A few weeks ago, an ESPN blogger asked University of Memphis sophomore Adonis Thomas about what the Tigers had learned from their dreadful performance against Saint Louis in last season’s NCAA Tournament loss.
Thomas replied: “Everybody has to stay under control. Everybody has to stay together. ... Everybody is more poised this season. And everybody looks to be more of a leader.”
Fast forward to one day before the Tigers were to play Christian Brothers University in an exhibition game. Junior Tarik Black spoke about the “anxiety” of waiting for the beginning of the season. The Tigers couldn’t wait to get started.
Memphis guard Chris Crawford (3) drives to the basket against Christian Brothers University defenders Trey Casey (22) and Michael Drake (40) during the first half of the Tigers’ 65-54 win over the Bucs on Nov. 7. The Tigers struggled to beat their NAIA opponent.
AP Photo/Lance Murphey
“Everybody’s feeling it’s a special year,” Black said.
In fact, they were feeling even more confident after a successful and top-secret scrimmage a couple of days earlier in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the Crimson Tide.
“A lot of energy,” Thomas said. “The chemistry was good. Everybody was disciplined. A lot of carryover from practice.”
And then … it all went away.
As you surely must know by now, the Tigers had to work way too hard to beat CBU, 65-54, at FedExForum on Wednesday, Nov. 7. They were still tied with about five minutes to play, which isn’t exactly what you expect from a team with aspirations to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Thomas and Chris Crawford were to have been in the starting lineup, but Coach Josh Pastner benched them because they were a few minutes late to a film session.
“We’ve got really good guys,” Pastner said. “I don’t want to make this a bigger deal than it is.”
But at the one-for-all and all-for-one team commitment level, it was a big deal. The excuse/culprit: a literally long train running through the U of M campus. So this we know for sure: not even Adonis Thomas is faster than a speeding locomotive.
“It won’t happen again,” Thomas said.
“Won’t ever happen again,” said Crawford.
And that’s probably right. But there are reasons for concern. Pastner and Antonio Barton looked to have a difference of opinion on the Tigers’ bench. Pastner’s fuzzy explanation: “An internal matter. I’m just gonna keep it at that.”
That’s Pastner’s right, by the way, but how is it that a player is already unhappy in an exhibition game? All the “poise,” “discipline” and “good chemistry” seemed pretty much absent.
What remains is the one thing Black had said the Tigers were ready to push aside: the “anxiety” of waiting. Well, now there is only anxiety in Tiger Nation as everyone waits for the season-opener on Monday, Nov. 12, at FedExForum.
CBU knocked down 10 3-pointers on the Tigers and how many times last season did Pastner preach that the 3-point shot is college basketball’s great talent equalizer, the first thing this team must take away from opponents?
Pastner blamed the Tigers’ poor showing, at least in part, on “bad energy.” Like “bad energy” is some kind of mysterious virus. Granted, it’s the kind of thing NBA players say to explain no-show efforts in places like Cleveland and Charlotte on Monday nights. But in theory, these Tigers are still college kids eager to play, eager to prove they deserve their Top 20 ranking and more, eager to show they can play at the next level.
It’s tough to do when an exhibition game against a Division II team is partially derailed by a train and the bad energy bug. None of this has to mean the sky is falling, of course, but it’s almost as though the Tigers are determined to follow a reality show script – minus the cameras and weekly time slot.
“This is a good wake-up call for us,” Pastner said, referring to everything from starters showing up late to a film session to his team failing to defend the 3-point shot.
He may be right. It’s also a line that only works once.