» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 132 | NO. 70 | Friday, April 7, 2017
Don Wade

Don Wade

As Memphis Tiger Fans Fret, Can Tubby Smith Fix This Mess?

By Don Wade

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

A few weeks ago, Tubby Smith stood in front of assembled media and admitted that the University of Memphis basketball job was a bit more than he had calculated.

“You’ve got a flavor here of expectations,” he said, the surprise evident in his voice and on his face.

Not Kentucky expectations, mind you, where with Rick Pitino’s players Smith once won a national championship. But definitely not Minnesota or Texas Tech expectations. At those places just reaching the hallowed NCAA Tournament was more than good enough.

So, at those places, Tubby Smith was cast as a miracle-worker.

But here, as Tubby plans his next mass audition for walk-ons, there is a growing dread: Is the beloved Memphis basketball program really about to enter hoops hospice care?

Dedric Lawson is gone and not to pursue a pro career, like we all expected, but rather to transfer to another school. One not in his hometown. And to do this, he is willing to sit out a year.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

His brother K.J. is going, too. And though the Brothers Lawson issued a perfectly polite official statement, K.J. let his real feelings be known when he gave Tubby and the program a double-bird via a Twitter post.

“Two middle fingers as I make my exit,” K.J. tweeted.

Naturally, K.J.’s Twitter account was deleted almost immediately. Which is nice symmetry with any and all hopes for the next Memphis basketball season. In fact, take this season’s 19-13 record and flip it because 13-19 now sounds like a reasonable outcome.

Markel Crawford, who would not have to sit out a year as a graduate transfer, will perhaps be the next hometown player to leave the program. What was a disturbing trend as Josh Pastner’s tenure here reached its expiration date – Tarik Black, Nick King and Austin Nichols all left the hometown team – has continued under Smith.

No question, circumstances are different. And yet they are also the same. A Memphis coach who is not named John Calipari has to recruit and keep the best of the Memphis kids to win here – which means occasionally reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Calipari didn’t go down the hometown recruiting road because he didn’t have to; he could recruit nationally and spare himself the drama that comes with building a program around Memphis high school players.

Pastner made his deal with Keelon Lawson, giving him a staff job to get his sons. With the mediocre roster Smith inherited he had to keep Keelon to hold onto Dedric and K.J. But it was evident Smith didn’t like it. And Keelon didn’t like being demoted to counting towels, or whatever it was he did.

So Dedric and K.J. are leaving and two younger Lawson brothers labeled as top recruits won’t be coming to the U of M. Meantime, Tubby has a lot of scholarships to fill and he and his staff have shown little spark for recruiting (the 2017 Memphis class is ranked 58th nationally).

Smith has a five-year $15.45 million contract. And he was U of M President M. David Rudd’s hire as much as anybody’s. So in the near term, it looks like Tiger basketball will be whatever Smith can make it.

He has Jeremiah Martin, Jimario Rivers and Keon Clergeot returning (assuming no Crawford). More important, he has to land some of the top local recruits in a strong 2018 class. That’s the only way up.

So, yes, Mr. Smith, when you come to Memphis there is a flavor of expectations. You have to recruit Memphis kids. You have to keep Memphis kids.

You have grind hard enough to get a recruiting class that is better than 58th in the country.

You have to be better than what passes for success at Texas Tech.

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.

PROPERTY SALES 0 149 21,421
MORTGAGES 0 108 16,302