Tigers coach Josh Pastner has suspended freshman Dominic Woodson from the team for cursing.
That’s right, cursing. Not shoving a fan. Not signing autographs for money. Not getting in a bar fight.
All Woodson did was apparently let fly a few choice words during the University of Memphis’ 76-70 victory over Central Florida.
The truly amazing part of the story, though? Pastner, like in 99.9 percent of all the games he has ever coached in his life, managed not to curse. And given the way this game went, that’s something of an achievement.
The Tigers were only leading by one point with just 5:16 left in the game against a team on an eight game losing streak, and Pastner did not so much as go past golly, gee, shucks and darn.
His team was beaten on the boards 39-27 and UCF pulled down 19 offensive rebounds. And still, the worst Pastner would say was, “They kicked our butts on the offensive glass.”
True confession: At this same game, I was at my post on press row. I encountered some technical difficulties with my laptop right after the game ended. I reacted this to personal challenge the way I usually do: I went all Dominic Woodson.
Fortunately, the only people within earshot were other sports writers. Which is to say, they’d heard it all before and said it all before. No harm, no foul.
But Pastner’s discipline of Woodson – and it includes him not traveling with the No. 20 Tigers for their showdown with No. 24 Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 15 – did impress me.
In part because Pastner, you may recall, worked for John Calipari. And John Calipari could cuss the bark off a tree. Which means when Pastner was one of his assistant coaches, he found a way to deal with that.
But with his own program, Pastner will do things his way and that includes not allowing his players to use language he won’t use. As he said after the UCF game, “We’ve got young ladies behind the bench.”
How refreshing is that? A coach able to see beyond the program, beyond the life-and-death importance of winning and losing, to genuine civility?
Here in Memphis, of course, we have come to expect this kind of thing from Pastner. It’s part of the Pastner package – the same as strong recruiting and evolving, if less than perfect in-game coaching, and catch phrases that he is bound to repeat too often.
“They’re better than their record,” he said of the Knights after Memphis had handed them their ninth straight loss and their record in the American Athletic Conference fell to 1-10.
No, they’re not. But it was good to hear him say it just the same.
Pastner also took a moment at the start of the post-game presser to call out a reporter for wearing a Duke shirt.
“Nothing against Duke,” the coach said, “but you can’t do that at a Memphis game. Professionalism.”
Solid point. I also half-expected him to next turn my way and say, “You can’t continue to claim Kansas City barbecue is better than Memphis barbecue. Civic duty.”
And how about the speed with which Pastner ran onto the court late in the second half? The coach essentially joined a scrum for a loose ball when he feared the pile-up of players – which had his floor general Joe Jackson on the bottom of it for a few frightening moments – might ignite some ugly incident that would forever play on an ESPN loop and brand Memphis basketball as something bad.
He called it his “responsibility” to make sure things stayed under control, said it was what his bosses expect from him, and reminded us of the bench-clearing brawl in the Xavier-Cincinnati game a couple of years ago.
“Coach, he’s very energetic out there,” guard Chris Crawford said. “He’ll do anything for the guys.”
Darn straight he will.
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.