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Open Season

The Grizzlies are ready to test new players as training camp opens.

By James P. Hill

Jerry West, Grizzlies president of basketball operations, left Los Angeles and arrived in Memphis on the last day of April. Grizzlies fans from Vancouver to Collierville were amazed, shocked, and thrilled to have the NBA icon (Mr. Logo) in the Bluff City. West said he was determined to help build a winning NBA franchise here.

It didn't take long after he arrived for the questions to begin. What could the Grizzlies do to win more games next season? Should the team stay together or should a blockbuster trade be made to rebuild the Grizzlies from scratch? Who should Memphis pick in the NBA lottery? And what about free agents: Could the Grizzlies sign some shooters?

Fast-forward to September, less than a week before NBA training camps open. The new-look Grizzlies have addressed some of their needs and are still in a position to improve their future. What will it mean on the court? Only time -- and some games -- will tell.

"We think we've added some talent to our team," says West. "Talent does not necessarily equate to wins, but we feel that we're ahead of ourselves a year ago in certain areas. We've got more shooters and that was a concern. We have some depth at positions that we didn't have a year ago."

Looking at the new additions to the roster, you'd be hard-pressed to miss Drew Gooden, the 6'10" forward out of Kansas (fourth selection overall in the 2002 NBA draft lottery). As far as free agents, Grizzlies management acquired sharp-shooting 6'6" off guard Wesley Person in a draft-day trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Person lit up the league from behind the three-point arc last season. A trade with the San Antonio Spurs garnered the services of another 6'6" shooting guard, Gordan Giricek out of Croatia, who some analysts say has the skills and desire to be one of the best young shooters in the league.

The signing of Earl Watson, a 6'1" free-agent backup point guard from the Seattle Sonics, could also prove to be a good move. The retirement of Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, whose career was cut short and marred by injuries, created a gaping hole in the post for Memphis. Last season, the team used former University of Memphis star Lorenzen Wright at center, but after signing Cezary Trybanski, a 7'2" Polish center, the position should be better manned this season.

Other encouraging news has Michael Dickerson healthy and ready to compete for the starting job at the shooting-guard position. Last year's core squad -- Shane Battier, Brevin Knight, Jason Williams, Pau Gasol, and Stromile Swift -- will also be in camp ready to compete and, hopefully, help the team win more than 23 games this season.

Grizzlies players, management, and fans are optimistic. The team's -- and West's --commitment to winning seems obvious. In conversations, West makes it clear he will call on his blueprint for success as a player, coach, and general manager for the Lakers to help get the franchise moving in the right direction. He describes his ideal: an atmosphere where competing, hard work, and teamwork set the tone.

"We want these players to be pushed and have to earn everything they get here," he says. "If they do that, I think, internally, we'll create the kind of competition that we need to be successful. But more importantly, they will carry that over from practices and intersquad games into the regular games, and it should make us better for the future." n\

The Grizzlies play eight preseason games, including four at home. Tuesday, October 8th, they host Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets at 7 p.m. in The Pyramid.

A Way Of Life

The violence that permeates American culture is finding its way onto the field.

By Ron Martin

While I don't condone the actions of the two simpletons who attacked Kansas City first-base coach Tom Gamboa on the field, I don't understand the gnashing of teeth and wailing by national and local sports pundits. It's as though everyone is surprised the attack occurred, when, in fact, it should've been expected.

The exploitation of on-field violence has been tempting fans such as William Ligue Jr. and his son for years. Only a few days prior to their attack, the Monday night NFL game between Washington and Philadelphia was stopped when pepper spray drifted onto the field as police tried to quell a near riot among fans.

Both incidents came late in the game and both appeared to involve heavy consumption of alcohol.

The sale of beer has become a moneymaking staple for stadium owners and teams, and many fans gulp their way into a frenzied state. Football fans get an early start on game day with tailgate parties, some of which rival the food-and-drink orgies of ancient Rome. The tradition began with college football and has found its way into the NFL. Owners encourage the wild pre-game parties and turn a blind eye toward the number of drunks entering their gates and buying more beer.

The games themselves are becoming more violent. It's not unusual to see batters charging pitchers following a brush-back, which inevitably leads to a bench-clearing brawl. Football players taunt each other on such a regular basis, it has become a part of the game. Taunting of opposing players has now been extended to taunting of fans by visiting players. It's little wonder that some fans charge onto the field. Such fan involvement is always met with refrains of disapproval from the media and the league. This was the case in Cleveland last fall, when irate fans chucked beer bottles at referees to protest a call that went against the home team. The incident was decried as clear evidence that fans were becoming uncontrollable. No one thought to suggest that the players or stadium owners might have had a hand in the act.

NBA players are constantly taunting fans; it's become as commonplace as missed free throws. Each time a fan and player meet in a violent confrontation, the blame is placed on the arena or the fans, not on the player who has spent the game showboating and taunting. There is equal blame to go around.

Violence as a way of life in America: Stadiums have invested millions of dollars in huge screens to replay violent hits, player taunting, and questionable calls by officials. Americans and their sports teams have embraced violence with their pocketbooks. And as we all know, in sports as in life, money talks.

Flyers The Army-Navy football game is for sale. Will the Memphis-Shelby County Sports Authority buy it? They should at least investigate it.

Quotable: University of Memphis football coach Tommy West, after being asked by Tigers broadcaster Dave Woloshin if the Tulane game was important: "The only important thing is having air to breathe."

Ramblings Coach Jeff Fisher has lost control of the Titans There is a lot to like about the Tigers' DeAngelo Williams, and he's also a pretty good running back ... The Ole Miss broadcast team's comparison of Doug Zeigler lying on the turf with a broken leg to the late Chuckie Mullins lying on the field paralyzed was, in a word, stupid Feel-good story of the year: Notre Dame UT coach Phil Fulmer apologized for his team's performance against Florida, but there is much more to apologize for I like Bama's Dennis Franchione.

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