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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dan Wolken - Memphis Tigers recruit Xavier Henry will sign with Kansas; what else will happen?

Memphis Tigers recruit Xavier Henry will sign with Kansas; what else will happen?
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Former University of Memphis signee Xavier Henry will hold a press conference Thursday announcing his intention to play for Kansas next season, according to a source close to the situation. His older brother, point guard C.J. Henry, will also transfer to Kansas from Memphis, where he was a walk-on last season but did not play because of injury.

Though Xavier Henry was not expected to honor his initial commitment to Memphis in the wake of John Calipari’s departure for Kentucky, making it official should set off some recruiting dominoes for the Tigers and a number of other programs across the country.

New coach Josh Pastner and assistant Glynn Cyprien have spent most of this week visiting prospects, but the April recruiting window ended today, meaning coaches can’t go on the road again until July.

Memphis, however, still has a roster to complete for next season so recruiting isn’t even close to done for the class of 2009. For some clarification of where Memphis stands, here are the top five questions of the day:

Q: What’s the status of the signed recruits?

A: When Pastner was handed the Memphis job on April 6, he acknowledged the possibility that all four of the signed recruits from last fall would choose to go elsewhere. Pastner successfully re-recruited one of them, Miami-Dade forward Will Coleman, to remain on board.

It appears as though the other three, however, will head elsewhere. Henry is set to go to Kansas and should make it official Thursday. Shooting guard Nolan Dennis immediately opened up his recruitment and is looking at Baylor, Oklahoma and Connecticut. Pastner is still working on forward Darnell Dodson, also at Miami-Dade, but all indications point to Dodson asking for his release and attempting to follow Calipari to Kentucky.

Q: So where does that leave Memphis for next season?

A: Not in ideal shape at the moment, but the news could be worse. As things stand today, freshman Tyreke Evans is expected to remain in the NBA Draft and junior Shawn Taggart is expected to be back next season. If it plays out that way, Memphis should have enough depth in the frontcourt with Coleman playing the center position and Taggart moving over to power forward. Pastner expects 6-10 freshman Angel Garcia to be academically eligible, and the Tigers also have rising senior Pierre Henderson-Niles coming back. Pastner is also keeping the door open for 6-9 freshman Matt Simpkins, who was suspended from the team in February, to return.

If the Tigers didn’t sign another player, the rest of the line lineup would feature Willie Kemp at point guard, a tandem of Roburt Sallie and Doneal Mack at shooting guard and Wesley Witherspoon at small forward.

Thus, the clear positions of need right now are at the point and on the wing where Memphis simply has no depth.

Q: What players are left for Pastner to recruit?

A: The problem is that few good players remain on the board. Pastner and Cyprien have been recruiting point guard Eric Bledsoe, an elite talent from Birmingham who would instantly solve a lot of problems. Bledsoe, however, is being targeted by every program that needs a point guard, including Kentucky, Florida and Cincinnati and there are questions about whether he will even qualify academically.

If Bledsoe doesn’t work out, Pastner will have to find a point guard somewhere — either a late-bloomer hidden in a prep school or from the junior college ranks. Miami-Dade point guard James Beatty and Chipola Junior College point guard Malcolm Armstead could both be in the mix.

Q: What else might happen on the recruiting trail?

A: Pastner is a strong contender to land 6-7 forward Latavious Williams, who is ranked No. 17 by but also comes with question marks about his eligibility. Pastner has also tried to get in the mix for guard Lance Stephenson, a consensus top-10 player who seemed to be headed for Kansas until Henry committed there. Stephenson will now have to re-consider his options, which include St. John’s and Maryland, but he might be open to overtures from the Tigers’ staff.

Another strong possibility for Pastner is bringing Chipola coach Greg Heiar on his staff as the director of basketball operations. Heiar has spoken with Pastner about the position, and if he came to Memphis, two or three of his players may follow. The top targets off that team include 6-7 forward Justin Brownlee (ranked No. 4 by JucoJunction) and 6-6 guard Torye Pelham.

Q: And where does Pastner stand with his staff?

A: Nothing has changed since last week, with Cyprien and Willis Wilson on board as assistants. The third assistant slot will likely go to Denver Nuggets lead scout Jack Murphy if he wants it after the NBA playoffs, and Heiar is the favorite to be director of basketball operations. Pastner said he wouldn’t deal with the rest of his administrative staff until after the April recruiting period.

— Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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