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VOL. 127 | NO. 195 | Friday, October 5, 2012

Team Mantras Usher in New Basketball Seasons

By Don Wade

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Although the date and time are unknown, there was a point some years ago when it became mandatory for every big-time college and pro team to have a mantra.

Junior point guard Joe Jackson is part of a veteran University of Memphis squad that has adopted the mantra, “One team, one goal, no egos.” It’s a continuation of a team concept head coach Josh Pastner adopted last season with the removal of names from jerseys.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

And so it is for the Grizzlies and University of Memphis Tigers. The Grizz and local media gathered at FedExForum and coach Lionel Hollins said: “Our buzz words are sacrifice, trust and consistency.”

The Tigers and local media assembled at the Finch Center and coach Josh Pastner said: “One team, one goal, no egos.”

As mantras go, they’re pretty good. The Tigers even have a huge mural on the wall bearing the aforementioned slogan and of Memphis basketball players standing together with their arms locked like each is an invaluable link in the chain. The only thing missing in the picture? Their heads.

So if you thought Pastner was a little over the top last season when he took the players’ names off the jerseys, well, you underestimated his dedication to this whole team concept.

For Hollins, sacrifice, trust and consistency come down to a single word: accountability. It’s a trait, he says, that runs through all championship teams. And yes, the “C” word is being thrown around the Bluff City.

The previous two seasons, the Tigers were unquestionably too bold in talking about their supposed potential to win an NCAA national championship. This time around, they talked about aiming in that direction, in believing it possible, but did so absent the misplaced arrogance of the recent past.

“Speak it into existence,” said Tigers junior Tarik Black, adding that he expects every major Division I program to be doing the same thing.

“Our goal is the Final Four, like every other college team,” said Adonis Thomas.

Meantime, over at FedExForum, the Grizzlies were talking about how, “on paper,” they have the most talent they’ve ever had, that they learned from their seven-game, first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and that they finally have the legit outside shooting threat (Wayne Ellington) and backup point guard (Jerryd Bayless) that they lacked the last two seasons.

“I don’t think we made a big splash in moves,” Hollins said, “but we added what we needed. We should be better.”

One thing the teams have in common: a missing link, no clear go-to-guy. Grizzlies fans can debate if Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph or maybe Marc Gasol should have the ball in his hands when a late basket is needed. Tigers fans now wait to see what life looks like after Will Barton.

Junior guard Joe Jackson and Black say more experience will help them individually and collectively.

“We’re older and time is winding down,” Jackson said. “It makes it more serious.”

“Probably, they’ve made strides,” said Tigers assistant Damon Stoudamire, who also played and coached for the Grizzlies and had a hand in the Tigers’ mantra this season. “But one of the questions is how do you replace 19 and 8?”

Barton actually averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds, but you get the point. The numbers must be accounted for somehow.

“Does somebody step up or do you do it by committee?” Stoudamire asked. “I don’t know. But I don’t think you can win unless you have a leader on the floor.”

The Grizzlies again will be anchored by big men Gasol and Randolph, Gay, point guard Mike Conley and defensive specialist Tony Allen.

Conley says in the most earnest way possible, “Quite frankly, it’s our dream to win a championship.”

Gay brushed aside the notion of expectations, saying, “It’s not what we expect, but what we want. We want to progress.”

In other words: finish higher in the Western Conference standings and go deeper in the NBA Playoffs.

The Tigers, Pastner knows too well, are expected to finally notch their first win over a Top 25 opponent under his watch and win at least one NCAA Tournament game. He has pressure that, quite honestly, Hollins does not.

Both teams seem close to possibly doing something special. But then a lot of teams, some of which will come apart from the inside out in a matter of weeks, appear close to something special before actual results start going up on scoreboards.

Said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, offering the one mantra that’s always dead-on: “You start over every year.”

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