Tigers Prep for New League, Lofty Expectations

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

As good as last season’s University of Memphis basketball team was – and it won 31 games and got through to a second game in the NCAA Tournament – there is a sense this season’s team can be better.

One early preseason ranking from ESPN.com had the Tigers positioned at No. 15 and the writer said there was more than enough talent for a “smooth” transition to the new and more competitive American Athletic Conference.

These are things coach Josh Pastner likes to hear. Such exposure is always good for recruiting and recruiting is, at some level, a 24/7 proposition. But as Pastner and the Tigers gathered at the Finch Center on Monday, Sept. 23, for Media Day, the coach wanted to remind everyone of one reality that never changes no matter the competition.

“We’ve got to produce on the floor and we know that,” said Pastner, who has a 106-34 record (.757) in four seasons at Memphis.

Michael Dixon, a former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, transferred from Missouri. That means Memphis will have four senior guards: Last season’s Conference USA Player of the Year Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Dixon.

Depending on which college basketball expert is doing the evaluating, Memphis will own the best to fifth-best backcourt in the country.

Johnson didn’t want to speak to that, but he didn’t mind speaking to the team’s prospects for 2013-2014, saying, “I’m gonna put my name out on a limb. We’ll do good things.”


The Tigers have nine newcomers. Forward David Pellom, who transferred from George Washington, Dixon and seven freshmen. Among the freshmen, forwards Austin Nichols (Briarcrest) and Kuran Iverson (Fishburne Military School in Virginia) are the early favorites to be major contributors.

“There’s a relationship between all the players and it’s getting stronger,” Nichols said. “We’re ready to work.”

Practice officially begins Oct. 3. On Oct. 18, beginning at 7 p.m. at FedExForum, there’s the return of Memphis Madness. There is an exhibition game here against Christian Brothers University on Nov. 8 and the season starts for real on Nov. 14 with a visit from Austin Peay.

Conference play begins with a Jan. 4 game at FedExForum against Cincinnati and the home schedule also will include league games with Connecticut, Temple and Louisville and a non-conference game with Gonzaga.

“We’re playing better competition,” Jackson said of life in the American Athletic Conference. “But it’s going to bring the best out of us.”