It’s been fun this season to watch three freshmen raised in Memphis make an immediate impact on the Tiger basketball team. Point guard Joe Jackson (White Station High School) is the only player to start all 23 games and leads the team in assists. Center Tarik Black (Ridgeway) leads the team in rebounds and blocks and was named a co-captain (with senior Will Coleman) last month. Despite a dreadful shooting slump of late, guard Chris Crawford (Sheffield) leads the team in three-point field goals and has proven himself the best passer on the team. Sophomore Drew Barham, a graduate of Christian Brothers High School, adds even more local flavor to the squad, having started during the Tigers’ four-game winning streak last month. (Barham had five points, seven rebounds, and five assists in the win over UCF on January 26th.)
Should the group stay in school two or three years, it could go down as one of the finest home-grown units ever to suit up for the U of M. Which had me thinking about other Memphians to play as teammates for the Tigers. Here are a few that stand out:
1994-95 and 1995-96 — Lorenzen Wright, Cedric Henderson, Chris Garner
Wright’s freshman season was a memorable one, as the Tigers went undefeated (17-0) at The Pyramid, won 24 games, and lost (controversially) to defending national-champion Arkansas in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Wright led the team in both scoring (14.8) and rebounding (10.2), a feat he would repeat as a sophomore (17.4 and 10.4), earning first-team all-conference honors both seasons. Garner led Memphis in assists all four seasons he played and is second only to Andre Turner in career dimes (639). Henderson was merely one of the most consistent scorers in Tiger history, averaging at least 12.6 points per game each of his four seasons. He currently ranks sixth in career scoring (1,697). This trio helped the Tigers reach number 3 in the country in 1995-96, but were upset by Drexel in the first round of the NCAAs.
1990-91 — Elliot Perry, Ernest Smith, Billy Smith
Perry’s senior season didn’t turn out the way he would have liked. The Tigers struggled on the road (4-9) and were relegated to the NIT with a final regular-season record of 16-14. (Making matters worse, Memphis lost to Arkansas State — by a single point, at home — in the second round.) The Tigers beat Tennessee, though, and beat Louisville twice before losing to the Cardinals in the Metro Conference tournament. Perry averaged 20.8 points per game and joined Keith Lee as the only Tigers in history to score 2,000 career points. The Smith boys were contributors, too, with junior Ernest averaging 8.2 points per game and sophomore Billy 5.1.
The Smiths would be joined in 1991-92 by another Memphian — guy by the name of Anfernee Hardaway — and reach the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. While Penny was a sophomore sensation (17.4 points per game), Ernest’s role was diminished; he was the rare Tiger to see his scoring average drop each of his four seasons. Billy averaged 11.2 per game. Each of the Smiths would finish his career with more than 1,000 career points.
1984-85 and 1985-86 — Andre Turner, Baskerville Holmes, William Bedford, Vincent Askew, Dwight Boyd
No Tiger fan will ever forget coach Dana Kirk’s final two teams. Over two seasons, the teams went 59-10, reached the nation’s Top 10 (twice), won the 1985 Metro Conference tournament, and reached the ’85 Final Four. The star of the 1984-85 squad, of course, was Keith Lee. But coming from across the river in West Memphis, he represented long-distance recruiting for this era. Turner (the Little General) set a Tiger record for assists in 1984-85 (224), then proceeded to break it (262) the next season. The totals remain the top two in Memphis history. Bedford was a formidable complement to Lee in ’84-’85, averaging 12.2 points, then led the team with 17.3 the next season. Askew and Holmes were dynamic scoring options both seasons, averaging 10.9 and 14.3, respectively, in ’85-’86. Three of these Memphians — Turner, Bedford, and Askew — would gain first-team all-conference recognition, and all five are in the Tiger 1,000-point club.
1972-73 — Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, Bill Cook
The most fabled — and certainly most significant — team in Memphis Tiger history. Led by a pair of buddies (Finch and Robinson) from Melrose High School, coach Gene Bartow’s third Memphis team went 24-6, ending their season in the NCAA championship game against mighty Bill Walton and UCLA. Finch averaged 24.0 points per game and was named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. He and Robinson were named first team All-MVC all three seasons they played varsity basketball. Robinson is one of only five Tigers to grab 1,000 career rebounds. As merely a freshman, Cook averaged 5.4 points off the bench and was one of only five Tigers to score against UCLA. Finch and Cook are each in the top 10 on the Tiger career scoring chart.