The coach might have picked rebounding, defense or his favorite pet peeve – getting those “50-50 balls.” Any one of these might have been singled out by Josh Pastner as the key to the Tigers’ success.
But here in the 2013-2014 preseason, with his team holding a lofty No. 13 national ranking, the University of Memphis coach has picked “adversity” as the secret to the season – that is, how the Tigers handle adversity. In possessions, in halves, when opponents make runs, when the officiating is really tight or really loose, on the road, in the locker room, anywhere and everywhere imaginable.
The first jab of adversity? A rather minor incident in which senior Chris Crawford and freshmen Nick King and Kuran Iverson missed the trip for a scrimmage against No. 25 Baylor in Ruston, La., because they were late for the team bus. About this time last season, you may recall, Crawford and Adonis Thomas were late for a film session because they got stuck behind a train on the U of M campus. Pastner didn’t play them in the exhibition game against CBU.
Memphis head coach Josh Pastner is stressing adversity as the secret to the Tigers’ success this season. More specifically, how the team handles all types of adversity thrown its way.
(AP Photo/Randy Snyder)
A few weeks ago, Crawford was asked what he knew now that he didn’t know as a freshman. His answer: “Time moves fast (obviously). Very fast. You don’t want to regret nothing. Now that you’re a senior, just make sure you don’t make all those little mistakes.”
Being on time is step one in showing that you’re serious about your work. Step two is being ready once you do arrive. Which brings us to that scrimmage with Baylor. Though media were not permitted to attend, Pastner has been more than up front about how poorly the team played in many areas and that Baylor put a beating on the Tigers.
Pastner’s perspective: just what the Tigers needed. Adversity, free of charge with not even a box score to memorialize the lessons learned. Although for the unofficial record, Baylor beat the Tigers by 27 points over three 20-minute periods.
“I’m very happy that it occurred,” Pastner said.
As for the players …
“Definitely an eye-opener,” said freshman forward Austin Nichols.
“We can take a lot from it,” said senior guard Michael Dixon, a Missouri transfer who is used to playing on a team with big expectations. “It was our first time playing as a unit against another team. Nobody is gonna let you come in and walk over them.”
Adversity, thy name is competition. The Tigers are in for so much more of it this year with a stout non-conference schedule that includes No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Florida before Christmas and No. 15 Gonzaga in February. Then there is life in the much-tougher American Athletic Conference that includes home-and-home sets with No. 3 Louisville, No. 18 Connecticut, plus Cincinnati and Temple.
Pastner will tell you they aren’t looking past Austin Peay in the season-opener on Nov. 14 at FedExForum – right thing to say, if also a bit comical – and that before that the focus is on CBU in a Nov. 8 exhibition game at home.
Focus being another big word this season, as in, “We’ve got to have laser-like focus every time we step on the floor,” Pastner said.
But it is true. Life in the new conference is only an opportunity if the Tigers can win enough – beat enough good teams – that the NCAA Tournament Committee takes note and hands Memphis a better seed. A No. 3 seed, for example, is within the realm of possibility this season and would give the Tigers a good chance for a deep run.
First things first, though. And that begins with recognizing that this season’s opponents have a lot more in common with No. 25 Baylor than the bottom three-fourths of Conference USA.
“We’ve got to give more of an effort on the defensive end and we’ve got to take care of the ball in this new conference,” senior guard Joe Jackson said. “Turnovers will kill us.”
Yes, such self-created adversity is what Pastner hopes to avoid. The coach termed the Baylor scrimmage a “wake-up call,” but Dixon says don’t read into that the Tigers are too impressed with themselves.
“I don’t think we’re an arrogant team by any means,” Dixon said.
Hopefully, they are a resilient team, a team that can take a punch. Because come Nov. 19 in Stillwater, Okla., adversity stands ready to throw a few.