There are several things an NBA scout can do to kill time in
Memphis before a Grizzlies game in the evening. He might get a
rack of ribs at Charlie Vergos Rendezvous, check out the scene at
B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street or admire the
sequin-studded jumpsuits at Graceland. Over the last several
weeks, however, the most popular activity has been to head to a
Memphis University practice and look longingly at the school's
collection of potential pros. "We've had 17 NBA scouts in here,"
coach John Calipari said during the second week of practice.
After he saw point guard Antonio Burks, one personnel man asked
Calipari, "What is he, a senior?" The scout couldn't believe
Burks was a sophomore.
Entering his second season, Calipari has assembled a cast long on
talent but short on chemistry. He will rely heavily on three
newcomers--juco transfers Burks and Chris Massie plus consensus
high school player of the year Dajuan Wagner--to improve a squad
that was 21-15 and lost to Tulsa in an NIT semifinal last season.
"On the court they'll be aggressive," says Calipari, "but we've
got to get them to understand how important communicating is."
The player most likely to assume a leadership role is Burks, but
he has bigger concerns. He has to master a new offense and shake
off substantial rust. He last played in a game 1 1/2 years ago at
Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn., where he spent one
season schooling inferior opponents while averaging 14.2 points a
game. A Division I nonqualifier coming out of high school, Burks
still didn't have his academics in order when he transferred to
Memphis in August 2000, so he wasn't eligible to play last season
and couldn't practice with the team.
The Tigers expect Wagner, a sharp-shooting 6'3" guard out of
Camden (N.J.) High, to have an immediate impact. He already holds
the single-game scoring record on his new home court, having rung
up 50 points in a high school tournament game at the Pyramid last
December. With Burks and Wagner the Tigers have the makings of a
formidable backcourt, and the inside game--with the 6'9",
235-pound Massie, all-Conference USA forward Kelly Wise (15.3
points last year) and 7-foot center Earl Barron--may be even
stronger. Factor in 6'5" sophomore swingman Scooter McFadgon, and
Calipari has the luxury of going big or small.
The problem is, with no depth to speak of, Calipari will have to
rely on television timeouts and wisely use his team timeouts to
rest his players. Preseason scrimmages were staged in five-minute
segments to get the top six players used to the scheduled TV
stoppages after the 16-, 12-, eight- and four-minute marks in
each half. Calipari is no stranger to winning with a short bench.
"When I was at UMass, we had six guys," he says of his 1995-96
team. "Our seventh, eighth and ninth guys were walk-ons. And we
went to the Final Four."
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Kelly Wise 6'10" Sr. 10.1 rpg[#]
PF Chris Massie 6'9" Jr. 12.0 rpg*
C Earl Barron 7'0" Jr. 8.3 ppg[#]
SG Dajuan Wagner 6'3" Fr. 42.5 ppg[%]
PG Antonio Burks 6'0" So. 14.2 ppg*
2000-01 record: 21-15
Final rank (coaches' poll): not ranked
*In junior college
[%]As high school senior
GRADUATION RATE: 0%
AVERAGE NUMBER OF WINS: 18.4
NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 5-4
MCDONALD'S ALL-AMERICANS: 4
PLAYERS IN NBA: 3
COMMENT: Case study for what is wrong with college basketball.
Tigers have had four coaches since 1996, including Tic Price, who
resigned in '99 after admitting to affair with student. Poor
academic performance predates latest NCAA tracking: From 1990 to
'97, 40 players entered program but only two earned degrees. New
coach John Calipari talks about improving that, but among his
first moves was hiring Milt Wagner (father of Dajuan), who has no
college degree, and signing Dajuan's pal Arthur Barclay, who was
academically ineligible last season. Senior forward John Grice is
academically ineligible for first semester.