In baseball, single numbers tend to be reserved for the brightest of stars. Babe Ruth wore number 3. Mickey Mantle’s 7 was the favorite digit of an entire generation of Baby Boomers. Johnny Bench was famously 5. Ozzie Smith was the last St. Louis Cardinal to wear number 1, and Stan Musial’s 6 is the code for greatness in Cardinal Nation. (The Cardinals’ top three players today wear numbers 4, 5, and 7.)
Somehow, though, the single digits haven’t had the same impact on basketball. Aside from Bill Russell and Julius Erving (both number 6), the game’s icons tend to be more scattered when it comes to their jersey numbers: 23 (Jordan), 32 (Magic), 33 (Bird), 44 (West). Kobe Bryant even switched his number from 8 to 24.
Then along came the Memphis Tigers’ 2010 freshman class: Joe Jackson (1), Antonio Barton (2), Chris Crawford (3), and Will Barton (5). Add junior transfer Charles Carmouche (4) to the mix, and Memphis could send an entire team of one-digit wonders to the floor.
Eight jerseys have been retired by the Tigers, but all of them include two digits. (The lowest number is Forest Arnold’s 13, the highest John Gunn’s 44.) The most memorable single-digit players of recent history are Antonio Burks (1), Robert Dozier (2), Roburt Sallie (3), Chris Massie (4), and Antonio Anderson (5).
Digits greater than 5 cannot be used by college players (makes it easier for officials to signal fouls). So there are only five single-digit jerseys to look for on a given roster. (Six if you count Will Coleman’s 0.) Should be fun to track the rise of five newcomers with the “baseball numbers” for this year’s Tiger squad. Might one of them finally make it to the rafters?