A few things on my mind as we close in on the start of the 89th season of Tiger basketball (tip-off at 8 pm tonight, FedExForum):
• How will Josh Pastner manage what is essentially a two-man frontcourt? Pierre Henderson-Niles — in a new body, it should be noted — and Will Coleman are bound to get in foul trouble (and often) this season. “Going small” isn’t a bad idea when you can put Willie Kemp, Elliot Williams, Roburt Sallie, and Wesley Witherspoon on the floor together. But when the other team “goes big” and they have to be defended? If I were to track any one variable for the 2009-10 Tigers, it would be the development of Henderson-Niles and Coleman as this team’s backbone.
• Is Willie Kemp ready for a leadership role? He was the starting point guard as a freshman for a team that went 33-4. But playing behind Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans the last two seasons, Kemp found himself clinging to the periphery of John Calipari’s rotation.
During the first exhibition game on November 3rd, I saw something I’ve never seen at a Tiger basketball game. As one of his teammates shot a free throw at the other end of the floor, Kemp was called over to the Tiger bench by Pastner, who delivered some instructions, firmly but with little volume (and surely no expletives). Kemp then patted his coach on the rear. No one slapped John Calipari on the ass over the nine years he was delivering instructions. And the last player to even consider such a year ago would have been Willie Kemp. A promising sign for the season ahead.
• I wonder if the 2009 NCAA banner will be presented with a spotlight and p.a. announcement. It hadn’t been hung yet at the November 3rd exhibition. Or will it quietly be added to the rafters, a final nod to the Calipari Era? I’ll have much more on the Tiger banners in this space as the season unfolds.
• Ten years from now (twenty?), will anyone remember that the Josh Pastner Era in Memphis began on a Friday the 13th. With irony, perhaps?
• Pastner has four words painted on the walls of his new office (one per wall, actually): commitment, discipline, loyalty, and gratefulness. Here’s hoping they serve as the metaphorical table legs for his tenure as Tiger basketball coach.