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VOL. 133 | NO. 172 | Thursday, August 30, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Even with Jeremiah Martin’s Surgery, Tiger Hoops Fans Can Be Hopeful

By Don Wade

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The rumor turned out to be a reality. Sure enough, the best player from last season’s University of Memphis basketball team had surgery last Monday.

To be exact, Jeremiah Martin – the guard who averaged 18.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals – had an inguinal hernia repaired. So confirmed a UofM press release

Even before that confirmation, and certainly after, Martin’s status was fodder for much speculation on local sports talk radio or wherever two or more Tiger fans were gathered.

University of Memphis guard Jeremiah Martin recently had surgery but is expected to be ready when the Tigers open the nonconference season on Nov. 6 against Tennessee Tech at FedExForum. (Daily News File Photo/Andrew J. Breig)

Martin’s junior season, of course, ended prematurely because of a foot fracture. Only recently had he rejoined team workouts.

Now, he is expected to be out for four to six weeks. That timeline leaves plenty of room for Martin to be ready when the Tigers open the nonconference season on Nov. 6 against Tennessee Tech at FedExForum.

But here’s what I’ve noticed amid the talk – and yes, worry – about just how healthy Martin will be at season’s start and perhaps even for the duration of the season: Martin’s injury is not the only Memphis basketball topic. Nor even the one that will get the most run.

If Tubby Smith was still the coach, still here taking a wait-and-watch attitude toward recruiting – especially locally – then this latest news about Martin would have sounded a three-alarm warning of a season about to burn down before the ball goes up.

Under Smith, all Tiger fans had was what was in front of them. The games. The here and now. Hope of a better future and a return to the glory days simply didn’t exist.

But under first-year coach Penny Hardaway the recruiting never stops; neither does the chatter and the optimism that comes along with it.

This season’s roster includes two Top-150 local freshman guards that Smith never would have landed: Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax. Not to mention freshman guard Antwann Jones of Orlando, the 18th-ranked shooting guard in the nation and No. 80 recruit overall in his class.

So consider the worst-case scenario with Martin. The injury nags him. He doesn’t come back until mid-December, maybe doesn’t look like himself until February. The Tigers lose a game here or there because of that.

But those freshman guards are getting major minutes. An investment is being made in the next season. And the next season may include one or more big-time reinforcements.

Almost daily, somebody is taking the temperature of the recruitment of James Wiseman, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2019. His recruitment is said to be “open,” but I’ve yet hear a good reason why his decision will come down to anyone other than Memphis or Kentucky. And remember, he’s here playing his senior season at East High School and has played for Penny.

Memphis remains the favorite to get him.

Beyond Wiseman, Penny and his staff – Mike Miller, Sam Mitchell and Tony Madlock – are in on several other top-tier recruits. The latest “Crystal Ball” predictions from 247Sports have 2019 five-star recruit Trendon Watford choosing Memphis over Alabama and four-star recruit D.J. Jeffries choosing the Tigers over Kentucky and Mississippi State; and remember, Jeffries already decommitted from John Calipari’s team.

In the Class of 2020, the Tigers are in on five-star shooting guard Jalen Green out of Fresno, California, and according to 247Sports, in the hunt for five-star R.J. Hampton out of Little Elm, Texas.

Best of all? This is just the short list. There are about a dozen other highly regarded players from the Class of 2020 also in the mix.

Bottom line: Jeremiah Martin’s surgery isn’t the news anyone wanted. And everyone hopes for a speedy recovery for the Mitchell High School grad, that he enjoys a great senior season.

But no longer does one injury to a very important player mean all hope is lost and the coming season won’t have meaning.

It will. And from the looks of things, so will the next few seasons after it.

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