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VOL. 129 | NO. 159 | Friday, August 15, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

Wade: Never Too Early for Tiger Basketball Fans to Fret

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Oh, Josh Pastner, you Canada-bound court jester, you. Telling Tiger Nation that it makes no difference whether the University of Memphis wins exhibition games or loses them against college basketball giants Carleton University, McGill University and the University of Ottawa.

“Whether we go 4-0, 0-4, win by 40 or lose by 40,” the Tigers’ head coach said, “there doesn’t need to be a sense of direction – high or low – from our fan base.”

That’s a good one. Asking for fans to react reasonably to exhibition games in August.

Hasn’t the coach noticed that sunset is now coming before eight o’clock? Why, it’s getting late earlier all the time.

Forward Austin Nichols is just a sophomore, albeit one who grew up here and is well-acquainted with the Tiger fan that always has a finger on the panic button; he isn’t quite buying what his coach is selling.

“Kinda iffy,” Nichols said when asked if fans could be accepting of no-count losses before Labor Day. “Some fans might not be too happy about it.”

In fairness, the Tigers could drop a game north of the border and it wouldn’t have to portend disaster. Ottawa beat Indiana a few days ago. Before last season started, Wisconsin, which made a run to the Final Four, lost to Carleton.

In fact, the whole reason Pastner opted for this trip instead of, say, a return to the Bahamas, is the competition is better and the plane flight is shorter.

The Tigers will play four games in four days – from Aug. 16-19 – and Pastner says he has spent no time scouting the opponents. It’s not about them, after all, but about a young and inexperienced Memphis team that returns Nichols and junior forward Shaq Goodwin as starters and has a whole lot of questions.

Perhaps the main one is whether or not Pookie Powell can handle point guard. Early returns from practice are encouraging, but when’s the last time before a season you heard a coach or a teammate say a guy wouldn’t be able to get the job done?

“I really think sitting out last year was the best thing for him,” Pastner said. “Basketball got taken away because he didn’t take care of things academically. It forced him to rearrange the priorities in his life.”

On the court, Goodwin calls Powell’s first step “amazing” and Nichols has been impressed and he doesn’t necessarily impress easily.

“He’s strong, handles the ball well,” Nichols said. “Most importantly, he can run a team really well.”

At least in the Finch Center. Now, we see if he can run a team against Canadian collegiate competition. And finally for real against Wichita State, which spent most of last season undefeated, on Nov. 18 in the season-opener in Sioux Falls, S.D., as part of ESPN’s 24-hour College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

It’s a strange start, really. Four games in Canada in August and the season-opener is in South Dakota at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday. All proof that every season is different. And truthfully, these four games in Canada do offer Pastner and his staff valuable evaluation time.

“We’re gonna have growing pains,” Pastner said, adding that he has told the players they will be allowed to play through mistakes provided they are always hustling.

Which doesn’t mean Tiger Nation won’t light up local sports talk radio if the Tigers lose a game or two. They will. It’s their nature.

But Nichols does ask that fans remember one thing when they finally calm down.

“We just got started,” he said. “This is not the final product.”

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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