With the sun starting to set on the college career of University of Memphis forward Rodney Carney, it's time we measure his achievements and standing relative to the all-time Tiger. The U of M has retired the uniform numbers of eight players: Forest Arnold, Win Wilfong, Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, John Gunn, Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, and Anfernee Hardaway. (It should be noted, Gunn's tribute was a posthumous honor, as the young man died in 1976, shortly after the beginning of his junior season.) Where exactly does Carney fit among this Tiger pantheon? There are four categories to consider.
• The Numbers: With 1,768 career points (after Saturday's win over Tulsa), Carney is fifth in Memphis history, trailing only Lee (2,408), Perry (2,209), Finch (1,869), and Arnold (1,854). With two regular-season games and assuming a minimum of four postseason contests left to play (including the Conference USA tournament next week in Memphis), Carney needs to average 16.8 points to catch Finch. He's already established a new record for three-pointers, with 268 and counting.
And then there's my favorite Rodney Carney number: four (as in years played). In this era of college basketball, when even marginal stardom can start a player scrambling for an agent, Carney's staying the course is impressive.
• Marquee Value: All you have to do is look at the 2005-2006 schedule poster distributed by the U of M athletic department. Most prominent is a soaring image of Carney, flying to the basket for one of his cloud-breaking dunks. The two most exciting plays in basketball are the three-point shot and the slam dunk, and Carney has been a virtuoso at both. In my 15 years of watching the Tigers, the only player who could approximate Carney's leaping ability was Michael Wilson (1994-96), and Wilson wasn't in Carney's category as a scoring threat. (Want a measure of how high Carney can leap? In an otherwise forgettable play against UAB January 26th, Carney went up for a dunk, only to have the ball stripped by a Blazer. He still slapped the top of the foam padding that runs halfway up the backboard ... on his way down.) The U of M doesn't keep stats on dunks, but any witness to Carney's exploits knows the Indianapolis native is among the top three or four rim-rattlers in program history. Combined with his three-point legacy? Beyond compare.
• Intangibles: What about recognition? Among the honored Tigers, only Lee and Hardaway were named All-Americans by the Associated Press. Depending on how he finishes this season, Carney stands a legitimate chance to land at least second-team honors. Lee was a two-time Metro Conference Player of the Year and Hardaway was twice named MVP of the Great Midwest Conference. Considering the Tigers' dominance of Conference USA this season, and Carney's role as leading man, it's hard to imagine him not garnering Player of the Year laurels. In terms of leadership, Carney might best be remembered for what he didn't do while teammates, one year after the next, found themselves in hot water, both with the university and the police department. Carney has been an exemplary student-athlete, and he's on schedule to graduate in August with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.
• Team Success: This is the category that could ultimately determine whether Carney's uniform is raised to the FedExForum rafters. And it's the category where he can make the most impact between now and when he takes his jersey off for the last time. Coach Calipari periodically reminds his troops that the 1973 NCAA runners-up are still talked about in the Mid-South 33 years later.
Carney's postseason legacy, to this point, is an appearance in the 2005 NIT semifinals and one NCAA tournament victory (a 2004 contest, in which he had 26 points against South Carolina). The U of M hasn't won a conference tournament since the 1987 Metro and hasn't reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen since 1995. If Carney can help his Tigers reach these two goals, the verdict seems clear on his standing among this program's greats. And a ninth uniform should be raised as Carney makes his leap to the NBA.