NCAA countdown: No. 13 Memphis
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: At 36, coach Josh Pastner is rarely thrown in the same sentence as national championship-winning coaches John Calipari or Bill Self.
But the fifth-year Memphis coach is recruiting on their level — landing six top-100 recruits for the best freshman class outside of Kentucky or Kansas in 2013.
That might make Pastner seem like a master salesman, but the selling point comes with the program itself, Pastner confides.
“Academically, everyone who stays here for more than three years gets a degree. Then, the basketball community is unmatched,” Pastner said. “We’re what the Green Bay Packers are to their community. It’s like we’re the Yankees. Memphis Tigers basketball unites everybody. It’s more than a game for these fans, it’s a way of life.”
That recruiting pitch kept highly coveted Memphis natives Austin Nichols, Markel Crawford and Nick King in town and subsequently lured RaShawn “Pookie” Powell and Kuran Iverson to Beale Street. The icing on the cake came when Dominic Woodson decommitted from Baylor and signed with the Tigers this past June.
The talented freshman class, as well as a cast of key transfers, joins the veteran-laden backcourt of Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford to give Pastner a deep, potent roster to work with in the team’s first season in the newly formatted American Athletic Conference.
The Tigers were never respected last season while waltzing through Conference USA, but playing in a league with Louisville and Connecticut will surely position Memphis better in the postseason. If the young players grow up fast and the chemistry’s right, this team wouldn’t be a bad pick to continually circle on your bracket come March.
2012-13 in review: 31-5 overall (16-0 in Conference USA), lost in third round of the NCAA tournament to Michigan State.
Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 4 seed.
Coach’s corner: “Playing in front of 18,000 fans and feeling that 24/7-365 pressure might not be for everyone, but this is a special place so my job is easy. It’s not about me, I’m just the coach. I know so many would give anything to sit in my chair.” … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 13 Memphis, click here.]