In reviewing John Caliparis first half-decade at the
helm of the University of Memphis basketball program, theres a distinctive
quality to almost every angle.
GOOD NEWS: Calipari has led Memphis to
the final four of a national postseason tournament three times, winning a
championship in 2002.
BAD NEWS: The tournament was the NIT.
: Calipari has convinced
mega-talents like Dajuan Wagner and Sean Banks to give it the old college try
and forsake their northeast connections for a scholarship at Memphis.
BAD NEWS: Neither Wagner nor Banks made it
through a second season as a Tiger. (At least one of this years heralded
freshmen may well follow this one-and-done pattern.)
: Calipari has won at least 21
games in each of his five seasons, a streak matched only once in Tiger history
(from 1981-82 to 1988-89).BAD NEWS
: Among his 115 victories in
Memphis, Calipari has won exactly one NCAA tournament game (a first-round win
over South Carolina in 2004).
: Since Caliparis arrival,
the U of M has seen 10 players graduate, including such notables as Shyrone
Chatman, Marcus Moody, and Earl Barron. (Antonio Burks and Anthony Rice are on
the cusp of getting their degrees.) This is a standard not even approximated by
Dana Kirk or Larry Finch during their long tenures at the helm.
BAD NEWS: Calipari has also suited up
the likes of Banks, Billy Richmond, Jeremy Hunt, and current Tiger Andre Allen,
players whose poor decisions away from the court made as many headlines as their
achievements in uniform.
Heres a look at four new angles. If they end up on the
good side of the ledger, youll see the U of M back in the NCAA tournament
Darius the Distributor
. Sophomore point
guard Darius Washington is going to do his share of scoring. As a freshman, the
Orlando native averaged 15.4 ppg (in Tiger history, only Dajuan Wagner scored
more points as a frosh than the 584 Washington poured in last season). The key
to Washingtons evolution as a player, though, is how well he involves fellow
star Rodney Carney and the multitude of freshmen who will be salivating for
touches. He averaged 3.8 assists last season and needs to get that figure
between 5 and 6. And he has to cut down on the turnovers. Finishing a season
with 144 assists and 134 turnovers is acceptable for a freshman. For a freshman.
Best Supporting Player
. . . . You
guessed it: Rodney Carney. Has there ever been a four-year Tiger who has played
so well, with such little acclaim? With his ability to jump through the
FedExForum roof on one possession, then drain a rainmaking three-pointer on the
next, Carney may well be the most dynamic player in Conference USA this winter.
If he stays healthy, Carney will break Anthony Rices year-old school record for
treys (he needs 58) and could move into the all-time top-five among Memphis
scorers. Best of all, he hasnt made a ripple in a program that has suffered
with internal conflict. If Carney remains as quietly brilliant as a senior, the
Tigers will have the perfect leadership complement to Washingtons ebullient
Raising the kids
. If youre like me,
youll need a program in the early stages this season, as five freshmen --
Shawne Williams, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Kareem Cooper, and
Robert Dozier -- try to squeeze into Caliparis rotation. It may be Caliparis
toughest challenge this year: keeping these rookies happy as they surround
veterans Washington, Carney, and Joey Dorsey. The dismissal of Jeremy Hunt is
going to be a blessing in disguise, as the Tiger backcourt has another 20-25
minutes of playing time to distribute, and one less scowl on the bench as
Calipari decides who plays and when.
The comforts of home.
inaugural regular season at FedExForum, the Tigers went merely 10-6 (after
having gone 15-0 in the last season at The Pyramid). Home losses to Ole Miss,
Louisiana Tech, and TCU were deathblows to the U of Ms RPI rating and, thus,
their chances at an NCAA tournament berth. This years home schedule includes
non-conference tilts with, yes, Louisiana Tech, Gonzaga, Purdue, Texas, and
Tennessee. With a minimum of 17 home games this season, Memphis needs to lose no
more than four. A ticket to The Dance awaits.