars:

Philosophic Phil:

  • New Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has to be wondering what he got himself into at Houston, which is just an absolute graveyard of (sometimes decent) coaches.
  • Sampson, the former Indiana and Oklahoma head coach and NBA assistant (while serving his show-cause NCAA penalty for repeated rules violations) surely would have had better opportunities to get back in the game had he waited a little longer.
  • James Dickey, Tom Penders, Ray McCallum, Clyde Drexler, Alvin Brooks – all former Houston Cougar coaches, all **tried to return the program to it’s 1980’s glory. All failed.
  • An announced crowd of 2697 attended the game – gotta figure that was inflated by about half. The environment appeared to allow Memphis to relax and get into a nice flow.
  • So it was a good day for Memphis, who really needed a blowout for their confidence going forward.

**According to observers, it’s not clear that Drexler actually tried all that hard. He was known to play 18 holes of golf on game days (and other days).

Realistic Ralph:

  • Houston is really bad. 0-4 in AAC play thus far and 7-8 overall with some really bad losses.
  • Nice that Memphis took care of business to improve to 9-6 (2-2), but given the competition this doesn’t appear to alter the trajectory of the season.
  • Austin Nichols continues to be a very bright spot in a gloomy campaign for Memphis. Against Houston he finished with 16 pts, 7 rbs and 4 blocks.
  • Kedren Johnson re-emerged on Sunday. The Vanderbilt transfer who had been relegated to the bench after entering the season as a projected starter, finished Sunday’s game with 10 points (on perfect shooting), 4 assists and just one turnover.
  • Shaq Goodwin had nice energy for the first time in a while. He finished with just 8 pts and 5 rebounds, but was aggressive. Like a lot of Tigers, Shaq appears to flourish against weaker competition and disappear in more challenging games.

Negative Nellie:

  • With Pastner’s inability or refusal to establish a consistent rotation, one is left to consistently wonder where the next discontented eruption is going to come from. The Houston game did nothing to alter this trend.
  • This game, it was Calvin Godfrey in the starting lineup and Nick King (coming back from injury) only playing 9 minutes. Hard to quibble with the allocation, especially given the result – but you know King won’t stay happy if his minutes don’t go back to pre-injury levels. Those minutes will have to come from somewhere and we already know Godfrey isn’t shy about complaining.
  • We also saw Johnson take Demarnier Cunningham’s minutes against Houston. Johnson played 17 minutes and Cunningham just 4, which was basically a reversal from the SMU game. Again, hard to quibble with the actual decision, but you wonder if either player knows what to expect going forward and what Pastner communicates to them about their roles.
  • Big game coming up against Cincinnati on Thursday at FedExForum – and at this point you just expect the Tigers to break out a totally new starting lineup, rotation, strategy, and identity.
  • Someone needs to tell Pastner that purplish-blue tie does not go with that deep blue shirt. Not a good look.

What is the Jeff Green Trade Really About? Sibling Rivalry

It’s not official yet, but the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies have reportedly come to terms on the basic elements of a trade that will end up with the Grizzlies acquiring a dynamic scorer, 6’8 swingman Jeff Green. Details are still being worked out, but assuming everything goes through, Memphis – according to at least one neutral national NBA writer (Bill Simmons) – is now a favorite to win the NBA’s Western Conference:

Screenshot 2015-01-10 at 4.38.40 PM

 

It’s hard to fathom isn’t it? Memphis. Potential Western Conference Champions. Memphis. Potential NBA Finals participant. Memphis. Potential NBA Champion. It’s been talked about all year – or at least since the Grizz got out of the gates with a 21-5 record. But now with yet another significant piece added – and comments like Simmons’ – it really feels possible. It’s beginning to sink in. For the moment, the Grizz are legitimate contenders for the NBA title.

So clearly this is about trying to win the NBA Championship, as hard as that is for a Memphian to fathom. But it’s just as much about next summer – when Marc Gasol will become an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps the most valuable free agent on the market.

Gasol loves Memphis – and is saying the right things to assure Memphis fans:

“I’ve been already through one,” Gasol says of the summer of 2011, when as a restricted free agent he re-signed with the Grizzlies for $58 million over four years, “and I did not especially enjoy it. I don’t know how I’m going to feel in July. I really don’t. This is the next five years of my life and I’m going to go all in. Whatever team you play for, you’ve always got to feel like you represent that team, that you’ve got to play for it. Because that’s the way we grew up in Spain. You play for the city. You play for a way of doing things. It’s not about you. I do this for them. I play for the city, for the franchise or whatever. You’ve got to have that pride that comes with it.”

So maybe Gasol is just a real Memphian – and maybe he’s all in no matter what. Maybe it’s a moot point – maybe he’d re-sign here if the Grizz flopped and proved to be pretenders instead of contenders. The Grizz can’t afford to take that chance.

The Grizz brass have to know that Gasol wants rings. After all, his older brother Pau – has rings. Like Peyton and Eli Manning, and every other pair of siblings before them, you have to know that Marc has some kind of burning desire to match or out do his big brother. That’s just how it goes when brothers compete – in the same endeavor – playing the same position. Sure, Marc’s a great player in his own right – and arguably better than Pau – but Pau has rings. Marc has no rings.

The Grizzlies have to convince Marc Gasol that they’re be a real contender. Real contenders have dynamic, athletic scorers on the wing. The Grizzlies are on the precipice. They have to take their absolute best shot, right now. There might not be another shot. The whole thing could come apart. If Gasol leaves. That’s what bringing Green in is about – obviously. Saying – hey – we might win the whole freaking thing right now. This move is about adding another crucial piece to the 4 man core (Allen, Conley, Randolph, Gasol). Now, there’s a solid, no questions asked, starting 5. Now, the Grizzlies can make that run. Take their shot.

The Grizzlies are trying to go from plucky, upstart, grit grind, underdog – to real NBA contender. It appears with the Green trade they may have done just that.

Big brother beware.

U of M AD Bowen Shouldn’t Let Ehrhart Call the Shots on Stadium

According to an article out today by Phil Stukenborg, University of Memphis officials would like to add 10,000 chair-back seats to Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The move makes sense for Memphis because it would (a) reduce capacity of a stadium that is clearly too big for their needs and (b) add nicer seating that would enable Memphis to justify higher ticket prices for those (chair-back) seats. It makes perfect sense.

There’s only one problem: Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, appears to be throwing up a roadblock. Here’s the quote from Ehrhart in Stukenborg’s article:

“Until we have the opportunity to discuss this with our partners — the Big 12 Conference and the SEC — a potential loss of seating capacity could be a very important issue,” Ehrhart said. “We just think it’s important to stay at the 60,000 figure.”

First of all, Ehrhart appears to be talking out of both sides of his mouth – Is it important to talk to your partners or have you already made up your mind that it’s important to stay at the 60,000 figure? Sure sounds like he’s already made up his mind. Also, could Ehrhart be using the specter of the Big XII to tweak Memphis a little? Memphis is certainly willing to do anything the Big XII wants, but does that conference really care if capacity is reduced by 5k? Seems a bit far-fetched. After all, the Big XII’s payout for participating in the Liberty Bowl game is locked in by contract. It’s not as if any Big XII school is going to bring more than 25k people to Memphis in December and create a huge demand for tickets.

Ehrhart went ahead and let Stukenborg know what his priorities are:

Ehrhart said there are more pressing concerns. He’d like to see the cramped press box area expanded, as well as areas for radio and television broadcasts. He said four radio networks — including a Spanish network broadcasting Texas A&M football — broadcast from the Liberty Bowl, which has accommodations for two radio booths. Special arrangements were made to accommodate the additional radio teams.

Surely Bowen shares Ehrhart’s concerns about the press box, but the Memphis Athletic Director can’t and shouldn’t be happy that Ehrhart is pulling rank on the chair-backs. As co-tenants of the stadium, Memphis plays 6 or 7 games a year there- Ehrhart’s organization plays one.

Bowen should flex some muscle on this if he has to. Without the U of M as a tenant, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is not a viable entity for the City of Memphis. Without the U of M playing 6 games a year at the stadium, there would have been no political will for Tiger Lane construction or the 2011 renovations which added new lighting, a scoreboard (paid for by U of M boosters), new turf and other upgrades to the concourse. Those upgrades allowed Ehrhart to lock in affiliations with the SEC and Big XII, while eliminating a meaningful tie in with Memphis’ current conference – The American Athletic Conference.

Perhaps Ehrhart remembers this detail from the news announcing the 2012 renovations:

Hedgepeth said the U of M’s offer to guarantee the funds kept the city from having to approach the stadium’s other two tenants, the Southern Heritage Classic and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl game.

If Memphis ever decided to build an on-campus stadium – something that based on recent projects at Houston and Tulane could feasibly be done for a cost of $80 -$90 million – the Liberty Bowl game would have absolutely zero leverage with the city or the University. The Southern Heritage Classic and the Liberty Bowl would either (a) continue playing at a city owned stadium that the city would have no real incentive to maintain (remember what happened to the Pyramid after the Grizzlies left for example?) or (b) negotiate a lease with the University of Memphis to play their games on campus, or (c) leave town.

Obviously nobody in Memphis wants the Liberty Bowl Game to suffer. And former Interim U of M President Brad Martin made it pretty clear that the powers that be at The University of Memphis are no longer interested in pursuing an on campus stadium. Could that position change if Ehrhart continues to selfishly disregard the needs of his co-tenants so publicly? Possibly.

 

 

 

 

Analyzing the Ways Forward for Josh Pastner & Memphis

Memphis fans are beginning to wonder…how is the Josh Pastner era going to play out? To answer that question one needs to first consider the various ways the current season will unfold – and then understand the options the Memphis administration and program’s financial backers have as they attempt, as they do every year, to make sure the program stays or returns to an elite level.

According to Memphis Roar’s Grant Milner, Josh Pastner is not going to change the way he runs his program. He’s going to keep suspending guys for not obeying team rules, even if the ultimate sacrifice is the ability to win games. Here’s a quote via Memphis Roar from Pastner after the SMU game regarding his overwhelming propensity to use suspensions as a disciplinary technique:

I will not change. I don’t care what the situation is. What is popular is not always going to be right. I can promise you that, but what is right is not always popular. I’m sticking to my guns. I will not waver on my line or principle for any one individual. Period. I believe in that. That’s from the fiber of my cloth on that. So, if anyone thinks we’ve lost any control, they are in outer space. If anything, I’ve got too much control because I want to make sure that guys do right. That’s important to me.

Nobody should begrudge or condemn Pastner for disciplining his players and teaching them life lessons. Good on him. On the other hand it would be nice if he could do that and also find a way to win a lot of basketball games. One has to really wonder why Pastner’s players are breaking his rules so often, even if, as he says, the transgressions are nothing serious or morally reprehensible. And if it’s not that serious, as Pastner so often implies, why can’t he find some other way to get his point across?

Leaving that question aside for the moment, consider that there are really only 2 likely outcomes for this year’s team:

1. Pastner’s Tigers keep fighting, make the NIT or some other non-NCAA postseason tournament.

Oddly, this is really the best case realistic scenario for Pastner’s squad. Qualifying for the NIT could be a stretch for the current team, who may struggle to stay above .500 as they get deeper into AAC play. Perhaps Pookie Powell turns into a solid college point guard by the end of the year, and Demarnier Cunningham into a serviceable backup. Perhaps Austin Nichols continues to emerge as a 1st team all AAC level performer and some other guys (Godfrey, Woodson, Burrell, Crawford) settle into their roles. Maybe even Shaq Goodwin can rediscover how to make use of his immense talent. But even if everything breaks positively for Memphis from here on out, the dream of a 5th straight NCAA tournament is basically dead. The quality wins are non-existent and the potential bad losses have piled up.

2. Pastner’s team continues to fracture, does not improve, and Memphis misses the postseason entirely for the first time since 1999-2000. The year was 2000 and according to the story, if Memphis interim head coach Johnny Jones’ team had won one additional game in the CUSA tournament, then Memphis would have qualified for the NIT and was prepared to offer Jones the permanent job as Head Men’s Basketball Coach. The runner-up candidate who would not have been hired under that scenario? An then-assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers named John Calipari. For the first time in 15 years, Memphis is in some danger of missing the postseason entirely. In terms of talent level, wins / losses and the general vibe around the program, it’s safe to say that Memphis’ program has regressed to the Johnny Jones level. By the end of the year, Memphis fans may have to accept a dose of reality about how far their beloved program has fallen. Nobody needs to be reminded that ticket prices and donor requests have not fallen to the Johnny Jones level.

Such a scenario would leave the Memphis administration with a few options of their own, though obviously the latter would increase the noise and / or apathy surrounding the program:

1. Do nothing (other than maybe force some staff changes) and Hope Pastner turns it around. Unless someone with (a) a lot of sway within the athletic department and (b) deep pockets, really wants to make a change, this is the likely scenario. Obviously these people do exist and everybody has heard a rumor, but for at least another year, if not 2 – it would seem more likely than not that Josh Pastner leads the Memphis program. Pastner makes $2.65m per year on a deal that runs through 2019-2020. That’s $13.25m in guaranteed money. According to the Commercial Appeal’s Kyle Veazey, who analyzed the contract after it was signed in 2013, there is no buyout for Memphis in the contract:

Dismissing Pastner solely because of the team’s performance would be costly for the U of M. The Tigers would owe Pastner the balance of his contract — as many as four full seasons’ salary, if he’s dismissed before the date the contract automatically renews — if they wished to part with him.

In retrospect, Memphis’ attitude toward the 2013 Pastner contract negotiation was probably akin to how a lover badly betrayed in a previous relationship exhibits over-protectiveness and neuroticism in their next relationship. “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LEAVE ME ARE YOU? YOU CAN’T LEAVE!” Memphis administrators and boosters were still so traumatized by the images of John Calipari leaving millions on the table to hop a private plane to Lexington that they threw all that money at Pastner – who as recently as 2013 had become one of the bright young stars in the profession and was a legit candidate at USC and possibly a target of UCLA. It’s amazing how 2 years can change everyone’s perspective such a great deal.

2. Be proactive in helping Pastner make a lateral move (or step back move) similar to Frank Haith leaving Missouri for Tulsa in 2014. This is an intriguing option. There are a lot of people, myself included, who really like Josh Pastner. Because he’s been personally very kind to me and my family, it’s painful to think of him being pushed out in any way. Yet the truth is that Pastner and Memphis may be better off moving in different directions. He may find more happiness in a less pressurized environment where he can focus solely on running a program the way he sees fit without constant comparisons to his predecessor and without the intense focus of the fans and media that the Memphis job generates. This is not to suggest that the pressure in Memphis is that great or that Pastner has somehow been treated unfairly, just that maybe he’d prefer a change of scenery. Everybody knew that following Calipari was not going to be easy.

According to Veazey, if Pastner leaves Memphis before April 6, 2015, he owes the University $600,000. After that date the number drops to $500,000. Memphis could decide to go ahead and waive that clause – by offering an amendment to the contract – in hopes that Pastner might then be more inclined to make a lateral move. There are other things Memphis could do financially to incentivize such a move without straight up firing Pastner, such as offering an exit bonus which would allow him to take a lesser paying job without as drastic a paycut. Ultimately Memphis might be able to pay Pastner and a less expensive new staff the combined amount of money they’re paying Pastner and his.

Perhaps Pastner could then end up at a place like Nevada or Stanford – or some other less high profile program in the Mountain West or PAC 12 – or even a place in the AAC like UCF. There are good jobs available at schools with less basketball tradition than Memphis. AD’s and fan bases of such schools might be thrilled to get a recruiter of Pastner’s caliber who took 4 straight teams to the NCAA tournament.

3. Fire Pastner. I don’t see this as an option because (a) $13.65m seems like way too much money – even for folks with very deep pockets – and (b) you just don’t fire a guy who has taken his program to 4 consecutive NCAA tournaments while compiling a record of 138-50, unless there are some major ethical or behavioral problems going on. Despite the frustration of the fan base, such a move is basically unprecedented – though UT once fired Jerry Green after 4 straight NCAA tournaments when the environment around his program became so toxic he went on the radio and told fans to “Go to K-Mart” if they didn’t want to watch his product. He could have at least had the respect to suggest Target.

Without the benefit of being around the Memphis program on a day to day basis, I can’t say whether the dysfunction of the current internal situation rises to the level where a change of this nature is being contemplated. Obviously Pastner vigorously denies that he has lost control of the program, and I’m inclined to believe him, for now.

 

 

Negative Nellie, Realistic Ralph & Philosophic Phil (Post @SMU)

The SMU game was a microcosm of the Memphis season so far. Tepid, ineffectual, and void of any legitimate hope of a successful outcome. Too strong?

If the wheels haven’t come off for Josh Pastner’s squad, they’re certainly wobbly at the moment.

Let’s take a look at 3 points of view….

Philosophic Phil

  • It’s amazing how much better of a basketball program SMU is than Memphis right now.
  • Seems like just yesterday Coach Doh and SMU were a total laughingstock and the worst program in a very bad CUSA.
  • SMU at that point went way outside the box in hiring then 71-year old Larry Brown to resurrect its horrid basketball program. He’s done a magnificent job and at this point SMU is the favorite in the AAC. Memphis quite obviously is headed in the other direction.
  • It’s amazing more programs with nothing to lose (historically awful programs like SMU) don’t hire proven winners like Brown who seem washed up, but in the right environment could thrive and possibly pay huge dividends.
  • Guys like Jim Calhoun (72), Nolan Richardson (73), Bobby Knight (74), Gary Williams (69) have all been out of the game for several years now. It’s a shame more AD’s don’t have the courage to pick up the phone and do something unique.

Negative Nellie

  • When was the last time Memphis played a game where before the actual tip you basically knew the Tigers had no chance to win? It never felt like Memphis had a shot against SMU – even if things broke exactly right. SMU is just too strong and well coached for Memphis.
  • Memphis’ supposed strength – it’s front court – was totally exposed against SMU. SMU’s bigs got great position all night. SMU’s shot chart at the end of the game looked like there was a paintball explosion right around the rim.
  • More rotation drama and repercussions for Pastner’s squad. We knew going into the SMU game that Kuran Iverson wasn’t going to be available – but for whatever reason Pastner also suspended / sat Trashon Burrell.
  • Burrell had been Memphis’ most consistent wing so far this season, and not having him against SMU further crippled the offense.
  • I appreciate that Josh Pastner has lines he won’t let the players cross, but the suspension tactic has gotten out of control. At some point you either have the gravitas and authority to control / run your program and win, or you don’t. If you have to suspend your best players every game, you’re undermining your primary objective as a coach – to win basketball games.

Realistic Ralph

  • In isolation, a loss to pre-season conference favorite SMU on the road by 14 in January isn’t a reason to panic (Memphis actually played worse at SMU last year), but it’s just starting to get really hard to imagine a positive way forward for this team.
  • It’s the mid-point of the season and there’s still no clear identity for this Memphis team. For all the talk about Memphis hanging their hat on defense, they just got absolutely chewed up by SMU’s offensive penetration – which produced wide open looks at the rim.
  • As for their offensive identity, they struggle against solid defensive teams to generate any kind of open look via their guards, or to get the ball to Nichols. Shaq Goodwin remains a complete mystery.
  • The attitude of the fan base is one of detachment / anger / frustration. This is not a good thing for Pastner, who appears to be in danger of losing his team as well.
  • The Tigers next 2 games should be an interesting barometer of whether or not this team is going to quit. They travel to Houston on Saturday – the Cougars aren’t good, but Hoffheinz is always a tricky place to play in. After that Memphis plays Cincinnati at home next Thursday.

Kuran Iverson Situation Typifies Pastner’s Primary Problem

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

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

Getting guys to accept roles is about relationships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Real Problem for SEC Football? Someone Has to Finish Last

Quick: Who’s your pick for last place in the SEC West next year?

Choose from 1 of 7 teams that could conceivably win the national title if things break the right way. One will finish last.

Amazing, isn’t it? Though it has been ridiculed for its string of unexpected bowl losses (by Alabama, by LSU, by Ole Miss, by Mississippi State, and by Auburn), few serious College Football fans would argue that the SEC West isn’t still the best all around division in the sport. Why? Because its programs all expect to win big every year. And they act accordingly.

That’s why picking a last place team is so hard – because all 7 institutions (the above 5 + Arkansas + Texas A&M) spend, and hire, and recruit and plan and scheme as if they’re competing for national championships. That’s the standard in the SEC. National championships.

After Ohio State upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, talk across the college football universe has centered, gleefully in parts, on the end of SEC dominance and superiority. The SEC’s biggest rivals laud Urban Meyer’s SEC-ization of Ohio State’s roster. Enemies of the SEC are giddy about Jim Harbaugh’s hiring at Michigan, as they habitually look for any development to convince themselves that the tide of SEC domination has been stemmed, that the conference has lost its edge, that the gap has closed.

There may be a shred of truth to this argument, but the Harbaugh and Meyer hirings are circumstantial, not systemic developments. There’s nothing new about Michigan and Ohio State trying to win at the highest level. The hiring of great coaches at Ohio State and Michigan, or Florida State’s resurgence under Jimbo Fisher, are not threats to the SEC. That’s silly. The real threat to the SEC is the SEC itself.

Is the SEC too good for its own good?

The truth is that the SEC will no longer, nor will any one conference, singularly dominate the CFB playoff. In a playoff format, there’s bound to be more variance in the conference affiliation of the eventual champion. Yet the SEC still dominates recruiting – in 2014 7/10 top classes belong to the SEC. That’s not going to change unless the SEC decides to move out of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

The other vital edge the SEC will always have is that their programs – meaning their fans, communities and therefore administrators – just care more about winning.

The hyper competitiveness of SEC football is about more than the games. SEC Football is a never ending arms race of coaching hires, coordinator hires, staff restructurings, and facility upgrades in which all 14 league schools are behaving like corporate competitors fighting each other 24-7-365 to win market share and kill off the competition.

Other conferences simply don’t have that. Not at the same level. Not at all. Some like to pretend the PAC 12 and B1G are getting there, but is anyone really convinced that Purdue, Indiana, Illinois or Northwestern are doing whatever it takes to keep up with Ohio State? Or that Colorado, Cal and Washington State are genuinely trying to compete with Oregon? No. Because it’s not true. They certainly invest in football and in some instances (Colorado) have alot of history and tradition – but they’re not trying like the SEC is trying. Fact is, some schools in some conferences don’t need to be successful in football. Kansas, Iowa State, Syracuse, Wake Forest, etc… don’t need to be successful football.

SEC schools need to be successful in football.  And therein lies the real problem for the SEC:

Someone has to finish last (in each division) every year.

And someone else has to finish 6th (in each division).

And someone else has to finish 5th (in each division).

And when they do, something is going to hit the fan. Because everybody cares in the SEC. Everybody.

Consider some of the SEC coaching moves this offseason:

Last week, longtime LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis left for the same position at SEC rival Texas A&M. His new salary? $1.67m per year. LSU reportedly offered a similar contract, but reports out of Louisiana indicate Chavis was lured by the promise of working with a superior offensive unit. The extra $340k annually probably didn’t hurt. Does the B1G or PAC 12 have these kinds of intra-conference, intra-division staffing wars? Not to the same degree, no.

After he was fired as head coach at Florida (2 years after winning 11 games and guiding his team to the Sugar Bowl), Will Muschamp was hired for 3 years at $1.6m annually at SEC Rival Auburn, who is cleaning house defensively, including firing Coordinator Ellis Johnson just one year after he helped lead Auburn to the BCS title game. Among Muschamp’s other opportunities? The same position at yet another SEC school, South Carolina. Would a coordinator in another conference get fired one year after leading his unit to a BCS Championship game? Probably not.

It’s no accident that Muschamp and Chavis’ hirings came immediately after seasons in which Auburn and Texas A&M both failed to meet expectations. Though both schools finished a respectable 8-5 in the rugged SEC West, both were virtually eliminated from playoff consideration months ago after piling up early losses. Auburn finished 4th, and A&M 6th in the division – which though respectable, won’t satisfy fans of either school.

When SEC fans aren’t satisfied, heads roll. More expensive heads are brought in. Bigger name heads are brought in. That’s just how it goes at every conference school. Even Vanderbilt – the one school you might arguably be able to say doesn’t really care about winning championships – cleaned house on staff after just 1 disappointing year under new head coach Derek Mason. That’s right, even at Vandy you might not get more than one year to show your stuff. Vandy. Hyper. Competitive.

The SEC has arguably 100% of its football membership competing for championships. No other league can match that, but would they even want to? The gauntlet that the SEC has become doesn’t mean it won’t be the best conference – it will be – but it could mean the conference will find it more difficult to have its champion survive well enough to win the playoff. By the time the playoff rolled around, it sort of feels like an afterthought to an Alabama team that had been in war after war for months. October was a lifetime ago. That’s a difficult endeavor.

Is the SEC too competitive for its own good?

The SEC’s television deal, including portions with both CBS and ESPN (who operates the new SEC Network) is worth approximately $400m per year. The league distributed $20.9 million per school in 2013-14, but that number is expected to grow to the neighborhood of $40m per school per year as the SEC Network’s impact begins to be felt. In other words, everybody’s rich. Every school has resources, and every school is using them. Because they have to. Their consumers demand it.

Their bowl performance aside, it’s an accepted fact that the SEC West is a gauntlet of programs who, without exception, expect to compete for the SEC and therefore the national championship every year. But the SEC East, ridiculed in recent years for its weakness, has closed the gap. Georgia and Florida are traditional, yearly powers. Tennessee appears to be returning to power status now that Butch Jones is locked up, as are multiple top recruiting classes. UT happily coughed up $3.6m annually to make sure Jones had no thoughts of leaving Rocky Top in the middle of what appears to be a successful rebuild. South Carolina took a step back after 3 consecutive 11-2 finishes, but several of their losses were close and they figure to stay competitive nationally, at least in the near term.

And the rest of the division – including 2 time defending SEC East champion Missouri – are pouring more and more money into making sure their teams have every resource in order to compete for championships.

For example:

  • Missouri recently completed a $45m expansion of Memorial Stadium which included a new skybox, two suites, 1,200 premium seats and more than 4,100 new upper-deck seats. They’re now working on an indoor practice facility.
  • Kentucky just released plans for a $45m football training facility, complete with tricked-out new locker room, featuring a giant interlocking UK on the ceiling, and players lounge with multiple TVs and a gaming area. There will be new meeting rooms with theater-style seating and new coaches’ offices overlooking two grass practice fields. This on top of a $110m renovation of their football stadium.
  • Vanderbilt, as mentioned, had a terrible year, but is just a year removed from opening a new $31m facility that former coach James Franklin said is nicer than Penn State’s current setup.

This hyper-competitive landscape is only found in the SEC. Other conferences barely approach it, none match it. It’s what makes the SEC the best, but the advantage might not translate into results on the field or happiness for its fans. After all, not only is surviving this gauntlet and advancing to a playoff a herculean challenge, but what about the team that finishes last? What about the program that hired a coach for millions, put together a top ranked recruiting class, built a new jumbo tron and new locker room, worked its fans up with slick marketing campaigns and fancy uniforms and spent every dollar they could possibly spend to compete for the league championship and therefore a national championship. What happens when that team finishes last?

It’s a valid question. Because it’s going to happen. To 2 teams. Next year – and every year.

That’s the real problem.

The SEC – where a national champion contender finishes last every year.

 

How to Cope Emotionally with Tiger Losses

On the off chance that any reader of this blog doesn’t already know this: I’m a Memphis Tiger basketball fan. Have been since 1985. 30 years.

I’m not a casual fan. Like most fans, I have an emotional history with the enterprise. For example, in 1990, the day after a particularly difficult season ending Tiger loss (to UT in the 1st round of the NIT) I was riding in a car with my mother when Phil Collins’ then hit song, “I Wish It Would Rain Down” came on the radio. I cried. I cried because I really wanted it to rain down on me. I wanted the rain to cleanse and renew me. I wanted the rain to wash away the overwhelming sense of loss and emptiness I felt after having invested so much energy and emotion into the outcome of that, and every, Tiger season. I connected with Collins’ visceral need for renewal in the depths of despair and failure. I had absolutely no idea at the time what he was actually singing about – I was 13 – but I freaking knew what he was singing about. Despair.

There’s also the anger. Most of these episodes were sort of like blackouts and what was conscious was quickly repressed- so the details are fuzzy – but I’ve thrown books, scared dogs, friends, and family members; damaged relationships, said things nobody should say about other human beings, stormed out of games and more. Worse.

The bottom line: I don’t like it when the Tigers lose. And that’s kind of the bad news.

But here’s the good news:

Over the years I’ve developed a method to circumvent these painful emotions.  It goes like this….

LUXURIATE IN THE WINS AND PRETEND THE LOSSES NEVER HAPPENED

This is a simple method and it generally works well. For example, I’ll typically watch wins on replay right after the game. I’ll read all the articles about wins. I’ll tune into talk radio after wins. I’ll check the RPI, the next few weeks’ schedule, maybe even check out some other college basketball just to see what’s happening. Why not? Good vibes all around. Soak it in. Really feel it.

After losses, on the other hand……………………………………….

…………………………………………..

Nothing.

Nada.

Total abstinence.

Go to a movie, do some laundry, call a friend, walk the dog.  Anything but think for a second about the fact that Memphis basketball just lost to Tulane. I’m serious about this – I will not waste more than 10 seconds if I can help it thinking about the fact that Memphis basketball just lost to Tulane. This isn’t difficult. I’m 37 now. I understand the broader picture – or at least enough of it to know that in the grand scheme of things, regardless of your personal religious affiliation or moral convictions, or beliefs about the universe – the outcome of a college basketball game just doesn’t register. So I move on, and spend my time doing other things. And how perfect is this? All that time I wasted re-watching games I already knew the outcome to? I’m now getting it back by moving on swiftly and without regret after a loss. Like it never happened. I’ll perk up just enough to know when the next game is (Thursday against SMU), and I’ll watch that one – but until then I’m free to completely ignore 92.9, The Commercial Appeal, Twitter, etc. A much needed respite.

One caveat: I always read Calkins.

Also, and here’s where some people may call me a bandwagon fan if they wish. When the team is bad, I’ll start skipping games – or taping / DVRing them to see if they win and then watching later only if they win. Now – keep in mind – due to the incredibly successful nature of the program, this tactic seldom gets utilized. In the last 30 years the Tigers have had just 3 losing seasons. Rare to be certain, but when the down years do come a little detachment is in order. For everyone’s well being.

There’s only problem with all this:

I decided to write a blog about basketball this year. In particular, Memphis basketball. So now I feel like I sorta have to write something. Not for the readership of bballjones.com, whom I appreciate. But for myself, because I kind of want to stick with this for a little while. So instead of writing some detailed breakdown of how the Tigers lost to Tulane, which you can get via Jason Smith if you really care, I wrote this. Whatever this is.

Now, as we do after each Tigers game, let’s hear from Philosophic Phil, Negative Nellie, and Realistic Ralph.  Please note that Philosophic Phil has replaced Positive Paul, who is now dead.

Philosophic Phil:

  • It’s great that the fans were treated to a spirited competitive game.
  • Tulane must feel so proud of their accomplishment.
  • Knowing and experiencing the agony of defeat makes the coming victory that much sweeter.

Negative Nellie:

  • The Tigers body of work is non existent.
  • Zero quality wins, and the potential bad (home) losses are piling up.
  • This means the Tigers are extremely far from NCAA tournament consideration.

Realistic Ralph:

  • Austin Nichols, 28 pts, 9 rbs, 4 blks. Wow. He’s clearly emerging.
  • Sure, Pookie coughed this one up – but he also had 9 assists – that doesn’t just happen by accident.
  • The Tigers were up 5 with under 4 minutes to go and just didn’t make that next play that might have sealed the game. It’s not as if they were out classed from the jump.
  • It is what it is. #IIWII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Positive Paul

tombstonePositive Paul died today during a 74-66 Memphis Tigers home loss to Tulane. Despite the fact that Tulane is 11-3 and now 2-0 in the American Conference, this was a fatal blow to Paul – seeing as Tulane is still actually Tulane and not another school with a history of actually fielding competitive basketball teams this millennium. As Frank Murtaugh notes in his excellent game story, this was Memphis’ first home loss to the Green Wave since December 1992, shortly before George H.W. Bush left office.

Positive Paul leaves behind 3 siblings:  Negative Nellie, Realistic Ralph and Philosophic Phil.

 

Retrospective: Rocky V is Actually Good

Encore went ahead and had a Rocky marathon on New Year’s Day and I went ahead and watched it.  Not every second of all 6 films without a significant break (though I’ve done that before…..twice), but bits and pieces of all throughout the day as I flipped back to football and suffered from a strain of flu similar in symptom complex to the Spanish Flu of 1918. Next year I’ll probably go ahead and get that shot.

Surprisingly, the film that grabbed my attention on this occasion more than the others was Rocky V. Sure, I watched snippets of the Oscar winning original (you must always remind people that the original won Best Picture) and caught the training montages in IV that somehow never get old (the beard!) – but V actually had me genuinely hooked. I watched the entire second half of the film.  Maybe it’s not all that surprising, I’ve always felt Rocky V was a little misunderstood. Let me explain why.

Rocky V had the misfortune of being released 5 years after Rocky IV, which to any United States born male with a birth date between roughly 1967 and 1980 was quite simply the most heart pumping, inspiring, thrilling, hate-the-Russians-ing movie of all time. To quote Mickey (Rocky’s trainer) from a Rocky V flashback, it was “motivizational.” I can vividly recall commiserating with my elementary school classmates about how horrifying it was when Apollo got his ass kicked by the Russian (to actual bloody death), about how terrifying Drago was (“If he dies, he dies”) and about how the final 40 minutes of the film had given my young life new meaning and hope. Not your average movie.

So Rocky V was always going to be compared to Rocky IV – and it was always going to lose. But it’s an apples to oranges comparison, and here’s why: Rocky IV was, at its core, an action movie.  Sure there was some drama involved – the rehashed ‘Adrian doesn’t want Rocky to fight but she comes around in the end’ story line – but at its core Rocky IV was a 1980’s action movie. An amazing one.  An all timer. But an action movie. But the original Rocky wasn’t an action movie – did I mention it won best picture in 1976?  Rocky V wasn’t an action movie either – it was more of a drama. Closer to the family of the original Rocky, Rocky II, and the concluding piece – Rocky Balboa. Here’s the other thing: Rocky V was actually good.

I know what you’re probably thinking: I’ve seen Rocky V. It sucks. It isn’t good at all.

Sure, that’s what you told yourself in 1990, when you were young and stupid and your heart rate had barely returned to normal following Rocky IV 5 years earlier. You still had the cassette soundtrack to IV in your car – I know I did – and probably listened to it on the way to the theater. You were disappointed. I get it.

Do yourself a favor, try watching it again now. Start to finish. You won’t regret it.

You’ll find the following 5 hidden gems in Rocky V, which I provide you now for further convincing:

1. Rocky V actually has a good story. Now that you’re an adult, especially if you have children, this movie will appeal to you. The drama around Rocky’s relationship with his son is well played – though on a sad side note the character of the son is actually played by Sage Stallone (Sylvester’s actual son) who passed away in 2012. The story of how the Balboa’s lose their wealth is very realistic and happens to athletes all the time. Rocky’s involvement with Tommy Gunn’s boxing career certainly didn’t satisfy the action seekers who came back from IV, but again, it was realistic and entertaining to watch.

2. Talia Shire might have delivered her best moment of the entire series in Rocky V, right here:

I mean, it doesn’t get any more passionate and real than that.  It’s just perfect.  In context, it’s even better.  So watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

3. The much maligned street fight with Tommy Gunn, was actually pretty cool. Now that we’ve had 25 years for the disappointment to die down surrounding the fact that Rocky V wasn’t a rematch with Drago or some other such silliness – let’s all take a deep breath and acknowledge that *Tommy Gunn was a P.O.S. and needed to have his ass kicked. In that street. By Rocky. Add to that the fact that Rocky wasn’t even going to stoop to Gunn’s level and fight were it not for the fact that Gunn punched Uncle Paulie in the face. After Paulie called Gunn a “piece of garbage,” and a, “goddamn joke,” and referred to his entourage, including the esteemed George Washington Duke, as “rat bums.” After Paulie fell, Rocky said simply: “You knocked him down, why don’t you try knockin’ me down? My ring’s outside.” Boom. Fight on. *Not referring to Tommy Morrison who also tragically passed away, in 2013.

4. Mickey Flashbacks. Burgess Meredith, who played “Mickey” in the first 3 films before being killed off in 3 – reappeared in this film in several moving flashbacks. I think the best way to describe these sequences are: FU*KING AMAZING. You’ll have to watch to get the full effect, but let me just say: “I didn’t hear no bell. Get up you sonofabitch, cause Mickey loves you.”  #eyesmoist

5. Elton John, Series Montage During Closing Credits – Measure of a Man. There are no words. There are. No words. The most unheralded part of maybe all 6 films – and if you’re watching it on regular TV it gets cut out. But here it is, in it’s pure, undeniable beauty. You’re welcome:

Positive Paul, Negative Nellie & Realistic Ralph (1/1/15)

Tiger fans are well aware that Josh Pastner prefers Positive Pauls and does not like Negative Nellies.  We at bballjones.com respect both. At the end of the day however, we strive to be more like Realistic Ralph.

Here’s a little something about the Tigers current season (8-4 after beating Houston on Wednesday) from all 3 viewpoints:

Positive Paul

  • 5 in a row, baby!  And a good chance to get to 6 on Saturday vs. Tulane.  The light has finally come on for the Tigers.
  • Avery Woodson looks like the best pure shooter the Tigers have had in a long, long time – maybe since Jeremy Hunt.
  • You had to know this team was gonna start slow with so many new pieces, but now they’re learning how to play together and they’re about to go on a huge run.
  • This team appears to actually have guys that know their role.  Woodson is the 3pt specialist.  Cunningham and Powell (combined 10 assists, 6 turnovers) are improving as PG distributors. Nichols is a shot blocking machine.  Goodwin and Godfrey are energy guys down low.  Burrell is a scoring threat and high motor 3.
  • When the TIgers roll through the American, their RPI will improve enough to merit an NCAA bid, and Pastner will be vindicated as they finally make that deep tournament run fans have been longing for.

 

Negative Nellie

  • Houston sucks.  Kelvin Sampson has to be really kicking himself for taking that job.
  • This is really no different than any other year under Pastner – beat the crappy teams and then choke when the real opportunities come up.  No reason to be optimistic.
  • There’s still no consistent starting line-up. When Memphis fell behind 8-0 to start the game, Pastner started subbing like a mad man, which reeked of desperation.
  • Kuran Iverson does not appear to be having a good time playing limited minutes.  Could there be chemistry issues behind the scenes for this team?
  • What’s the deal with Kedren Johnson?  Guy was supposed to be a real contributor and he can’t even get off the bench.  Very strange.

 

 

Realistic Ralph

  • The Tigers are playing better – but doing so against weak competition.  Houston’s RPI is 229. Not very good. The best team Memphis has played during their current winning streak, based on RPI, is NC Central (84).
  • Pastner’s squad will have opportunities to prove their turnaround is based on more than just weak competition over the next few weeks.  After Tulane (128) comes to FEF on Saturday, the Tigers take to the road to play SMU (55) followed by a re-match at Houston. Memphis then comes home to face rival Cincinnati (54) on a Thursday night.
  • Memphis will have to start beating teams like SMU and Cincinnati (and Temple (29), Gonzaga(6)) to get back in the conversation for an NCAA bid.
  • Austin Nichols appears to be turning into the counter-argument to those who say star players don’t get better under Pastner (a valid criticism to date). Nichols numbers are better across the board compared to his Freshman year – and he’s turned into a genuine shot blocking presence.  Opposing offenses will have to adjust to him.
  • Regardless of how you may feel about Pastner, it’s nice to see (and important to note) that this team does not appear to have quit on him at all.  They appear to be playing hard, playing together, and improving.

 

14 Grizzleaneous Thoughts (12/31/14)

1. Packed house at FedExForum on a cold, nasty Tuesday night for the Spurs.  Very impressive.

2. Even though everyone always said that Memphis would support a winner – I’m not sure I ever actually believed that the Grizzlies could put a legit 17k + in the stands on a frozen Tuesday night in December.  Memphis is, in fact, supporting a winner.

3. The Grizz are absolutely winners – as they controlled this one against the defending champs from start to finish.  Spurs cut it to 5, but it never seemed in doubt.

4. Mike Conley was just outstanding – hard to imagine he’s not an all-star.

5. Seemed as if Spurs head man Greg Popovich decided about halfway through the 2nd quarter that it wasn’t the Spurs night – or maybe he was afraid of arguing with the officials and getting ejected. Either way, it was weird seeing him totally withdrawn from the game in the 2nd half. He never really got out of his chair in the 2nd half.

6. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s not a bad seat in FedExForum. There aren’t alot of bad seats, but as it turns out, in section 112A, the seats against the large wall that divides the section from the terrace level seats – those are bad seats (especially if your neighbor is plus sized). My friend and I had those seats for this game and were quite disappointed.

7. We tried the “find better seats” strategy – which is simple:  (a) We spotted a few completely empty rows in Section C5, then (b) waited until halfway through the second quarter when all late arrivals typically have shown up, (c) walked over to said rows, past the lady checking tickets, like we owned the place, (d) sat down in empty rows, and (e) declared victory.

8. Again, these rows in C5, 2 of them, with 16 seats each, were COMPLETELY empty with about 8 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter. That’s 32 empty seats.

9. After my friend and I sat in the seats for about 5 minutes, approximately 32 people (but maybe as many as 100,000), mostly children, showed up together to claim their seats and we were confronted awkwardly by the usher who sent us back to 112A – against the wall – with a reprimand.

10. This was reminiscent of a time that @FlashGordonNY and myself were flying standby on a red eye flight from Las Vegas to Memphis and about 5 minutes before the conclusion of boarding there were 50 open seats.  We thought we had made it on standby. With about 2 minutes to go – a metaphorical clown car of about 50 (but maybe as many as 100,000) people ran to the gate, claiming our (their) spots and stranding us without a seat.

11. Was good to see Jarnell Stokes get some PT against – though he didn’t try to do too much. Knowing the kind of guy he is, and watching his demeanor, it’s easy to envision him being a contributor one day.

12. The Grizz offense was moving quickly – and Joerger mentioned in the postgame that playing quicker in the halfcourt continues to be a point of emphasis.

13. He (Joerger) insists that the quickened pace will help the Grizz in the long run. He’s probably right. Either way, it’s an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball the Grizzlies are playing these days.

14. The Grizzlies now have 2 days off before a 2 game trip out west @LAL, @Den.  Then they return home to face the Knicks. A much gentler stretch than what they’ve just been through.

 

 

 

 

Interview with JT’s #wigsnatch Girl

JT

 

 

Raise your hand if you didn’t know what “WIGSNATCH” meant until Justin Timberlake’s Twitter brouhaha a few weeks ago.  Me neither. Now of course, #WIGSNATCH is kind of a Grizzlies thing. It’s not as big as ALL HEART, GRIT GRIND, but it was quickly a t-shirt – thanks to the scenester, trendy folks over at SACHE. Last May, Kyle Veazey at the Commercial Appeal did a nice piece chronicling the creative-trendy energy surrounding the Grizzlies.

 

A few weeks ago, Emily Childers (above, far right with the pink Grizzlies headband) got a pair of floor seats to the Grizzlies – and showed up with her “MIND YA GRIZZNESS / #WIGSNATCH” t-shirt on. Also, face paint. Also, head band. She then realized JT himself was sitting 5 seats down from her and….SELFIE!

 

Of the moment, Childers says simply, “It was history.”

 

Not a bad night at the Grindhouse (a nickname so creative and perfectly descriptive that it long ago went nation-wide) for the 26 year old bartender and lifelong Memphian.

 

We caught up with Childers before the Grizz v. Spurs on Tuesday night to try to understand the origins of her Grizz passion:

 

BBJONES:  Alright, tell me about the JT picture – how it came about…

Childers:  Me and (my friend) were joking on the way over about ‘what if we saw Justin Timberlake?’ – and we had on his #wigsnatch t-shirts that day, so we were like ‘it would be perfect.’ So we get courtside tickets that day. Justin Timberlake ended up sitting 5 seats to the right of us. I immediately looked at Justin Timberlake – I grabbed my friend’s arm and I go ‘let’s go – we’re getting a picture.’ And it was awesome.  And he looks like he’s having a better time in our selfie picture than me and my friend actually are. And it ended up being one of the best selfie pictures ever. And he was really nice about it. It was really short and sweet. I said, ‘JT can we please take a picture’ and he said ‘sure’ and that was it. It was history.

 

BBJONES:  Did you think about saying anything else to him, was your mind rehearsing what to say next and how that was going to go?

Childers:  Absolutely not, I just wanted the picture. Because I didn’t want to waste his time because I knew I wasn’t the only one taking a picture with him. And this is his team and he wants the whole experience and I didn’t want to take up any of his time.

 

BBJONES:  How long have you been this into the Grizzlies?

 

Childers:  I’ve always enjoyed the Grizzlies but during College I was too broke to go to games and didn’t have time. Then all last year I worked 5 nights a week as a bartender and so this year i finally have the money and the time to spend money and go to games. And i’m a native Memphian why wouldn’t I like the Grizzlies?

 

BBJONES:  When was your first Grizzlies game?

 

Childers:   I was in high school with my dear friend Adrian- I wasn’t wearing any Grizz gear. I don’t think i knew what was going on when it comes to how the game was played. But i remember having a really good time.

 

BBJONES:  What is it that you like about Basketball?

 

Childers:  Looking at really tall creature-humans…and the hype that the audience brings…and it’s the only sport that I honestly understand. I understand it.

 

BBJONES:  Is there one Grizzly player in particular that is your favorite and why?

 

Childers:  Vince Carter cause he’s a badass.  He’s 37 years old and still plays like he’s 20.  And if you look at his highlights of games – he plays like nobody else does.  He takes risks, he has fun. He plays around with the players and the opposing players and he’s just a damn good guy. I also really like, um, watching his free throws because he’s really, um, he’s actually really tight. and he only has a 3 inch vertical – and i think that’s hysterical because he’s a baller.

 

BBJONES:  Explain what you mean when you say you like watching his free throws because he’s tight.

 

Childers:  Um, he…his stance, first off, he never lifts his feet of the ground in free throws – which is unusual.  And he has a really good free throw record. And just his mannerisms and his gestures free throwing is totally his own and he rocks it.

 

BBJONES:  You dress up for games, what’s that about?

 

Childers:  The Grizzlies are really special to me because I don’t like hype surrounded by like dressing up.  LIke Halloween and New Year’s – I don’t like any of that stuff. I never enjoy dressing up.  However, putting on your Grizz gear and the face paint and cheering on your team and screaming for them and people looking at me and saying she’s (pause) a damn good looking fan (laughter) is a super fun experience. I don’t enjoy dressing up for anything besides Grizzlies games. And I have 3 hats, a pair of gloves, 4 shirts, a vest, and a sweatband. And #1 glitter stickers and blue face paint.

 

BBJONES:  What is it about the games that you love so much?

 

Childers:  They’re just super fun. and it’s super fun to just go with people. It’s always a good time. You don’t even have to drink to have a good time. It’s just the crowd, the energy and just watching our boys do the thing on the court is just one of the funnest activities that there is to do in the city of Memphis. Hands down.

 

BBJONES:  You have standards on seats, don’t you?

 

Childers:  Absolutely. The farthest i’ll ever go, the shittiest seats I’ll ever get is Terrace row A – and they’re still really good seats.

Musing #5: 10 Old Sayings that Need to Go Away

Most people, but especially southerners, appreciate a good colloquialism. Often, even if they don’t make perfect sense, they’re just funny. Sayings like, madder than a wet hen, or so buck-toothed she could eat corn through a picket fence – are just terrific. Simple, funny, graphic, fresh.

 

On the other hand there are some sayings, more general in nature, that need to be retired because they’re ineffectual, inaccurate in a small but important way, or just plain wrong. Here are 10 popular sayings – with accompanied analysis as to why they don’t make sense and why they should be discarded. Finally, we’ve included a temporary harsh, literal, replacement.

 

10 sayings that need to be finished:

 

1. “A watched pot never boils” – This is not true. A watched pot, provided the liquid reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit, will boil. If the person effectuating the boil keeps his / her attention singularly focused on the pot, it will seem as if it is taking longer because most humans are not comfortable focusing their attention or consciousness in one area for an extended amount of time. The literal falseness of this statement significantly undermines its effectiveness.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: Lose the superstition and join the rest of us in reality.

 

2. “There are Other Fish in the Sea” – This is often said to someone experiencing emotional pain as the result of a failed personal, often sexual, relationship. Not only is it not helpful, the implication utilizes a metaphor that is subtly violent and unworkable in the context of establishing a romantic partnership.  What the speaker is effectively saying is: “Hey look, I realize this recent failed attempt to coerce someone into liking you has left you to confront your fundamental inability to maintain lasting, meaningful connections with other human beings, but don’t worry about it because there are other people out there for you to entice, trap, suffocate, skin, cook and eat.” Makes zero sense. Doesn’t help.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: Maybe you should take a look at why all your relationships fail.

 

3. “There are no stupid questions”  – Yes, there are. Of course there are. One of the most well known stupid questions is asking a woman how pregnant she is. That’s dumb. Reporters ask stupid questions all the time. A reporter famously asked Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda what his opinion of Dave Kingman’s performance was, after Kingman had hit 3 home runs in the game against Lasorda’s Dodgers. Dumb question.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: Try not to ask a stupid question.

 

4. “The pen is mightier than the sword” – I don’t think this is necessarily true. Take for example Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. They probably don’t think pens are mightier than swords. Of course we can’t ask them because they were stabbed to death. Also, this popular saying is in direct contradiction with another very popular saying…(see next)

 

Replacement saying recommendation:  While it may be possible to achieve some lasting impact through the written or spoken word, sharp objects clearly have the power to destroy life.

 

5. “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – As already alluded to, this might as well be “The sword is mightier than the pen” — so clearly we have cognitive dissonance here.  At the end of the day I’m willing to argue that both these sayings are shit. I do, however, respect the point the author of this saying is trying to make.  He / she is basically saying to someone, I don’t really GAF what you have to say.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: I don’t really GAF what you have to say.

 

6. “Easy Come, Easy Go” – True only in a very limited context. Take, for example, Herpes. Herpes is much easier to contract than to get rid of. In fact, it is technically impossible for Herpes to “go” because one can be a host even without an active outbreak. With Herpes, it’s more accurate to say, “easy come, never go.”  Other examples of things that are easier to acquire than to get rid of: spouses, termites, mental illness, crack addiction, criminal charges, children, Ebola.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: Be careful.

 

7. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” – Not even close to accurate, and reflective of a perfectionistic, self righteous individual. I have never (a) changed my own oil, (b) built a truss bridge, or (c) inserted a catheter into a urinary tract. I wouldn’t want to do any of that shit myself. I do, or would definitely, consult experts for those things.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: Hey chief, why not let someone who knows what they’re doing give that a shot?

 

8. “The shit is about to hit the fan”  – Why would shit ever hit a fan?  Do people throw shit at fans?  Is someone shitting directly into a fan?  What exactly is going on here? Am I missing something? Where did this even come from?  While it is true that shit hitting a fan would be incredibly messy, and the simplicity of the statement is elegant, there’s just no basis in reality for the saying. Only because it has become so popular, its randomness is somewhat disturbing.

Replacement saying recommendation: Your situation is about to be terrible.

 

9. “There is no such thing as bad publicity” – This is so untrue it’s crazy. How could this ever have been true? For example, I think most people would agree it was bad publicity recently when Bill Cosby was accused by a series of women of committing multiple date-rapes over several years in his adult life. His shows were cancelled and he lost a lot of money. Not good publicity. Malaysia Airlines appears to have suffered some bad publicity after flight 370 disappeared.  Sure, maybe it’s not their fault, but business is still down.

 

Replacement saying recommendation: There is such a thing as bad publicity.

 

10. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” – Literally untrue, of course, but the metaphor breaks down as well. Literally, you most certainly can judge a book by its cover and thereby save yourself a lot of time.  What is the alternative, to read every book?  That’s insane. There is a great deal of information on the cover of a book:  the author’s name, the title, sometimes a summary on the back, a picture – more than enough to decide whether or not the book is worth exploring further.  For example, I can safely assume that a book entitled, “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela,” by Nelson Mandela is going to contain some version of the life story of Nelson Mandela from his own perspective. If I have no interest in Nelson Mandela or am specifically looking for a book on transgender fiction, then I’m going to be able to pass some quick judgment. Metaphorically, I typically judge the ripeness of bananas (books) by the coloration of their peel (covers).  So the usefulness of this saying is more limited than its usage would indicate.


Replacement saying recommendation: Don’t judge people too quickly, but go ahead and be reasonable about other shit.

29 Grizzleaneous Thoughts (12/27/14)

Went to Grizz / Rockets tonight with @FlashGordonNY and @barsandkaps. Here are 29 observations / reflections about the experience:

 

  1. Grizz lost their 4th in a row, but – maybe because Zbo was out, or maybe because they’re still a very respectable 21-8 – it didn’t feel like a tragedy.
  2. Except to the grown man behind us in the jersey.  Definitely felt like a tragedy to him.
  3. The next 2 are @ Heat (tomorrow) and back at home vs. Spurs (Tuesday) – so there’s a real possibility the streak could get to 6.
  4. Still wouldn’t feel like a tragedy IMO. That’s the benefit of an 82 game season.
  5. Using “In the face” as a cheer / insult at an NBA game just feels right every time.
  6. Incredible overall atmosphere at FedExForum. The Grizz staff does such a good job with game presentation.
  7. Grizz games just feel so Memphis now, for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is the Grizz Grannies – who crushed it Friday night.
  8. Hard to imagine that an NBA arena can be any louder than FedExForum after the 2nd of Vince Carter’s late 3’s.
  9. Will “The Final Countdown” by Europe ever get old?
  10. No.
  11. Does “Welcome to the Jungle” make me want to wrestle my friends?
  12. Yes.
  13. Love watching Vince Carter play basketball.  He will be 38 in January – which makes him 5 months older than me.
  14. I played an hour of pickup basketball on Friday, and have been bitching about a jammed thumb ever since.
  15. It really hurts when I put weight on it.
  16. Carter, on the other hand, runs around with the best athletes in the world – most of whom are more than a decade younger than him – and still plays at a very high level.
  17. Can’t go to a Grizz game without remembering how much I love Chris Wallace.
  18. I have a theory that the Grizz are going to win the NBA title just because Chris Wallace exists as a human being.
  19. The halftime show, Duo Design, was impressively creepy.
  20. These dudes (Duo Design) show up with head to toe gold body paint and no clothes – except a pair of tiny gold panties (each).
  21. Their junk is on full display as they proceed to do about 10 minutes of yoga on top of each other.
  22. There’s probably a better way to describe what they do than ‘yoga on top of each other’ but maybe not.
  23. Was fun sitting behind the Rockets bench and watching Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale in action. I was first introduced to NBA basketball by my Grandfather in the mid 80’s – watching McHale’s Celtics play the Lakers in the finals. Dude is now 57, and let’s just say he doesn’t get around like he used to.
  24. In 1986-87 McHale averaged 26 & 9. His post moves were so deadly, McHale referred to them as his ‘torture chamber.’  In 2014, it looks like McHale is in a torture chamber when he has to walk 10 feet from the coaching huddle back to the regular huddle.
  25. McHale’s Wiki Page lists 3 notes for personal life.  (1) His wife. (2) His kids. (3) His 2 episodes appearing as himself on Cheers in Seasons 9 & 10.
  26. One of McHale’s Cheers episodes was titled, “Cheers Fouls Out,” the other, “Where Have All The Floorboards Gone?”
  27. @barsandkaps loves those episodes.
  28. For a guy who claims to be all about Memphis, was sort of surprised that @FlashGordonNY had never heard of the Bayou.
  29. Zydeco wings at Bayou did not disappoint. They never do.

Memphis & the Big XII – Reality Check Time

Big XII conference expansion is a hot topic among Memphis fans – primarily because (a) Oklahoma State booster Boone Pickens confirmed a popular Memphis rumor when he recently said, ‘Memphis wants in’ (duh), and (b) the Big XII was shut out of the inaugural College Football Playoff – which caused some people to suggest that the Big XII should expand by 2 members in order to immediately institute a football championship game. Even Memphis football head coach Justin Fuente, in a recent interview with Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, acknowledged candidly that the program should aspire to join the Big XII.

So we can all agree that Memphis – its fans, its boosters, its administration, heck even its football coach – wants in.  This piece examines Memphis’ conference affiliation – both present and future – and provides a realistic assessment of their chances at inclusion into the Big XII.

Reality check #1:  The Big XII isn’t expanding right now – primarily because the candidates aren’t worth $22m per year. This isn’t to say the Big XII won’t expand down the road, particularly if their petition to de-regulate conference championship games – so that that they can stage one without expanding to 12 teams as the current rule requires – is denied. As of now, however, Big XII Commissioner Bob Bowlsby couldn’t be clearer about his conference’s attitude toward expansion.  According to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the available schools, Memphis included, do not bring the equity to the table that matches the annual Big 12 per-school payout from the media contracts — $22 million.  Bowlsby confirmed that fact to Dodd, and added some additional considerations:

“That’s right. Even more than that — it’s academic, it’s competitiveness, it’s geography, it’s scope of program. Just getting to 12 so you can have a playoff is among the worst reasons to expand.”

Ouch. Bowlsby recently appeared on talk radio in Orlando (AM 740) with Mike Bianchi, and clarified his league’s position:

“We don’t have any schools on our radar at the present time. … We don’t have any expansion initiative; we don’t have any list of prospects or any plans to expand. But as our ADs and CEOs talk about the challenges of the future and our immediate past experience we had in the playoffs, these [expansion initiatives] are things that are going to get discussed.”

He again explained the financial factors, and why they’re not interested in expanding (yet):

“We divide the money 10 ways. Right now, we’re distributing the largest amount of money to each of our members in any league in college athletics. I don’t know that our members are prepared to take a reduction in that distributable revenue. It (expansion) is certainly about TV sets. It’s certainly about recruiting. It’s certainly about the possibility of competitive implications in all of our sports, but particularly our high-profile sports. At the present time we have no strategy. We haven’t had any discussions around expansion. Our CEOs have said they like 10. I expect that we’ll be at 10 for a while. Could that change down the road? Sure it could… I don’t think we’re going to take a kneejerk reaction and think immediately about expansion just because on this occasion we got left out of the playoff.”

In other words, Memphis and other hopefuls can wait by the phone if they want, but don’t expect a call for at least a little while.

Reality Check #2:  Memphis’ lack of prestigious academic reputation matters – but it can be overcome.  Bowlsby’s comment about academics should concern Memphis fans. The fact is, academic fit and reputation does matter. These are university presidents making these decisions, not football coaches or fans. Conversely, Louisville is a good example of a school that used its extensive success on the field / court to overcome a lower academic profile. Forbes ranks Louisville #548 overall as a college, similar to Memphis at #609. Cincinnati is #391, UCF #405.  Whether or not 200 spots on Forbes’ rankings matters enough to take one school over another remains to be seen, but if I were directing Memphis’ expansion efforts I’d make sure to keep the Louisville story in the front of my mind.  Which leads us to…

Reality Check #3:  Memphis needs to achieve more success on the field in order to position itself. When programs get promoted from outside the “power” conferences, they typically do so after years of extended success in the primary revenue sport – football. In the latest round of conference reshuffling, 6 of the 7 schools promoted out of the old BIG EAST and MWC into the current “Power 5” had enjoyed multiple years of football success.  The anomaly was Syracuse, and to a lesser extent, Pittsburgh:

School From: To: 10 win seasons in previous decade
Louisville BIG EAST ACC 3 (2012, 2006, 2004)
Syracuse BIG EAST ACC None
Pittsburgh BIG EAST ACC 1 (2009) + 2, 9 win seasons
Rutgers BIG EAST B1G 1 (2006) + 3, 9 win seasons
TCU MWC Big XII 5 (2011, 2010, 2009, 2005, 2002)
West Virginia BIG EAST Big XII 4 (2011, 2007, 2006, 2005)
Utah MWC Pac 12 5 (2010, 2009, 2008, 2004, 2003)

It’s no accident that arguably the 2 most successful programs on that list (West Virginia and TCU) were the programs chosen for inclusion into the Big XII. Football is what matters to guys like Boone Pickens and power brokers in Texas. Whereas basketball powers with suspect football pedigrees (Syracuse & Pittsburgh) might sneak into the ACC, that isn’t going to happen in Big XII country.

In other words, for Memphis to position itself as a strong, obvious candidate for inclusion into the Big XII, it needs to keep winning in football. One great year probably won’t cut it, but 2 or 3 might.

Reality Check #4:  Memphis’ needs to continue to grow its football brand.  This is a corollary to #3, and why it was so crucial to retain Justin Fuente for another year.  Memphis could enter 2015 as a preseason top 25 team – which would translate into better television time slots within the AAC / ESPN / CBS Sports package. The Memphis vs. BYU Miami Beach Bowl drew a very strong 1.3 rating, despite an awkward 2pm-Monday time slot. Obviously BYU’s national brand helped that number, but so did simply being on primary ESPN (as opposed to ESPN branded channels with more limited distribution such as ESPNU and ESPNEWS) and playing a thrilling game. Though Memphis had a number of games on television in 2014, they were often on ESPN’s less distributed platforms (ESPNEWS & ESPNU).  Accordingly, the ratings for their games suffered:

Rating:        Viewers:                  Time / Day:                                 Teams:                                                               Platform:

1.3 1.32m 2:00 PM (Mon) BYU/Memphis ESPN
0 65K 4:00 PM (Sat) UConn/Memphis ESPNEWS
0.1 95K 3:30 PM (Sat) Memphis/Tulane ESPNU
0.1 87K 12:00 PM (Sat) Memphis/SMU ESPNEWS
0.2 249K 8:00 PM (Fri) Tulsa/Memphis ESPNU
0.2 307K 7:30 PM (Fri) Memphis/Temple ESPNU

TV ratings can’t be considered in a vacuum, as they don’t reveal important factors such as what games or alternate programming was being aired head to head.  Accordingly, it is not clear whether or not these ratings met or failed to meet expectations. For a list of all CFB ratings in 2014, see this list (courtesy of Sports Media Watch). Nevertheless, it’s clear that being on ESPN matters. Being ranked matters. It means more people see your name, your team, your logo. But most importantly it means that you might be able to generate higher ratings… which will then help you pitch the Big XII CEO’s and TV Network executives that your program will bring enough additional revenue to offset the additional mouth to feed. AKA – $22 million.

Reality Check #5 & #5A: If the Big XII does expand, Memphis has a lot of connections and the right geography. In politics, it’s all about who you knowThe same is undoubtedly true when university presidents and AD’s get together to discuss expansion candidates – especially if all other factors are relatively equal. In their quest to gain admission to their conference, it can’t hurt that many of the powers that be at The University of Memphis have Big XII ties. Consider that several high ranking people in the Memphis administration previously worked in the Big XII:

Dr. David Rudd, University President Former Dept. Chair at Texas Tech from 2006-2009
Worked at Baylor
Graduated from Texas
Wren Baker, Deputy Director of Athletics Worked in Athletic Department at Oklahoma State from 2001-2005
Stacy Martin, Sr. Associate Athletic Director Assistant AD at Kansas State from 2009-2012
Justin Fuente, Head Football Coach Assistant coach at TCU from 2007-2011

Assuming that Boone Pickens’ statement (that Memphis wants in) was based on conversations at the donor level, one can imagine a multifaceted lobbying campaign targeting every school in the Big XII and trying to win broad based support in advance of any expansion discussions.

Reality Check #5A:  Geography & TV do favor Memphis:  Bowlsby has said that the Big XII, should they expand, would look to bridge the gap to West Virginia:

We have one member in West Virginia that’s on the East Coast. We have to be mindful of their situation. If we took somebody…on the far West Coast it would certainly do a disservice to our member in West Virginia.

This would indicate a candidate pool of possibly Memphis, Cincinnati, UCF, SMU and Houston. Of those 5, only Memphis and Cincinnati offer a true geographic bridge for West Virginia to the rest of the Big XII membership. Of those 5, only Memphis, UCF and Cincinnati offer new television markets for the conference – as Houston and Dallas are television markets already saturated by the Big XII. Memphis, on the other hand, is a top college football television market but one that is currently dominated by the SEC. The potential of generating big ratings in SEC country would seem to be an enticing argument in Memphis’ favor. Memphis vs. a Big XII opponent (Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia) on Fox, Saturday in prime time from the Liberty Bowl would certainly generate a higher rating than, say, Memphis vs. Tulsa on ESPNU on a Friday. Would it be a big enough rating to eat into the SEC Saturday night game of the week on ESPN? Big enough to pique the interest of Bowlsby and his CEOs?

Reality Check #6:  Memphis needs to support and grow the AAC now – especially since Big XII expansion is uncertain and the environment is treacherous. NCAA governance reforms (aka autonomy) and various class action lawsuits attacking the NCAA’s amateurism model virtually ensure that the next few years will bring tumult and change to college athletics. Most observers have predicted a coming arms race in student athlete benefits (lifetime scholarships, family travel, meals, health insurance, etc…) which will rework athletic department budgets. While pursuing Big XII membership is vital, Memphis and other AAC programs have to deal with the reality that their financial model is currently closer to UAB’s (which just went out of business) than to Alabama’s. If it hopes to remain relevant over the next decade, Memphis must grow its athletic program within the AAC and support the AAC’s growth as a brand. If the Big XII’s petition to de-regulate conference championship games is granted, it’s very likely that conference simply won’t expand. At that point, the AAC becomes a solid long term home for all the so-called Big XII candidates.

The AAC signed a 7-year, 126m contract with ESPN in 2013. With his leverage eroded due to the timing of the last round of conference shuffling, AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco negotiated a television contract with ESPN that provided for unprecedented exposure (did you ever think you’d see the day that every single Memphis conference football game was on national television?), but much lower TV payouts than the “Power 5” conferences. By comparison, the SEC will likely distribute more to one single school in 2015 (approx 30m) than the AAC will collect in total annual revenue from the ESPN contract. Though the money isn’t good for the AAC, ESPN has given the conference a clear opportunity, through exposure, to demonstrate greater value for future TV negotiations. The current contract reportedly has a look-in provision that will allow for potential extension and renegotiation. At the end of the day, Memphis and other AAC schools have to get eyeballs on their games. With the NFL increasingly becoming a 3 or 4 night a week sport, this won’t be easy.

If there truly is no Big XII expansion for the next 10 years as some predict, then the AAC schools will look to Aresco, a former television executive with deep understanding of the marketplace, to manifest his statement about the conference economic landscape being 5 + 1 (as opposed to 5 haves and 5 have nots).

Bottom line: In sharp contrast to where they found themselves during the last round of shuffling – as a last gasp, desperate addition to a dying BIG EAST – Memphis actually makes some sense for the Big XII should they decide to expand.  That decision, however, is far from certain and some are saying it’s not likely at all. That’s the bad news. The good news is the market for college football will recognize value. Therefore, Memphis can do the most to strengthen its position by simply continuing to invest in football and positioning itself competitively ahead of schools like Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, UCF – whether that be in the AAC or the Big XII. The competition among those schools for the next life boat out – might just be a rising tide that lifts the AAC to a favorable market position.

Positive Paul, Negative Nellie & Realistic Ralph (Western Illinois edition)

Tiger fans are well aware that Josh Pastner prefers Positive Pauls and does not like Negative Nellies.  We at bballjones.com respect both. At the end of the day however, we strive to be more like Realistic Ralph.

Here’s a little something from all 3 viewpoints:

 

Positive Paul:

  • Trashon Burrell can play. The JUCO transfer from Lee College (TX) has now scored in double figures in 8 of the first 11 games of his Division 1 career.  On Tuesday evening, he pulled down 9 or more rebounds for the 4th time this season.  He is active, has good range (37% from 3pt range this season), finishes at the rim and averages almost 2 assists per game as well.
  • This Memphis team plays hard and plays together.  The undisputed strength of Pastner’s Memphis teams over the years is their propensity to play unselfish basketball (at least offensively). This squad is no different in that regard.
  • Memphis’ point guards, Pookie Powell and D’Marnier Cunningham, combined for 17 points, 8 assists and just 4 turnovers. Though Cunningham will struggle to guard bigger players, he’s incredibly quick and attacks the lane.  It will be interesting to see if he can be effective against AAC teams. He struggled against Oklahoma State, but that was his first Division 1 game. A high level donor in the front row last night insisted that Cunningham is going to be better than Joe Jackson. As far as I know, said donor has no background in scouting.
  • This may be the best rebounding team Pastner has had at Memphis. They have a gang rebounding approach and have out rebounded all but 3 opponents so far – coming close in those matchups. Against Western Illinois on Tuesday night, King had 10 rebounds, Burrell and Godfrey finished with 9 each.
  • With a 4th consecutive win, Memphis pushed its overall record to 7-4 heading into conference play. Confidence is rising and if the guard play continues to improve (remember that Pookie Powell is still a Freshman), Positive Paul can allow himself to dream about Memphis competing with SMU, UConn and Cincinnati for a top seed in the AAC Tournament.

Negative Nellie:

  • WTF is up with Shaq Goodwin?  The Junior, presumed team leader and pre-season all conference selection got suspended for a “violation of team rules.”  Memphis didn’t need another distraction heading into conference play – and another game where their best rotation isn’t deployed.
  • Blending Goodwin back into the lineup during high intensity conference games in January won’t go well.  Calvin Godfrey and Nick King combined for 24 and 19 on Tuesday night and neither one is going to want to cede minutes when Goodwin returns. One can easily foresee chemistry problems – something Pastner has never been adept at handling well.
  • Memphis still has too many defensive breakdowns – and allowed a bad Western Illinois to play them even (37-37) in the 2nd half on Tuesday night.
  • FedExForum has been moribund the last several home games. On Tuesday, it was half full at best. Although folks that attend these types of games tend to be the most loyal, vocal and supportive fans – it’s clear there’s a depressed energy around the program right now.
  • Fan reality is enhanced by the fact that it’s unlikely this Memphis team will make the NCAA tournament. Sure, it’s too early to write them off (just ask Positive Paul), but They’re 7-4 with an RPI (CBSSports) of 144 heading into AAC play. Of the remaining opportunities on the schedule, only Gonzaga (8) is in the top 30 of the RPI. SMU and Temple are both top 50, so there will be chances to make up ground, but perhaps not enough.

Realistic Ralph:

  • It’s actually nice to hear Pastner a little deflated and beat down. Ralph doesn’t wish ill upon Coach Pastner, but in the post-game show he sounded more like a basketball coach, and less like a self-help guru than he’s ever sounded.  Pastner needs to focus on this team and its development – not giving incessant shout-outs to the managers and walk-ons and otherwise saving the world. Ralph likes his basketball coaches a little tired, a little defeated and somewhat cynical (think Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, RIck Pitino, etc…). Sounds like Pastner may finally be getting burnt out on the idea that he can be all things to all people.
  • Memphis opens the AAC schedule with 2 challenging, but winnable, home games against Houston (now coached by Kelvin Sampson) and a surprising Tulane team that sports a 9-2 record and went toe to toe with #13 Washington on the road last night before falling by 9 points late.
  • Memphis’ worst loss thus far was to a Stephen F. Austin squad that is still ranked in the top 100 of the RPI (72).  The others are all top 50 losses:  Wichita State (7), Baylor (30) and Oklahoma State (46).
  • On the other hand, Memphis doesn’t yet have a top 100 RPI win.  It’s best triumph was against North Carolina Central (100).
  • Memphis has some emerging talent, hasn’t quit and is definitely getting better.  That’s what fans want to see.

 

 

Of Thrills, Brawls & Insults from Nashvillians


The tweet came about half an hour after the Miami Beach Bowl ended in thrilling, violent fashion. Clay Travis, a Nashville based sports personality, writer and college football analyst, expressed sarcastically what most followers of college football, and certainly those in SEC country, were probably thinking as they watched or heard about the end of Memphis’ first Bowl win since 2005:

Totally expected BYU to brawl. But really expected better from Memphis.

@ClayTravisBGID

Obviously the structure of Travis’ sarcasm was to flip Memphis and BYU and play on stereotypes. The stereotypes, however, are not of the programs themselves. They are of the cultures within which the respective programs exist. After all, prior to this season and maybe even prior to today Memphis football’s reputation on a national level was one of ineptitude built over decades of irrelevance and reinforced strongly by the humiliating performances of the Larry Porter era.  If there’s one thing that Memphis football wasn’t known for over the past decade it’s fighting.

No, Travis’ comment wasn’t about Memphis the football program, it was about Memphis the city. And about Mormons, but let’s not worry about that right now.  It clearly reflected what Nashvillians, East Tennesseans, and followers of SEC programs throughout the region think of Memphis, Tennessee: violent, unsafe, rough, not worth visiting. Go to Memphis, get beat up. Go to Memphis, get hurt. Go to Memphis, be wary. That’s what Travis was saying. Clearly.

But don’t attack Travis, he was just taking an easy shot.  A shot that all SEC fans, and certainly non-Memphis based Tennesseans love to take when given the opportunity.  And he was doing the Memphis program a favor.

Because to that, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente should say the following:

Yes, you’re exactly right.  We’re Memphians.  We’re of Memphis and from Memphis and proud of it.

And guess what?   We’ll happily fight you too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Fuente should publicly condone fighting. I’m also not suggesting that Memphis has bad kids. I’m sure Memphis and BYU both have great kids. I’m simply suggesting that this brawl was great for Memphis Football. And spare me a lecture on sportsmanship and class. There’s a time and place for sportsmanship and class – and it wasn’t today in Miami. This whole football game was a brawl and it just happened to continue after Memphis won the game. You don’t go from 3-9 to 10-3 without a serious fight – and that mentality obviously couldn’t be turned off 2 seconds after the game clinching, and season ending, interception. In the heat of that moment, that conclusion, that comeback, a brawl makes perfect sense.  It had to happen.

This brawl – and Clay Travis’ comment – were about the bigger picture. Fuente’s ultimate objective is to build an American Athletic Conference program that can be competitive in the shadow of Clay Travis’ mighty, mighty SEC. You don’t narrow that chasm being nice and backing down. You don’t narrow it by winning sportsmanship awards. You do it by taking on bigger teams and being tougher and maybe drawing a little blood if you need to. After all, as Tom Brady once said, “this is football, not tiddlywinks.”  Indeed.

This was about a national TV audience on a Monday before Christmas watching a team fight, win, and then fight some more. This was about next October 15 (2015) at the Liberty Bowl, and building the kind of football program that can be physically competitive with Ole Miss on that coming day.  And this was about delivering a performance that can attract the kind of recruits that will elevate a program the same way Fuente’s former program (TCU) was elevated – as an underdog with less resources, but more tenacity and discipline and greater willingness to wound and be wounded.

Travis’ insult, no doubt echoed on message boards and Twitter feeds of fan bases throughout SEC country, and the fight that inspired it were both perfect branding for this program on this day.  So was the game itself, and if it got overshadowed in the name of added emphasis on the core message – that Memphis Football has a program, that it’s dangerous and ready to fight – then so be it.  Maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

Confessions of a Bandwagon Grizzlies Fan

Dear Grizzlies Franchise:

 

I need to come clean about some things.  I feel like our relationship has some definite potential right now, and accordingly I’d like to clear the air about some of the events that have transpired in the past. Before I get into all that, let me just say that (a) I watch or attend almost every playoff game, (b) I absolutely love Chris Wallace, and (c) I have a man crush on MIke Conley.

 

Nevertheless, I can’t escape the lurking notion that I’m a fraud – and the pressure and weight of some secrets has become difficult to tolerate. I feel in some ways the past has kept us stuck and so I’m hoping that after you read this, we’ll be able to move forward with a clean slate. See, the thing is, I’m kind of a bandwagon fan.  There, I said it.  Whew.  That felt good.  Wow, I really do feel better just owning it. Amazing.  I have a few more things to say – just in the way of explanation.  So here goes:

 

    1. I don’t watch every game.  Actually, I don’t watch most of the games,  and I flip around sometimes when I am watching.  LIke take today, for example.  I really did want to watch the Grizz – Cavs game.  After all, Lebron James vs. the Grizzlies is pretty epic.   But what happened was the Cowboys were on at the same time, and ya’ll were getting beat, and ya know….  I just flipped around some.  I feel terrible.  This actually happens a lot, especially if football or college basketball are on.  I want to want to watch all of every game.  I do love you guys a lot, but I mean….ya know…it’s just hard.  I’ll try to do better I promise.
    2. I gave up on Sidney Lowe almost immediately. I should have told you this a long time ago, because it’s been a while. This is really where our relationship first began to falter. I couldn’t even believe I gave up that quickly. Growing up in Memphis, I had longed for pro sports forever but I just wasn’t prepared for all that losing.  I was very much into you at first: I went to the first pre-season game, I watched the draft. I bought gear. I was genuinely pumped.  But the thing is, ya’ll really sucked – and the season was long – and it was so clear you weren’t going to be any good for a long time.  I went to some games and all, but I have to admit I stopped watching. In retrospect I can see that I was ashamed of myself for quitting. My disappointment in myself kept me away for a while. Please don’t be mad at me – I totally got behind Hubie Brown, who was freaking awesome by the way.
    3. I skipped the Marc Iavaroni era entirely.   According to Wikipedia, Iavaroni coached the team from 2007-2009. I missed that one completely. Please understand that during this time the Memphis Tigers were on the greatest run in program history and I lived outside of Memphis. That being said, I can’t sugarcoat this one – I was so checked out during this time period that ya’ll could have moved back to Vancouver and I might not have cared. Our relationship was really bad at this point and it was very much my fault.  But well, maybe not totally my fault – I mean,  I’m not trying to drag up the past but ya’ll did trade Kevin Love for OJ Mayo on draft night and draft Hasheem Thabeet and Donte Green. Sooooo let’s just say there was mutual fault in this situation and forget it.
    4. Because of my loyalty to the Memphis Tigers, I have resented you at times. I realize this is totally unreasonable and that on balance you’ve done way more to help the Memphis Tigers and move them forward than to hurt them in any way. But you have to understand something about timing. Shortly after you got here, my beloved Tigers were relegated to a version of Conference USA that was stripped of all their then-traditional rivals (Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette). John Calipari had yet to really get the program rolling, and even after he did there was always the fear that he would leave and the program would slip. So out of fear and envy I resented your fancy marketing materials and your slick game presentations and your corporate resources and your permanent signage at FedExForum. You may or may not know this, but as a Memphis Tiger fan, I come pre-programmed with an inferiority complex – so playing 2nd fiddle to an NBA team just isn’t easy. That being said, I think most Memphis Tiger fans have come fully around to embrace your presence and just sort of blindly choose to believe it’s going to work out well for both of us whether there’s any empirical evidence to back that up or not.
    5. I don’t like some of your fans. I grew up in Memphis before it was a pro-town. I grew up in Memphis before there was a “cool” team to like and all sorts of “cool” ways to show how “cool” you are because you like them. The town was more fragmented because the allegiances ran to various college teams. So I’m just not used to all this brotherhood, camaraderie and catch phrase mania. As a result, it feels kind of fake and trendy to me….at best it’s foreign. While I certainly get that people are genuinely excited about all the success you’ve had, as I am – I could really do without the 20 year old floozies tweeting #wigsnatch and #gritgrind and talking about how much they love the Grizzlies because Marc is cute.  (Though I have to admit he’s a very good looking man.) I can’t escape the feeling that if you asked the same “fans” what a pick and roll is they’d probably tell you it’s a menu item at one of the trendy new restaurants in Overton Square.

 

There may be some other things that I remember in time – but these are the big ones. Feels good to come clean, really does.  Please know that I’ve been there from the beginning.  I went to an open practice in 2001 at the Pyramid and remember finding it surreal that one of my favorite former Orlando Magic players, Nick Anderson, was wearing a Memphis jersey (you didn’t think I remembered did you?).  I was stoked when Jerry West was hired, even watched the press conference on live TV.   I attended the press conference when you revealed the current uniform and logo.  I once trespassed into FedExForum while it was still being built on New Year’s eve 2004 to check out the progress of construction.   I’d like to think my Grizz fan resume is pretty decent.


In conclusion, please forgive my weakness and disloyalty- and let’s move forward together in a renewed spirit of partnership.

#gritgrind

#wigsnatch

#grizznation