The five Memphis seniors talked about their college basketball careers and they sounded older, wiser. And although nobody used this word, maybe a little scared about what might, or might not, come next.
“You feel it,” guard Joe Jackson said of the precious few games that remain. “You don’t have to look. It’s March. It’s the last March I’ll be playing in.”
Said Chris Crawford, who, like Jackson, was a kid who grew up here and stayed home to wear the blue and gray: “You get a little sad thinking about it.”
They are young men now. Five young men with five unique stories. And they expected happiness and pride of accomplishment to win the moment when, on Saturday, March 8, they would walk to center court with their families on Senior Day to be recognized by the faithful at FedExForum.
Here’s a quick look at their stories:
Geron Johnson: Memphis coach Josh Pastner took a chance on Johnson, who had multiple off-court issues and basically got run out of two junior colleges.
When he came to Memphis last season, Pastner put him under a strict curfew. It remains in place and Johnson joked that he almost expects Pastner to call and make a long-distance bed check four months from now, out of habit.
Johnson’s mother and little brother were to come for Senior Day and he said it’s now about more than basketball.
“Be a role model to kids, be a role model to my little brother. Because whatever I do, I think my little brother is going to follow in my footsteps.”
David Pellom: The fifth-year forward transferred from George Washington University and is grimacing through the last days of his college basketball career with what Pastner famously called his “old man’s knee.”
Unlike the four guards, he doesn’t really dream of the NBA: “My main goal was to win a conference tournament and then go to the NCAA Tournament.”
The second goal is assured; we’ll see about the first.
Michael Dixon: “I got another chance and I don’t take it for granted.”
Dixon left Missouri after two allegations of rape (no charges were ever filed). And he figures his chance never would have come without Johnson “having a clean full year” here.
Dixon has had a strong finish to the season, but making it to Senior Day probably means as much or more for his parents as for him.
“It was so hard on them, the situation that happened,” he said. “I know my parents are gonna be real emotional. I’m gonna try not to cry.”
Chris Crawford: With Jackson, Crawford (Sheffield High School) was part of a highly anticipated recruiting class. Now, it’s just the two of them left standing.
“We had a lot of expectations,” Crawford said.
If the highest of those expectations have not been met – multiple Final Fours – there’s also no denying the last four years have brought much tangible success.
“We won a lot of games, conference championships,” Crawford said. “There’s a lot of great memories.”
Yet Crawford is honest about the disappointment of a 1-3 record in NCAA Tournament games over that span. A deep run would change the enduring narrative.
“It would be great to get an exclamation point to put at the end of it,” he said. “We can’t just keep saying, `Trust the process.’ We gotta get the job done.”
Joe Jackson: Getting Jackson to make the short trek from White Station High School to the U of M campus was a huge get for the young Memphis basketball coach.
But Jackson didn’t come for any reason other than he always knew he was going to be a Tiger. Which is maybe the best reason.
“Honest to truth, I was coming here whether Billy Bob from Wal-Mart was coach,” Jackson said.
Of course, he came close to leaving a couple of times. It wasn’t always smooth but when he looks at the entire four-year tour he says, “I just take it as a blessing. Best way to cap this year off is to take this team far in the NCAA Tournament.”
March, after all, is never going to be quite the same.
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.