Thursday, April 20, 2017
The Curious Case of Memphis
Memphis is a noted hotbed for blues and barbecue.
It's not too bad at producing high quality basketball as well.
For decades, Memphis has been a cradle of high school and collegiate talent that made significant impacts in the college basketball world. Larry Finch's teams, especially with Anfernee Hardaway on board, were always tough to beat come March.
Nolan Richardson built a pipeline from there to Arkansas, which resulted in Todd Day leading the Hogs to the Final Four in 1990. Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart would help guide Arkansas to the national title four years later.
John Calipari came to town and promptly built a juggernaut on the river, taking Memphis to the national title game before bolting for the Bluegrass.
Memphis, for years and years, has been an epicenter of hoops talent; a rarity in a region where football is king, followed closely by spring football.
All of this leads to where Memphis basketball is today: a chaotic storm, to say it nicely.
When Josh Pastner left for Georgia Tech, it surprised everyone and frankly delighted a lot of Tiger fans. When Memphis lured Tubby Smith from Texas Tech, expectations were high. Everything seemed to fall into place for a revival of Memphis to basketball's elite.
So far, it's been nothing but a disaster. Memphis wasn't seen in the Big Dance. Tension on the team was high. And, following Dedric and K.J. Lawson's transfers (the latter being quite the ugly sideshow), Memphis is left with bits and pieces of a program, scrambling to build something out of, well, who knows?
Lately, it's become the going trend for many athletes to leave the once-popular hometown team and stake their claims in other parts of the country. Miami football has never been the same for awhile now. Memphis basketball seems to be going through this same phase, falling behind UConn and SMU in the AAC pecking order, which only got tougher with the addition of Wichita State.
It's not as if there isn't talent nearby. MaxPreps ranked the city's East High School as the second best hoops team in the nation this year. Just an hour up the road, nearby Jonesboro, Arkansas, was ranked fifth. There's still some seriously good talent in the Mid-South. However, with the mass exodus of players leaving the program (six in just the past year), it seems as if the timing for Tubby Smith and Memphis just isn't matching up at the moment.
It's a curious case. Lots of talent. A seasoned, successful coach. A fantastic arena. And yet, it feels as if this is a Memphis program that has a long, long way to go before reviving the good old days.