Monday September 21st, 2009

In May, a little more than a month after he took over as Memphis' head coach, Josh Pastner took a call from the legendary John Wooden, who wanted to impart some wisdom to his friend Lute Olson's former player and assistant. "[Coach Wooden] told me the best advice he had was to be patient," Pastner said. "The peaks and valleys will happen, but keep patient, keep an even keel, don't get too high on the highs and too low on the lows."

I imagine that Wooden, who turns 99 in October and lives in Los Angeles, was not following the minute details of, say, the recruiting battle for Eric Bledsoe, but the Wizard of Westwood's advice was prescient. The lows at Memphis, this offseason, were very low: The Tigers lost John Calipari, then had to vacate his Final Four. They lost recruits to Kentucky (Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall), lost an American recruit to Europe (Latavious Williams), and lost a European recruit to injury (Martin Ngaloro). They lost one possible starting forward to the draft (Shawn Taggart), and another to an ACL tear (Angel Garcia), and are down to eight scholarship players. The highs, albeit fewer, would be high: Memphis managed to sign two top-10 guards for 2010-11 (Will Barton and Joe Jackson), and talented ex-Duke sophomore Elliot Williams -- whose transfer, Pastner said, was "bittersweet" because it happened due to a family issue -- was cleared to play immediately.

Pastner, who's 31, has yet to coach a single college game, but he's already endured the nation's most bipolar '09 offseason. The peaks and valleys of the past 5 1/2 months in Memphis, when put in graphical form (good news above the midpoint, bad news below), resemble the Torres del Paine:

Such fluctuation is not the norm. Even at Kentucky, the school that dominated offseason news, there were fewer wild shifts:

The Wildcats' offseason peaked on May 19, when top-ranked recruit John Wall became the third five-star prospect in Calipari's Class of '09.

Enthusiasm for the arrival of Wall & Co. is still off the charts, but late-summer news centered on the NCAA's order that Calipari's Final Four at Memphis be vacated. Between that and the departure of Jodie Meeks, Kentucky's final 3 1/2 months were mostly in the negative.

There would be more peaks on the Wildcats' timeline if I plotted Schadenfreude, because UK fans certainly reveled in the worst dates of Louisville coach Rick Pitino's offseason sex-and-alleged-extortion scandal.

The Cards' graph-line is less cluttered, but it runs entirely in the red:

Likely preseason No. 1 Kansas had its own valley of mid-summer drama, with Sherron Collins' weight issues, rumors that the Henry brothers were having a change of heart, and walk-on Chase Buford's drunk driving.

But the Jayhawks started and finished the offseason with great news:

In April, All-Americas Collins and Cole Aldrich stayed out of the draft, and the Henry brothers committed; then in July, Tyshawn Taylor emerged as one of the stars of the gold-medal-winning U.S. Under-19 team, and KU opened a much-needed new practice facility adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse.

The ideal offseason timeline -- for a program, not someone trying to sell newspapers -- was the idyllic non-event that was Michigan State's spring and summer:

Tom Izzo is returning a top-three team for next year, and his most prominent offseason concerns were 1) memorizing his lines for his Broadway show/fundraiser and 2) the slow-to-heal foot of his backup point guard, Korie Lucious. No wonder that, when an SI writer visited Izzo this summer, the coach was wearing a T-shirt that read, JUST CHILLIN'. That's a state that Josh Pastner -- however patient he's trying to be -- cannot yet envisage.

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