Sweet home, Alabama wasn't
Handling Success: The U of M basketball team's lofty ranking pretty much guarantees that players will be heckled, but they can't take the bait.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Life's tough at the top.
The University of Memphis men's basketball team found that out Saturday night during and after a wild game against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
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The U of M Tigers, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, were on the verge of losing before a crowd of 9,392 screaming fans at Birmingham's Bartow Arena.
The Tiger players showed remarkable poise by rallying from a seven-point deficit with less than 90 seconds left to win the game. Several of them were considerably less poised, however, in handling the ugliness that followed.
Many UAB fans, apparently thinking their team had won on a shot that referees said came after the final buzzer, stormed the court.
Some in the crowd threw cups, pompoms and at least one bottle of alcohol as the Tiger players tried to make their way down the tunnel to their locker room.
Memphis fans, take note: Those pin-headed Birmingham fans provided a great example of how not to act at a basketball game.
Their behavior was inexcusable, no matter how emotional the game was or how strongly they might have believed that their team had won.
But it was also inexcusable for some of the U of M players to try to confront those sore losers. One of the players, Pierre Niles, was photographed slapping or pushing the face of one particularly unruly fan.
The Tiger players simply have to act smarter in situations like that.
They worked hard to get the No. 1 ranking. But because they're ranked No. 1, they're likely to bring out the best in the teams they play -- and, unfortunately, the worst in some of the opposing fans.
With all of the attention the Tigers have been getting comes a greater responsibility.
The Tiger players are going to have to get used to hearing chants of "O-VER-rated!" when the score isn't in their favor.
They're going to have to get used to seeing hand-held signs with rude messages in the stands at visiting arenas.
And it's not inconceivable that they'll be in other situations like Saturday night, where it might seem tempting to lash out at some of the more obnoxious among their tormentors.
It's not worth it, as their coach John Calipari and some of the players wisely noted after the game.
"You've just got to keep your cool," player Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "We've got a bull's-eye on our backs and we've got to keep our composure."
Well put. The Tigers are in the middle of what could be their greatest season ever.
But that could quickly change if the players can't stay under control, on and off the court.
Tonight, the Tigers will be on the road again at Tulane University, which, like UAB, could make its season with a win over the mighty Tigers. That game will be followed by Saturday's big showdown at home against the No. 2-ranked University of Tennessee Volunteers.
The national spotlight focused on the Tiger basketball players has made them ambassadors for the city of Memphis. Let's hope they remember that.