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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Separating Fact from Tiger Tales

Separating fact from Tiger tales

By Dan Wolken
July 15, 2007

During the idle days of summer, with coaches out on the road recruiting and most players at home until August, the conditions are ripe for rumor and speculation to breed angst among Tiger basketball faithful.

But in addition to the usual offseason jitters, University of Memphis fans have also been able to enjoy the plaudits of nearly every basketball commentator anointing the Tigers either No. 1 or No. 2 in the preseason.

Whether the news is good or bad, however, there is usually a gap between myth and reality. Here are some of the most popular Tiger basketball myths of this summer, heard around town and culled from Internet message boards. Here, also, are the accompanying realities based on observations from the Finch Center and recent conversations with coaches, players and others associated with the program.
Myth: Memphis could go 40-0 this season.

Reality: Three words come to mind here:

Not. Gonna. Happen.

With most of Memphis' marquee opponents coming to FedExForum, it's entirely possible the Tigers will be favored in every game this season. But going undefeated? Not only is that idea completely far-fetched, it's not even desirable.

Ask John Calipari about his 1996 Massachusetts team, which went unbeaten into late February. He'll tell you that by the time the streak reached 20 or 21 games, the pressure and attention became a burden. Losing to George Washington on Feb. 24, halting the streak at 26 straight, was the best thing that ever happened for the Minutemen, who eventually made the Final Four.

Memphis will probably lose a few games this season. With the Tigers' schedule, they may not even match the 30-3 regular season of a year ago. But it won't make them any less of a national championship contender.

Myth: Memphis' recruiting efforts for 2008 are in serious trouble.

Reality: The Tigers have had to swallow a couple not-so-tasty pills recently, including Saturday, when prep school-bound twins Marcus and Markieff Morris announced to the Philadelphia Daily News that they would take a look at other schools before re-signing with Memphis in the fall, essentially re-opening their recruitment.

"We just want to make sure Memphis would really be the best fit," Marcus Morris told reporter Ted Silary. "We signed there after making only that one official visit. We never compared it to anything. So now, we'll make some others, and if we do wind up sticking with Memphis, we'll know it'll be the best place."

Of course, this is why Calipari wanted the twins to come to Memphis this year rather than go to prep school and risk losing them to another college. It's also why Kentucky pushed to get a commitment from Chicago guard DeAndre Liggins before his scheduled visit to Memphis.

Despite those two developments, there's no reason to fret. Memphis will be active the rest of this month evaluating players for 2008 and recruiting Puerto Rican wing-forward Angel Garcia, elite guard Tyreke Evans and athletic power forward Terrance Jennings, as well as St. George's guard Elliot Williams.

If Memphis landed two or three of those players, it would be one of the best recruiting classes in the nation.

Again, one of the biggest obstacles the Tigers face in recruiting is their current roster. With only one senior, a recruit doesn't necessarily look at Memphis as a place where lots of immediate playing time is available, even in 2008-09. North Carolina, which will compete with Memphis for No. 1 in the preseason ranking, is facing the same issue in recruiting this summer, as the Tar Heels' roster is loaded with underclassmen.

Myth: With Derrick Rose joining Willie Kemp at the point guard position, there won't be any playing time available for Andre Allen.

Reality: From all early indications, Rose's presence has done nothing but raise the level of both Kemp and Allen's play. Nobody on the team is shooting the ball better at the moment during pick-up games than Kemp, and Allen is playing like a man possessed. Though coaches can't watch summer workouts, Allen already seems to be sending a message he will not willingly yield minutes to anyone.

If there's one thing the last two years Calipari and his staff have consistently done well (and of course they've done more than one thing well), it's distribute minutes. If Memphis is 10 deep this season, that means there's an average of 20 minutes per player available, plenty to share among the three point guards, especially given that Kemp will probably play at least half his minutes at shooting guard.

Myth: Losing center Kareem Cooper to a transfer will hurt Memphis on the front line.

Reality: At worst, trading Cooper for Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart will be even from a production standpoint. People seem to forget that Cooper, though a fan favorite, was basically a non-contributor for the final, oh, 23 games of his Memphis career. Taggart has displayed about 30 times Cooper's work ethic in recovering from his ACL injury last October.

And Taggart can play, too. Though he's still working to get his conditioning back, Taggart has been dominant in stretches of pick-up games, and he plays with the desire Cooper could never muster in a Memphis uniform. He's also got a tremendous stroke from long range; the coaching staff will have to find ways for the 6-foot-11 forward to get some 3-point looks from the wing.

To reach reporter Dan Wolken, call 529-2365 or e-mail.

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