"The days of redshirting freshmen are over," Tommy West announced at the press conference unveiling his first recruiting class. The emphasis at the University of Memphis today is getting the best players on the playing field. Sadly, this was not the case when Idrees Bashir arrived in 1997.
Bashir, chosen by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round with the 37th pick of the recent NFL draft, was redshirted as a freshman. Memphis went 4-7 that year, losing three games by a total of nine points. Could Bashir, who played both safety and wide receiver in high school (catching 11 touchdown passes his senior year), have made a difference right out of high school? Should one of the fastest players at the U of M in the past 10 years have wasted a season sitting on the bench? You be the judge.
When Lane Rawlins hired Rip Scherer to be the head football coach in January 1995, the former president wanted to send a message, to put his stamp on the football program. Memphis would no longer recruit junior-college players. Instead they would recruit high school seniors and redshirt them, develop them slowly, hope that they would play by the time they were redshirt-sophomores.
This was a radical departure from the way things were done in the past. Rawlins knew that it would take more time, but he believed it was the right way to go. In part, this explains why Rawlins was so patient with Scherer, extending the length of his contract twice during the six years he was at the university -- including after the seventh game of the 1999 season.
Rawlins left for Washington State the next year and Scherer was fired after finishing his sixth consecutive losing season. The experiment had failed.
It is incorrect to say that Bashir left school early for the NFL draft. He attended the University of Memphis four years. That the school chose not to take advantage of his athletic skills for only three of those years was not his fault. He had the size, speed, and skill to make plays -- something that has been sorely missing on the Tiger football team recently.
Who can find fault with his decision to bypass his final year of eligibility at the U of M. Today he is about to become a millionaire. And the new head coach has said that anybody with Idrees Bashir's skills will not be held out of action in the future.
NEWS AND NOTES
Wondering why the NBA questions have to be answered in such a hurry? Most NBA teams report to preseason camps the first week of October -- only five months away. The 2001-02 season is expected to start the last week in October. Here is a shortlist of what the team will have to do between now and then in order to open the season in Memphis: hire a front office staff, negotiate local TV and radio deals, schedule home games at The Pyramid around Tiger basketball and other previously contracted events in the arena, print tickets, sell tickets, sell sponsorships, publish programs and media guides, conduct the 2001 player draft, move the players and existing office staff, find the land and start constructing a new arena, find a practice facility, determine the team's name and colors, upgrade The Pyramid, and design the new uniforms. We hear that the Spike Lee/Jack Nicholson courtside seats at The Pyramid will go for as much as $500,000 a year! Did you see the cover of Sports Illustrated last week? It featured a shirtless Allen Iverson wearing a large chain around his neck, some low-riding shorts, and what looks like a dozen tattoos. Not exactly the poster boy NBA Now would choose to portray the league they are attempting to bring to the Bible Belt. The three U of M players who were picked in the draft (defensive back Michael Stone was picked in the second round by Arizona with the 54th pick overall and nose tackle Marcus Bell was chosen in the fourth round also by Arizona, 123rd overall), gave Memphis one of its best draft classes in decades. Bell and Bashir are the first players recruited by Scherer to be drafted in the NFL. Stone walked on at Memphis after transferring from Central State University. Arkansas State wide receiver Robert Kilow, mentioned in last week's cover story, signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay as a free agent. The contract is not guaranteed but did include a signing bonus. If Kilow makes the team he will get the league minimum (just over $200,000). Kilow caught 158 passes for 2,446 yards in his career at ASU. He set the school record last fall with 72 receptions for 1,002 yards. He is the only ASU player to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News reports that Charlotte has made head coach Bobby Lutz a contract offer which should keep him from going to Wake Forest. Lutz is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. In three seasons at Charlotte he has won the C-USA tournament twice and made two NCAA appearances. Richmond Flowers, the son of the University of Tennessee great football and track star, was drafted in the seventh round by Jacksonville. The wide receiver, who played at Chattanooga, signed with Mid-South Sports Management, the Memphis-based agency, on Sunday, just hours after he was drafted. Speaking of the Grizzlies, you might want to check out the Web site www.hunttheowner.com. It presents the Vancouver perspective on Michael Heisley in an interesting and sometimes humorous light. ... Rivals.com is the latest Internet company to fold. The network of sports sites ceased operations last week (you can still access their main site, but it is not being updated). The local affiliate of rivals.com was Tigerillustrated.com, a site devoted to University of Memphis athletics. The message boards are frequented by many hard-core Tiger fans, who will be happy to learn that Brian Parker (who runs the site) intends to keep Tigerillustrated.com running. Parker says he is looking into affiliating with another network or keeping the site independent. The news from Cleveland that Randy Whitman has been fired by the Cavs is good news for Cedric Henderson, the former East High and U of M star. Henderson's minutes fell drastically this year under the first-year coach. Ced's claim to fame is defense, and Whitman was evidently not willing to overlook his lack of offense.
You can e-mail Dennis Freeland at email@example.com.