Tiger coach Josh Pastner loves D.J. Stephens and has enjoyed teasing the media by proclaiming Stephens one of the "top five Tigers" of all time. He'll acknowledge three other top-fives (Larry Finch, Keith Lee, and Penny Hardaway), then leave one slot open for us keyboard-tappers to consider.
The cold truth, of course, is that Stephens isn't even among the top 15 Memphis Tigers of all time. Below is one man's ranking of the top three Tigers at each of basketball's traditional positions. It's in no way a rebuke of all Stephens has given the 2012-13 Tiger team but more a commentary on the historic strength of the program.
My one qualifier for this ranking is that a player had to have suited up for at least two seasons with the Tigers. The "one-and-dones" were fun to watch, players like Larry Kenon, Dajuan Wagner, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans. But they don't belong here.
POINT GUARD — 1) Elliot Perry (1987-91): One of only two Tigers to score 2,000 career points (2,209), Socks led the Tigers in assists and steals for four seasons and led the team in scoring his last three seasons. He's second in career steals (304) and fifth in career assists (546). 2) Andre Turner (1982-86): The Little General was the team's pulse for a glorious four-year period that included a trip to the Final Four in 1985. Holds the Tiger record for assists in a game (15), season (262), and career (763). 3) Alvin Wright (1974-78): Wright led Memphis in assists all four seasons he played but is one of only two Tigers to average more than five assists in three different seasons. His 1,319 career points rank 15th in Tiger history.
SHOOTING GUARD — 1) Larry Finch (1970-73): Now and forever, the greatest Tiger of them all. Freshmen didn't play in Finch's day, but he still scored 1,869 career points and remains the face of the fabled 1972-73 team that reached the NCAA championship game. There should be a statue of Finch somewhere in Memphis. 2) Penny Hardaway (1991-93): The 1993 first-team All-American averaged 20.0 points per game over his two seasons while delivering the kind of passes we've seen only from the likes of Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd. Twice MVP of the Great Midwest Conference, Penny owns two of the program's three triple-doubles. 3) Antonio Anderson (2005-09): It's fitting that Anderson has the other triple-double in Memphis history. The "glue guy" for a remarkable period that saw a trip to the national championship game in 2008 and two Elite Eight appearances, Anderson is the only Tiger with 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists.
SMALL FORWARD — 1) Rodney Carney (2002-06): A second-team All-American in 2006, Carney combined high-flying dunks and three-point marksmanship unlike any Tiger before or since. Holds the school record of 287 career treys. His 1,901 career points are third in Memphis history. 2) Win Wilfong (1955-57): A 6'2" swingman, Wilfong played only two seasons with the Tigers but averaged 22.1 and 21.0 points, leading Memphis to the 1957 NIT championship game. He was the program's first All-American. 3) Chris Douglas-Roberts (2005-08): CDR is one of three Tigers to earn first-team All-American status. Averaged 18.1 points per game for the 2007-08 squad, which went 38-2. His 724 points that season are the third-highest in Tiger history.
POWER FORWARD — 1) Ronnie Robinson (1970-73): Finch's running mate averaged 14.2 rebounds a game as a sophomore, then 13.3 as a junior. Fifth in Tiger history with 1,066 career rebounds and averaged 13.9 points over his three seasons. 2) Forest Arnold (1952-56): Arnold was the all-time leading scorer at Memphis (1,854 points) until Finch came along. He's one of only four Tigers to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds and starred for the Tigers' first NCAA tournament team in 1955. 3) David Vaughn (1991-95): Vaughn was an integral member of Tiger teams that reached the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight (1992) and Sweet 16 (1995). Despite being limited to three seasons by a knee injury, Vaughn ranks seventh in rebounds (903) and third in blocks (235).
CENTER — 1) Keith Lee (1981-85): Lee was the star of four Tiger teams that reached at least the NCAA's Sweet 16. A four-time AP All-American, Lee is U of M's top all-time scorer (2,408 points), rebounder (1,336), and shot blocker (320). 2) Lorenzen Wright (1994-96): Wright scored 1,026 points and averaged more than 10 rebounds over his two seasons. Chosen seventh by the Clippers in the 1996 draft and played in more NBA games (779) than any other Tiger. 3) Joey Dorsey (2004-08): Twice named C-USA's Defensive Player of the Year. Second only to Lee in career rebounds (1,209) and blocked shots (264). Dorsey is arguably the most popular Tiger of this century. At least until D.J. Stephens arrived.
As for my top five? Forget the order: Finch, Hardaway, Lee, Perry, Robinson.