VOL. 132 | NO. 85 | Friday, April 28, 2017
The Press Box
With Tigers Basketball, Anything is Possible
By Don Wade
Everything’s fine. It’s all good. Don’t worry, Tiger fans. That was Tubby Smith’s bottom line during his 36-minute press conference with local media on Wednesday, April 26. It was also the basic message from University of Memphis president M. David Rudd, who hired Smith, in a recent radio interview on Sports 56 WHBQ.
Sure, each man gave some acknowledgment to the issue at hand: six players, including three starters and local kids, transferring out since Smith took the job a year ago.
“When we lose six players, I’m certainly concerned,” Rudd said.
“Kids have a lot of more opportunities now,” Smith said, speaking for the first time since the wave of transfers inspired national commentators to weigh in – and not with compliments – on the status of the Memphis basketball program.
As for the public relations approach, well, if you put it in a basketball box score it would be filed under “Turnovers.” Worse, the fallout in recruiting – if it could be categorically proven – would show up as Points Scored off Turnovers for other programs.
Markel Crawford is now at Ole Miss and eligible to play immediately as a graduate transfer. Brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson will have to sit out a year, but then will be playing for Bill Self at Kansas where NCAA Tournament appearances are as common as student orientations.
“From a public relations standpoint, we certainly could have handled this situation better,” Rudd said. “And we will moving forward.”
Smith’s meeting with the media this past week was an opportunity to make good on that declaration. But while Smith stood at a lectern in the lobby of the Penny Hardaway/U of M Athletic Hall of Fame (karma, huh?) and patiently listened to every question, his answers were about as substantive as a beauty pageant contestant saying her greatest wish is for world peace.
Now we would all love world peace, sure we would. Tiger Nation would love a Top 25 basketball team again, too. But how do you get there?
No specifics were forthcoming.
I do, however, give Tubby the Mr. Congeniality Coaching Award for staying polite and positive even when the questions were not exactly pleasant. He graciously volunteered that K.J. Lawson had called to apologize for his actions on social media.
Smith also said he never saw anything that K.J. had posted or said about him on social media – people just told him about it. Wow. The fact that this head basketball coach, in 2017, apparently treats Twitter, Snapchat and other social media as outliers has me SMH (that’s shaking my head, Tubby).
For next season, the Tigers are relying heavily on junior college transfers. They may all be fine players, but recent history suggests that this is the recruiting equivalent of triage – immediate help is needed; you do the best you can to stop the bleeding.
The Tigers, after all, went just 9-9 in the American Athletic Conference last season with those three starters who are now gone.
“I know there has been a lot of uneasiness among Tiger fans,” Smith said. “But I’m here to tell you we’re in good shape. I know we’ll be a very good team.”
So there you have it: Everything’s fine. It’s all good. Don’t worry, re-up your season tickets.
“We’re confident about where we’re going,” Smith said, “the things we have to get done.”
And if that seems pie-in-the-sky, well, there’s always world peace.
Don Wade’s column appears 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.