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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Willis Wilson, Glynn Cyprien hired as Memphis Tiger assistants

Willis Wilson, Glynn Cyprien hired as Memphis Tiger assistants
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Friday, April 17, 2009

The University of Memphis basketball office isn't a one-man show anymore.

Glynn Cyprien and Willis Wilson officially joined the program Friday as assistant coaches, giving some much-needed relief to new head coachJosh Pastner. Though both hires need to be approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents, Cyprien and Wilson were cleared to start assisting Pastner immediately.

Willis Wilson became head coach at Rice in 1992 at age 32. Wilson, who left the Owls in 2008, says he believes that he can help new Tigers coach Josh Pastner deal with taking over a program at a relatively young age and find success at the University of Memphis.

"I can use the help, trust me on that," Pastner said.

When John Calipari left for Kentucky on March 31, his entire coaching staff went with him except for Pastner. As a result, Pastner has been running things almost by himself since being promoted on April 6. Plus, as a first-time head coach, Pastner had to assemble his staff from scratch, making the transition even more difficult and time-consuming.

Pastner turned to Wilson, 49, for his experience as a head coach at Rice from 1992-2008. In Cyprien, 42, the Tigers added a seasoned assistant who has worked at Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and UNLV and is well-connected in the South as a recruiter.

"I did a lot of research and talked to other people about what would be the best guys to fit me?" Pastner said. "I understand my weaknesses, so I was trying to find guys that picked up my weaknesses. I'm excited about it. They're both good guys, and that's important to me, being on the same page, having loyalty and caring about the players"

Pastner will be able to hire one more full-time assistant, though he might have to wait a while since his top target, Denver Nuggets lead advance scout/video coordinator Jack Murphy, won't be available until after the Nuggets are finished with the NBA playoffs. Murphy, a former director of basketball operations at Arizona, is one of Pastner's closest friends but won't be easy to lure away because of how valuable he is to the Nuggets.

Pastner is also going to hire a director of basketball operations, and his top candidate appears to be Chipola (Fla.) Junior College coach Greg Heiar. After Pastner fills those slots, he'll work on the rest of his administrative staff.

The good news for Pastner is that he hired a pair of assistants in time for the six-day recruiting window that began on Friday. Cyprien, who worked under Billy Gillispie at Kentucky the past two seasons, was already out on the road trying to help Pastner fill out the 2009-10 roster, which is currently in limbo due to the breakup of Memphis' recruiting class.

Cyprien and Pastner almost worked together before -- Gillispie tried unsuccessfully to hire Pastner at Kentucky -- and that familiarity was one reason Cyprien jumped at the opportunity to come to Memphis.

"The time I'm at in my career now, I'm more concerned about helping, getting with a staff that has great chemistry, winning at a high level and working for a guy you know is going to be successful," Cyprien said. "With coach Pastner, I feel like I got all those things accomplished."

The only negative mark on Cyprien's career was his short stint as head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, which ended in 2004 shortly after he was hired when a resume discrepancy surfaced regarding the college degree he claimed to have earned.

Beyond that, however, Cyprien is an accomplished recruiter and was already involved at Kentucky with some prospects that Memphis had been recruiting under Calipari like Birmingham point guard Eric Bledsoe. Cyprien previously worked under Eddie Sutton for four seasons and helped recruit the roster that took Oklahoma State to a Final Four in 2004.

Cyprien said he and Pastner would recruit the same high-level prospects that Memphis targeted under the previous regime.

"You go after the top guys in the country," Cyprien said. "We're going to shoot for the stars, and I don't see why you can't with a city like Memphis and a tradition like Tiger basketball, which I followed because I'm from New Orleans. There's no reason why you can't. There's an unbelievable amount of resources there for the players, a great arena to play in, and the fan support is off the charts."

Though Wilson's tenure fell apart in his final season, when a nightmarish combination of circumstances led to a 3-27 record, he is well-regarded in the profession as a teacher of the game and went 219-246 in a difficult situation at Rice. Wilson should provide some experience for Pastner as he makes the transition from assistant to head coach, something Wilson did himself at age 32.

"I think the hardest thing about being a coach at that age and getting your first head coaching job -- and the Memphis situation is a whole lot different than at Rice -- but there aren't many guys out there like you," Wilson said. "That's a different feeling, and sometimes it can be lonely as well as all the other things.

"I can kind of relate to the things that he may go through. I just look at my job and my responsibility is to help him be as successful as he can, and a lot of it is just going to be my ability to convey my experience and give him the cleanest picture I can in the areas he thinks are most important."


Age: 42

Experience: Kentucky assistant (2007-09), Arkansas assistant (2006-07), New Mexico State associate head coach (2004-06), Oklahoma State assistant (2000-04), UNLV assistant (1995-2000)

What he brings: Cyprien has a lot of credibility as a recruiter and knows the terrain in Memphis. Will be able to get Pastner involved with players in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Because of his experience at elite programs, Cyprien understands the level of athletes Pastner wants to recruit.


Age: 49

Experience: Rice head coach (1992-2008), Stanford assistant (1991-92), Rice assistant (1987-91)

What he brings: Wilson sat in the head coach's chair for 16 years so he has experience with the kinds of situations Pastner will face. Wilson is well-regarded as a teacher of the game and has sat on numerous boards for coaches' associations. He also understands the ins and outs of Conference USA, which will help in game-planning.

Call Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his Tiger basketball stories and blog at

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