VOL. 129 | NO. 164 | Friday, August 22, 2014
The Press Box
Wade: Pastner Hits Reset Button on Roster, Season
By Don Wade
John Calipari never could have gotten away with this. Wait, let me rephrase that:
Calipari can get away with anything – see two voided Final Fours at UMass and Memphis and his current station as King of College Basketball at Kentucky.
But Calipari could not have made the moves that Tigers coach Josh Pastner has made in the last few weeks and come through unscathed.
Pastner has, which is an earned benefit of the doubt when you’re so wholesome that even milk blushes in your presence.
Give assists, too, to guards and successful rehabilitation projects Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon. If ultimately mild underachievers on the court, they did keep themselves and their coach clean off the court.
In fact, technically, it’s perhaps not even correct to say Pastner made these recent moves that have brought in two more players with questionable pasts as two other Tigers almost simultaneously requested transfers; although you’d really have to believe in the random power of coincidence to think everything just lined up on its own.
Let’s review, beginning with the big news that broke on Twitter Wednesday, Aug. 20, when former Vanderbilt point guard Kedren Johnson confirmed he was transferring to Memphis. Two seasons ago as a sophomore, Johnson led Vanderbilt in scoring (13.5 points) and assists (3.6). But last summer, he was suspended for violating a university conduct policy.
Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, who likes good players as much as the next coach, ultimately decided not to bring Johnson back. If he’s granted a waiver by the NCAA, which is expected, he’ll be eligible to play immediately at Memphis and join Pastner’s Community Outreach Club for Talented Basketball Players, which also now includes Calvin Godfrey.
Godfrey is a nice forward that got booted off Iowa State’s team following an arrest for marijuana possession. He apparently couldn’t get in at LSU – which is mind-boggling – and is joining the Tigers after averaging 13.1 points and 8.8 rebounds at Southern.
Now, if you’re thinking it’s a little odd to add two good players so late you would be right. But this is where the random power of coincidence was, to borrow from one of Pastner’s favorite points of emphasis, working hard to grab those 50-50 balls.
First, guard Damien Wilson – per a university statement – announced he was transferring. “He shared with me he’d like a fresh start,” Pastner said in the statement posted at gotigersgo.com on Aug. 1.
So, that opened up a scholarship for Godfrey.
In another university statement posted on the site on Aug. 14 regarding troubled forward Dominic Woodson’s intention to transfer, Pastner said: “He shared with me he’d like a fresh start.”
Apparently, the Finch Center is also an echo chamber.
Thus a scholarship became available for Kedren Johnson at a time when Pastner was looking at starting the season without a point guard who has any Division 1 experience.
That the Tigers also just returned from their 2-2 exhibition tour in Canada where their last loss came by 32 points to Carleton University – apparently Canada’s answer to UCLA in the Wooden and Walton years – makes these little roster alterations all the more timely.
So let’s be blunt: Calipari would be getting killed for moves like this. Not necessarily by fans, who want what fans want, but by media.
We, however, are mostly giving Pastner a pass. He leads the community in random acts of kindness, after all, is unfailingly polite and, to this point, has a good track record with players seeking one last chance.
Kedren Johnson, by the way, fancies himself a rapper and some of his lyrics are not in keeping with Pastner’s position on language. You’ll recall that bad language got Woodson suspended and now he’s gone and reportedly enrolled at the University of Tennessee.
Woodson wasn’t a point guard; Johnson is.
We don’t have an official university statement, but the guess here? Josh Pastner shared with Josh Pastner that he’d like a fresh start on the upcoming college basketball season.
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.