One Tiger's weighty position
By Dan Wolken
December 12, 2006
Pierre Niles has always been bigger, stronger and more skilled than almost everyone he's encountered on a basketball court, and so it was natural for the 6-8 freshman to believe it would be the same way upon his arrival at the University of Memphis.
But the first month of Niles' season has been marked mostly by frustration.
Frustration with minor knee surgery that thwarted his early progress. Frustration with the 15 extra pounds he figured would be long gone by now. Frustration with the amount of time he's spending on the bench, and frustration with playing center rather than power forward.
"It's real hard," Niles, the former Ridgeway High star, said Monday. "I thought I was going to come in and be the man, but it's not that easy. College is real different from high school. Now I see it. Better players, stronger players. It's a whole different level."
For the first time this season, Niles didn't get off the bench Saturday during Memphis' 82-70 victory over Ole Miss, which improved the Tigers' record to 7-2.
Three days before that, Niles played just six minutes in a 76-58 loss at Tennessee, which had been his season low.
"I'm real frustrated," Niles said. "It's something everybody goes through, and I think I'm going through mine right now. It's just a lot of stuff. It's just something I'm going through right now, and I've got to get over it."
The lack of playing time is yet another challenge in a series of them Niles has faced since the summer, when he weighed in at 300 pounds and was challenged by coach John Calipari to get down to 275 by the beginning of the season.
Niles was on track to do that until arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage from his right knee on Oct. 16 sidelined him for almost three weeks.
Then, when he came back, the thought was that playing center would be easier for Niles because it's a less complex position than power forward in Memphis' offense. In reality, Niles isn't well-suited to play center, and it showed early in the season, especially on the defensive end.
Now, with sophomore center Kareem Cooper back from a preseason suspension, the Tigers hope to move Niles to power forward as a backup to Robert Dozier, where his offensive skills should translate better. Memphis hasn't had a No. 2 power forward this season.
"We've got to figure out where we play him, how we play him," Calipari said. "We brought him here as a (power forward), but you can't play the 'four' at 290 pounds. Obviously at the 'five,' he's not as effective. He can't get balls, he can't play big enough.
"We're going to try to get his weight down and get him back to playing some 'four.' It's a little harder position, you have to know a little bit more, but maybe if he gets that weight down he can get back to doing what we know he can do."
Niles, who is averaging 2.8 points and 3.6 rebounds, said he's determined to do just that.
"I've got to fight through it, try to find a way to get out of it," Niles said. "I've got to lose my weight. I'm not trying to focus on anything else right now, I'm just trying to lose the weight. If I lose the weight, I think I'll be good.
"I've got to step my stuff up. I've got to get back to my normal position and play the four instead of center. I'm out of my position. When I get back to my position, I think I'll be the old me again."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365
Next for No. 19 Tigers
Opponent: Austin Peay
When, where: Thursday, 8 p.m., at FedExForum
Tickets: Call 678-2331; go to gotigersgo.com