After a surprising Sweet 16 finish and the signings of arguably the best freshman class ever, Memphis seemed like it was well on its way to a possible Final Four appearance in 2010.
Who would have thought that one man’s departure could change those aspirations so quickly? After John Calipari’s leave from Memphis to Lexington, the buzz around the city of Memphis quickly changed.
The team was without a staff, without a single recruit, and with the idea that nine years of work had just gone down the drain.
Memphis went in a search for a new head coach. Athletic Director, R.C. Johnson, supposedly carried a list of coaches in his pocket he would hire if Calipari were to leave. The result was the hiring of 31-year-old, first time head coach, Josh Pastner.
This was not the “wow” hire that Memphis fans would have wanted. Memphis had just sold a record number of season tickets for the coming season, now those new season ticket holders are starting to think about the lost value of those tickets.
Josh Pastner has only brought back one recruit, JUCO star Will Coleman, and has lost most of the old signees to Kentucky. As of now, the Tigers stand with seven scholarship players. The Tigers have talent but lack players that can lead the team and are ready to play starter minutes.
So how is this era of winning anything but over for the Tigers? Well, it starts and ends with Josh Pastner.
All three of the five-star high school players left unsigned: Latavious Williams, John Wall, and Lance Stephenson. All have one thing in common: They are considering Memphis as one of their top schools.
Not too many first ever head coaches have top high school players possibly wanting to play for them before they are even able to coach one game. Pastner’s recruiting ability alone can get Memphis back where it was. Heck, Calipari, who was heavily criticized for his ability to coach from the bench, is one of the winningest coaches ever at his span at Memphis. Nowadays, recruiting means everything.
If Pastner sells the program as well as Calipari did and takes advantage of the assists around it like the excellent training facilities and being in an NBA city, there is no reason why the Tigers cannot get back to their old winning ways.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
One of the most “underrated” moves Pastner has made in his short time at Memphis is the hiring of the new assistant coaches.
Willis Wilson, a former Rice head coach, was the first to join the staff. Wilson did not win many games at Rice, but to be fair to Wilson, Rice had horrible basketball facilities and high academic standards making it difficult to bring in good players to his program. Wilson is still heavily respected among other coaches around the country and is known as a great teacher with a vast knowledge of the game.
This is a great hire for a first year head coach. In fact, I would not be surprised if Wilson is doing a lot of the in -game coaching during Pastner’s first year.
The second assistant hired was Glynn Cyprien, a former UNLV, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and recently Kentucky assistant coach. Cyprien was the lead recruiter while at Kentucky under Billy Gillispie. Cyprien is given a lot of the credit for bringing in players such as Daniel Orton and John Hood while he served at Kentucky.
The last hire is Jack Murphy, the lead scout and video coordinator for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. I am not as familiar with Murphy as I am with the other hirings, but I know Pastner and Murphy have a great relationship and Murphy even goes on to say that Pastner is like a “brother” to him.
Having a coach with NBA experience is always a plus in the recruiting trails. This has not been made official yet, but all speculation points to Murphy joining the staff once the NBA season is over.
One of the things I have liked most about Josh Pastner is his wanting to actively recruit players in the city. Memphis does not produce five-star talent that cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City do, but there is still plenty of Division-1 talent from Memphis scattered in programs around the country.
Memphis has missed out in just about every big name player the city has had the last few years. The Thaddeus Young’s, the Elliot Williams’s, the Leslie McDonald’s, you name it, Memphis has not been able to grab them.
The local kids are always a fan favorite, but they are usually walk-on players such as Jared Sandridge or Preston Laird. Pastner is going after a number of native Memphians for the 2010 class, most notably, White Station point guard Joe Jackson.
Memphis is a program that is very tightly knit with the community. Everywhere you go, whether it is Midtown or even past Arlington, Tenn., there will be cars with Tigers flags or a house with a “Go Tigers!” on the window.
The localness of this program is what makes it so special. I will be the first to tell you that Memphis does not have the nationwide fans that the North Carolina's, the Kentucky’s and the Florida’s have, but they have the same die-hardiness, pride, and support all year long.
If Pastner is able to bring out the good of the program, the fans, the facilities, the pro-favored system, and Memphis being an NBA city, then Memphis will be a college basketball power again.
Right now, I may sound like an overly excited fan, and in many ways, I am. I still know Memphis has a long way to go before they are that 38 win team we saw a few years ago. But I also know young, energetic, workhorse coaches like Josh Pastner do not come around often.