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Cal's First Test

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Less than a month into his first season at the University of Memphis John Calipari has a losing record (2-4) and his first player controversy. Considering the early schedule (five of the first seven games come against ranked teams) the record was expected. Senior Marcus Moody quitting the team the day before the trip to Arkansas was not. Memphis lost to Arkansas 74-68 in Fayetville and the team really missed Moody’s outside shooting. The senior had been the most consistent outside threat for the Tigers and was the second leading scorer at 9.2 points per game. It all boiled down to -- what else? -- playing time. Moody did not think he was getting enough. Calipari was waiting for him to earn it. The coach was very specific and very public about what he wanted from the senior guard. “We have had 28 practices, six or seven scrimmages, and two exhibition games. He has yet to dive on the floor for a loose ball,” Calipari said before the opener, a 67-62 home court loss to Temple. “Well, guess what, those are the guys who are playing for me. He has yet to take a charge. Those are the guys who are playing for me. But we need his scoring, need his senior leadership. I like his game, but he’s going to have to take it up a notch. If he is capable of doing that, he’s going to be a starter. If he’s not capable of doing that, he’s going to come off the bench. In either case, he is going to be an effective player for us.” Meanwhile as his former teammates were returning to Memphis after the Arkansas loss, Moody went on the post-game radio show to give his side of the story. He said Calipari wasn’t fair to him -- that the coach pulled him after one miscue, but he would allow the other players four or five mistakes. Moody said his unhappiness was only with Calipari not the team, the university, or the city. This team needs Moody. Calipari was hoping that the maturity of being a senior would cause Moody to respond to the challenge laid down by the combative coach. But Moody sulked as his playing time grew less and less. Against Tennessee-Martin in the game before he quit, Moody only played 13 minutes, taking a mere three shots. After the game Calipari was visibly shaken as he left the locker room. “I’m worried about this team,” Calipari said, despite the 32-point victory. “We’re scared to death to play. I want to throw up.” He clearly had Moody in mind as he bemoaned his team’s lack of toughness. And one can only guess the scene in the locker room at halftime and after the game. The situation is made more complicated because of who Moody is and where he comes from. The nephew of a former Tiger player Kenny Moody who know does TV color commentary for Tiger games on WKNO and the son of an outstanding player at Missouri and professionally in Europe, Marcus Moody chose the U of M at a time when all the local talent was leaving town. But he has had to endure three different coaches and his game has never really developed. Even so, Moody is a favorite with the hometown fans and Calipari will have to watch his step. “It isn’t about minutes,” Calipari said before the season began. “If you get four minutes a game, in those four minutes, prove you should be playing more. If you get 8 to 10 minutes, prove you should be playing 15. So it’s not about minutes. It’s about being productive.” On Sunday Calipari and Moody met and came to an agreement. Moody could come back to the team but would be starting from scratch and would have to earn every minute of playing time. The senior will not be allowed to make the trip to Tennessee to play the 7th-ranked Volunteers, but he will be able to dress for the Ole Miss game at The Pyramid Saturday night. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. We haven’t heard the last of the feud between Moody and Calipari. More so than Temple, Stanford, Arkansas, or Tennessee, this is John Calipari’s first real test at the University of Memphis. Stay tuned. (You can write Dennis Freeland at freeland@memphisflyer.com)

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