"LET ME TRY AGAIN"
(COACH: DANA KIRK)
Shady Zach Curlin Road on the Memphis State campus is named for the Tiger basketball coach who won 120 games. Last season Dana Kirk won his 130th, but no one's forming a Dana Kirk Landmark Committee. A pall hangs over the Tiger basketball program: A grand jury investigating gambling in Memphis has questioned Kirk, and the NCAA is looking into possible recruiting violations.
The Tigers were Metro Conference champions and made it to the Final Four last season. Eleven of the squad's 12 players were native Memphians. This year 12 of 13 are. Conspicuously absent, though, is consensus All-America forward Keith Lee, who has taken his nine rebounds and 20 points per game to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Lee's exit hasn't occasioned much trauma in Memphis. Among his many gifts was a knack for landing himself in early foul trouble. Accordingly, he logged lots of pine time, especially in the last 13 games, which included the Tigers' march through the Midwest Regional. Lee's understudies learned how to win without him.
"With Keith, we played a setup offense," says sophomore guard Dwight Boyd. "When he was out, we knew we had to run to win. This year, we're going to run all the time."
Granted, Lee was awesome inside. But he reported 30 pounds heavier last season, lacked stamina and retarded the Tigers' tempo. This year, every Tiger can run, even 7-foot junior center William Bedford, a rare, precious blend of size and speed. What Kirk needs from Bedford is buzzer-to-buzzer intensity. Last season, if he didn't see enough of the ball, Bedford was likely to sulk, go into a disappearing act or threaten to hold his breath until he passed out. With Lee gone and gnatty, natty, Andre Turner running the running Tigers, Bedford should have few complaints.
Turner plays under control now and responds to the nickname Little General. He's only 5'10", but a giant in the clutch. Last season he eliminated two teams from the NCAA tournament with jumpers at the buzzer. And putting it up isn't even Turner's forte. Just because he occasionally refers to himself in the third person—"Andre, he distributes the wealth. He keeps everybody happy," he says—doesn't mean he is self-centered about his game.
The most improved Tiger last season was 6'7" forward Baskerville Holmes, whose name needs no improvement. The power forward of the future is 6'7", 235-pound freshman Marvin Alexander, a Charles Barkley clone with a nice soft touch and a harvest moon for a rear end.
Last April, freshman guard Vincent Askew announced on two separate occasions that he would transfer in the off-season and then changed his mind. To his credit, Skew leaves his indecision in the locker room. Such was his on-court maturity that he was cited in a newspaper's year-end appraisal of "Who's hot in Memphis." Not to be outdone, Turner made The Memphis Magazine City Guide's list of the River City's top 100 movers and shakers.
Coach Kirk was mentioned in neither. Maybe after he notches win No. 150—he needs 26 to do it this season—he'll get a street named after him. But don't bet on it.