Josh Pastner finally got mad.
Really, really, really mad.
Not enough to cuss. Not enough to throw a chair. But enough to pound on the scorer’s table and knock out the electricity on part of press row – sports writers unplugged.
Not mad enough to choke a player. But mad enough that on Monday he locked the Tigers out of their locker room and didn’t let them practice in anything bearing the word “Memphis.” Then he had the players’ names stripped from their jerseys before Wednesday’s game at FedExForum.
“The General,” Pastner might not ever be. But a budding Lieutenant Colonel? Maybe. The 34-year-old first-time head coach is at least warming to the idea of more authority from the top and more discipline and respect among the ranks.
The impetus was the “poor approach” displayed during last Saturday’s dreadful home loss to UTEP, a team that had not won a road game all season. Guard Chris Crawford gave the Tigers almost nothing (save a negative attitude) and he lost his starting spot to Joe Jackson Wednesday, Feb. 22, when the Tigers beat an even more horrendous East Carolina team, 70-47.
“Chris needed a little kick in the butt,” Pastner said.
Sure. And so did everyone else.
“We took the names off the backs of the jerseys because when you play in this program, no one is bigger than the program,” Pastner said. “It’s about Memphis and it’s a privilege and honor to wear something with Memphis on it.”
And that’s enough. In fact, that’s the policy going forward and into infinity.
“We’re done with names on the back,” the coach said.
How does this sit with players?
“I don’t think anybody would necessarily like it, but it’s cool,” said forward Tarik Black. “We want to play for each other anyway. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. You’re just talking about a couple of letters on the back of a jersey.”
Said Jackson: “He was just trying to get a point across. Any smart basketball player would understand what he’s trying to do.”
And Captain Will Barton, your thoughts?
“I think it was good for us. It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport.”
It just so happened that on the first night of the Tigers’ no-name era they won their 20th game, improved to 10-3 in Conference USA, and took sole possession of first place.
The name atop the C-USA standings?
Memphis, just Memphis.
Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.