Tigers Fans: Sit Back, Soak it In

By Don Wade

Former Tigers coach John Calipari had a convenient label for fans and media members who dared to question him or worry about less than near-perfect results.

“The Miserables,” Calipari whined on more than one occasion.

Now, by definition, to be miserable is to be “wretchedly unhappy.” That might fit how Tiger fans felt after Calipari’s Memphis team blew a nine-point lead over Kansas with 2:12 remaining in the 2008 national championship game, but I don’t think it’s a fair psychoanalysis of the Tiger fan base.

Obsessive? Yes.

Impatient? Certainly.

Chronically worried? Only 365, 24/7.

But insistent upon bathing in wretched unhappiness? No, that’s not what I see and hear.

The passion is laudable, almost quaint even. And coach Josh Pastner seems to get it, even if he still suffers from “Conference USA is a good league” disease. Only known cure? Moving to the Big East. Or beating a team ranked in the Top 25.

I know. I just ventured into miserable snarkiness. I didn’t really mean it to come out that way, but starting the season with a convincing victory over North Florida only goes so far.

And that’s the problem for Tigers fans. They compulsively measure their team against where they want it to be in four months or think it should be in two weeks. They pay too much attention to rankings and talking heads on TV. They don’t always stop and smell the basketball roses – freshman Shaq Goodwin playing with a Tony Allen-like ferocity or point guard Joe Jackson leading with a cool head and steady hand.

None of this makes Tiger loyalists a collection of “miserables.” But it does make them nervous Nellies. Thus, that less than impressive exhibition game win over Christian Brother University was all it took to get Tigers fans thinking about worst-case scenarios.

Antonio Barton had a bad reaction to Pastner on the bench. Oh no, he’s going to be kicked off the team or totally pollute team chemistry! The coach said they had “bad energy.” Oh, no, they’ll never play hard!

That was the fear, that the season was already on the brink. And fear is the operative word here. Because Tigers fans care so much, they are always afraid of something going terribly wrong and then they’d have to wait another whole year to dream big.

But look what happened. Barton ignited a first-half run against North Florida, played well, and said after the game, “I can’t let my anger get the best of me. This team needs me. And I need my team. … I promise you that is something I (will) never do again.”

The brush fire didn’t become an inferno; it naturally burned out. Meantime, the good stuff from the first game actually makes me think even better things lie ahead. For instance, I believe Goodwin will be no less than the Newcomer of the Year in C-USA. Jackson looks ready to be an elite point guard not just for a few days in the league’s postseason tournament, but for several months. Adonis Thomas seems primed to have a look-at-me-I’m-a-lottery-pick kind of season.

Pastner seems to know what he has, too, stressing that “pace is everything” for this team. But you know what? Pace is everything for fans, too. So, Tigers fans, sit back and watch your team run, shoot, defend, rebound and, yes, dive after those precious “50-50” balls. Watch the team gradually climb from its No. 17 national ranking, fall, and then climb again.

Take a deep breath, maybe two, and enjoy every moment you can. It’s the only 2012-2013 college basketball season you have. It’ll be gone before you know it.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the Jon & Don Show on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.