Monday, November 5, 2012

Austin Nichols Commits to the Memphis Tigers

Pastner did it again. Landing Austin Nichols put the stamp on a stellar class featuring Nick King, Markell Crawford, Pookie Powell, and Kuran Iverson. It came as a surprise to most. Nichols looked to be headed out east to play for the Vols, but luckily for Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers, things didn't work out this way.

Memphis fans might be getting used to these types of surprises. Tarik Black was on his was to Marquette. Chris Crawford was a Tennessee lock. Did anyone see Stan Simpson coming? What about Jelan Kendrick (even though he ultimately never saw the court)? It's gotten to the point where, no matter what you hear on the recruiting trail, you can't count out Memphis.

With the addition of Nichols, this year's recruiting class should have Memphis ready to enter the Big East. It's better than the heralded class featuring Crawford, Black, Barton, Kendrick, Jackson, and others. Most of all, it fills every conceivable need the Tigers have, and then some. This class will also have the added benefit of some upper class leadership to show them the ropes. The depth of the Tigers as they enter the Big East (barring some major unforeseen defections, draft entries, or non-qualifiers) will be astounding.

As if he hadn't done it already, Pastner has cemented himself as a top-notch recruiting machine. You can question his X's and O's, you can question his ability to motivate, you can even question his ability to deal with unruly players, but you can't question his ability to get players. He's gotten big time recruits each year he's been here, and when he needed to add big classes, he came through.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Important Season for Paster

There's no doubt this season is huge for Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers. Paster has done a lot in his first three seasons to keep Memphis relevant in the post-Calipari era. He's won the C-USA Championship and taken Memphis to the NCAA tournament in both of the last two years. 

Unfortunately, Memphis fans don't settle for championships in a conference they feel like they should dominate, and they certainly don't settle for NCAA tournament appearances. They want tournament runs, deep runs. Most, but certainly not all, have been willing to give Josh some patience. He is, after all, a rookie coach. His first year he had a squad full of leftovers and a season-saving transfer in Elliot Williams. His next two years he had the talent, but his teams severely lacked experience.

 This year, no excuses will suffice. He has a talented, veteran squad with a full two seasons under their belt to learn his system. They've seen the court enough to know that you have to play hard no matter who the opponent is. If the questionable losses they took their first two years didn't teach them that, then Pastner has to find a way to make them understand.

 He also has a pair of talented newcomers, who should benefit from having a veteran squad. They should do much better than the heralded 2010 class, simply due to the fact that they will have guidance and won't be so heavily relied on from the start. Shaq Goodwin is an incredibly post player with speed, strength, and a jump shot. What the Tigers really need from him, however, is defense and rebounding. Geron Johnson has NBA talent, but will have to learn to make opposing offenses struggle. If he can't do that, Chris Crawford will make sure he sees plenty of time on the bench.

 In any case, this team is as deeper, more talented, and more experienced than any team Pastner has coached. The post isn't as woefully thin as it has been, either. For these reasons, Pastner needs to get past the criticism that I'm sure rings in his ears every night. No top-25 wins, no tournament wins. That must change, or his job will feel much less secure, and when you're preparing to enter one of the top two basketball conferences in the nation, you've got enough pressure to worry about.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Trey Draper: A True Student-Athlete

Leonard "Trey" Draper is a 5-10, 170lb. walk-on freshman guard for the University of Memphis. He graduated from Mitchell High School, in Memphis, where he played both basketball and baseball. Trey Draper truly exemplifies the ideal student-athlete. During his time at Mitchell, he served on the Leadership Council, on the Student Council and as a peer mediator. He chose these roles for a variety of reasons: he had leadership instilled in him at an early age, his guidance counselor thought it would be to his and other students benefit, and he simply enjoyed being involved.

Although Draper spent his junior and senior years as a starter and team captain for his basketball team, most people thought he was better at baseball. As a baseball player, he started and was team captain all four years. Once he made the jump to the collegiate level, however, he decided to stick with hoops stating that he "loved basketball too much to let it go."

It shouldn't come as any surprise that Draper loves basketball. His grandfather, the first Leonard Draper, was good friends with Larry Finch. He stated that his parents told him he was attending games before he was born, and that several basketball players, including "Andre Turner, Penny Hardaway, David Vaughn, Elliot Perry, and many more" held him as a child.

But this isn't his only connection to the program. He is also friends with Tiger freshman point guard, Joe Jackson. Draper called him, "one of my best friends." When asked whether his relationship with either Jackson or his grandfather influenced his decision to attend the University of Memphis, he admitted that they wanted him to become a Tiger, but "at the end of the day, it was my decision."

Draper referred to the moment when he drew the loudest applause of the night after hitting a three point attempt against LeMoyne Owen as "a dream come true." He then noted that the support from his team is what meant the most to him.

He also had a message for the fans, "I just want to let the Tiger fans know I am excited to be here, and my teammates and I are working hard everyday to bring a National Championship back to Memphis."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Adonis Thomas Commits to the University of Memphis

Adonis Thomas, a five star small forward who plays for Melrose in Memphis, Tennessee, has given his verbal commitment to play basketball for the University of Memphis. While many expected the Tigers to be the team that would eventually land Adonis Thomas, the commitment was still a relief for most of Tiger Nation. Josh Pastner and his staff focused their attention on Adonis Thomas at the expense of other recruits.

Landing Adonis Thomas was a great pick up for the University of Memphis for a couple of reasons. The first is his incredible talent. Adonis Thomas has been rated as high as the number one prospect in the country by some and is rarely seen outside of the top ten. He is a wonderful offensive player, but he is truly special because of what he can offer on defense and rebounding.

It's also important because for the second year in a row, Pastner was able to land Memphis's top recruit, last year he signed point guard Joe Jackson of White Station. What's even better is that Adonis Thomas is also academically focused and talented.

This commitment signifies many things to Tiger fans. The first is that Pastner's recruiting last year was not a fluke. While everyone considered him to be a great recruiter before accepting the head coaching job for Memphis, they also knew it's much easier to recruit for established coaches like Lute Olsen and John Calipari. Landing Adonis Thomas also showed that it will be very hard for other programs to land elite level talent from Memphis. Finally, the commitment made it clear that Memphis can land recruits that are concerned with the level of education that they will receive while in school.

The future looks bright, and fans have a reason to celebrate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bluff City Classic: Thursday

Thursday night the suns played. The team consisted of Antonio Barton, Chris Crawford, Jelan Kendrick, Drew Barham, DJ Stephens, and 5 others who will not play for the Memphis Tigers. Luckily, the coach of that team subbed five players at a time, so anytime one Tiger was on the floor, they were all on the floor.

Chris Crawford was absolutely amazing. He has a great feel for the game and is very unselfish. He looked like he would make a better point guard than either Antonio Barton or Jelan Kendrick. He dished out somewhere between 5-7 alley oop passes including one to either Stephens or Kendrick (He did so many I might be getting them mixed up) off the back board. Not suprisingly, he also showed a great touch from the behind the three point line. He's really fun to watch because it looks like he's doing nothing. His hand barely moves, and all the sudden, an alley oop or three point shot is happening.

Jelan Kendrick was pretty good as well. It seemed like he was using this time to practice on things he doesn't normally do. He also appeared very eager to play the point guard position. At one point in the game, he attempted an alley oop pass from half court, and it ended up going in.

Antonio Barton seems like he will be a great point guard by his junior year. He is very quick and athletic. What he is lacking is court vision and decision making skills. He had quite a few turn overs on bad passes.

Drew Barham appeared about the same. He can still hit the three, but hasn't shown a superior talent. He does seem like he's been working on his defense some, though.

D.J. Stephens obviously listened to Pastner about working on his wing skills. He hasn't gotten them down yet, but he is trying. He attempted several three pointers. One of them went in. Still has that really high jump which is always fun to watch.

In the crowd, Wesley Witherspoon, Joe Jackson, Will Barton, Angel Garcia, and Will Coleman were all there to cheer on their team mates. While most of them sat down to enjoy the game, Coleman was on his feet the whole time. He seemed really eager to play.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Roburt Sallie Not Suiting Up As a Memphis Tiger Next Season

Roburt Sallie, a junior guard for the University of Memphis, has announced that he will not return to Memphis to finish out his final year of eligibility. "I am grateful for my two years in Memphis, and no matter where I go on from here, Memphis and Tiger basketball fans will hold a special place in my heart," said Sallie. He plans to either pursue a career in Europe or to finish his final year of NCAA eligibility at a school that is closer to his home in Sacramento, California. He would be eligible to play immediately assuming that he graduates in August as planned.

Sallie played with the Tigers for two seasons after transferring from Laurenberg Prep in North Carolina. He started in 21 of the 70 games he played for Memphis. During that time, he averaged 8.2 points and 1.2 steals. He also had a field goal percentage of 43.2%, but was slightly more effective from beyond the arc at 43.8%. Coach Pastner had this to say regarding Sallie's decision, "Tiger Nation should be appreciative of what Roburt did while wearing the Blue and Gray. Roburt gave his all in his two years here, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have coached him."

The game most Tiger fans will remember him for is the one against Cal St Northridge in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament. During this game, he hit ten three pointers, the second most three pointers ever made in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

There are likely several factors involved in his decision to leave, the most obvious being his age. If he returned, he would play next season as a 25 year old. Also, he is graduating in August. There is also the fact that his playing time would likely decrease thanks to the stellar recruiting class that Pastner has assembled. Possibly most influential, however, is the fact that his father is battling cancer. If he does return to college, he will certainly be closer to his father.

Sallie contributed a lot to the University of Memphis, and he will be missed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elliot Williams to the NBA Draft

Fox News broke the story that Elliot Williams has officially declared for the draft. He has also signed an agent, preventing him from deciding to return to college. This should not come as a surprise as Coach Josh Pastner has said that Williams will either be in or out, no testing of the waters.

This is obviously bad for the Tigers from an experience stand point. Right now, the only players in the backcourt that won't be freshman are Wesley Witherspoon and Roburt Sallie, assuming he decides to return.

It does have some positives, though. There was a bit of a log jam at the guard positions which made the starting lineup very complicated. Would Joe Jackson or Will Barton have to sit on the bench? Or maybe, keep playing Wesley Witherspoon as a power forward? Now the starting line up is much easier to figure out. It will probably go something like this; PG:Joe Jackson SG:Will Barton SF:Wesley Witherspoon PF:Angel Garcia C:Will Coleman. That's a lot of talent for a starting five. So, there's nothing to be upset about (Although I'm sure many tiger fans weren't going to be upset with the problem of having too many players capable of starting).

Tiger fans should wish Elliot Williams well. While he won't be a lottery pick, going in the late first or early second round is nothing to laugh at. It also looks great for Josh Pastner to take a role player from Duke that averaged less than five points a game and turn him into a draft pick (As Dan Wolken so graciously pointed out on his Twitter account). Fans should just be glad he joined us for the one season that he did. That was when we truly needed him.