Thoughts and Impressions on an Eventful Week in Memphis Sports ...

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Some quick thoughts for a week of flag-waving, fireworks, and fireside fun.

• New Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said all the right things at his introductory press conference last Thursday. The Griz will win. They’ll push the ball, but not at the expense of their calling card: stifling defense. And yes, he’s a blue-collar guy. (Beale Street blue?)

I see a unique dichotomy to Joerger’s move into the head coach’s office at FedExForum. On one level, there’s the lingering shock among the fan base that Lionel Hollins is gone. A successful and popular coach who took a still-young franchise farther than it’s ever gone before ... is gone. On another level, Joerger’s is a familiar face, his voice is one with which every Grizzly (save Kosta Koufos) is familiar. It’s hard to imagine teamwide rejection of a member of the family, as Joerger preceded every player on his roster except Mike Conley (who arrived with Joerger in 2007). I get the sense the face of the Grizzlies’ summer of transition is actually CEO Jason Levien’s, and he’ll be the one under scrutiny when (or if) the team stumbles next winter.

• The fact that D.J. Stephens was even in the discussion on NBA draft day last week was a victory for the former sky-walking Memphis Tiger. Surely he’ll convince a team that 46-inch vertical leap is worth a seat at the end of the bench. (Stephens will play summer-league ball with the Miami Heat.)

Not so pleasant was the draft-day snub of Adonis Thomas, only two years ago a player considered inconvenienced by the NBA-mandated rule requiring high school graduates wait a year before gaining draft eligibility. Thomas, sadly, personifies the NBA’s case for that silly rule. Imagine the millions of dollars some NBA team would have spent on the McDonald’s All-American fresh out of high school. In the eyes of 30 NBA teams, that’s money now saved. Here’s hoping Thomas finds a basketball home, and escapes the “tweener” label he developed over two years at the U of M. (Thomas will be with Atlanta for summer-league play.)

• Small tremors were felt at The Racquet Club of Memphis last Monday when the unknown Steve Darcis of Belgium shocked the tennis world by upsetting Rafael Nadal in the opening round at Wimbledon. Darcis, the most passionate of local fans will remember, won the Regions Morgan Keegan championship in February 2008. That title remains one of two Darcis has claimed on the ATP Tour. Alas, the racket-toting Rocky had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury before the Wimbledon’s second round. Making matters worse, no American man reached the hallowed tournament’s third round. And you wonder why Peter Lebedevs and friends at The Racquet Club toss and turn.

Audie Artero (l) and Frank Murtaugh
  • Audie Artero (l) and Frank Murtaugh

• Do me a favor this Thursday while the grill is heating up: play catch with someone you love. Baseball and the Fourth of July are an easy match, both as American as a drive-in movie. I got the chance last month to play catch on the banks of the Mighty Miss with one of my dearest friends. Audie Artero was a three-sport teammate of mine in high school many Fourths of July ago. He’s now a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and lives on the other side of the planet, in Guam. After far too long, we were able to gather our families, watch our daughters (we each have two) swim, laugh, and sing together (Top 40 hits are big in Guam). We jaunted down Beale Street, paused outside the Civil Rights Museum, and Audie grabbed a microphone at Sun Studio. Visit of a lifetime. But the highlight for me — selfishly — was playing catch with my old teammate, my lifelong friend. The feel of the baseball and the sound of it meeting leather may as well have been a time machine. Two kids, 16 years old, a lifetime ahead of them. How little we knew then ... and how much we have to celebrate today.

Happy Fourth everyone. n

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