An in-depth look at the relationship of Memphis men's basketball's freshman players
It’s no secret that the Memphis Tigers and Josh Pastner have a veteran backcourt. Not only will the Tigers lose their four senior guards after this year, but ultimately 35 percent of their roster. Fortunately, a good bit of the necessary help has already arrived.
The Tigers brought in six players in the class of 2013: two guards, two wings and two frontcourt players. Even though only half of the freshman class is from the city of Memphis, they already seem to get along like old friends.
“We really meshed from the beginning because we went to camps together, and we already knew each other’s games,”Nick King said . “We’ve seen each other play before so when we saw each other, we already knew what we had to do.”
In today’s world, it’s not unrealistic for recruits to become close, even if they aren’t together very often.
“Before we started workouts in the summer, we had a group message going, and we’d text each other back and forth just making sure everything is all right and that went pretty well,” added Austin Nichols. “We got here, and our bond has gotten even stronger since we’ve been able to hang out together and everything.”
Players meet at the numerous camps and events on the AAU circuit, and can text and keep up with one another in an instant on social media.
“I think we developed that bond before we got here,” Markel Crawford explained. “There’s a good bond between us.”
Dominic Woodson said that knowing his freshman teammates made him feel more comfortable about attending the U of M.
A prior relationship doesn’t necessarily guarantee success on the court, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Pookie Powell hopes that the more time they spend together, the better they’ll perform on the floor next year.
“It’s definitely a positive because when you are coming into something new like coming to Memphis, you definitely want somebody who is your position to be able talk to about what you are going through,” Nichols explained.
A successful outcome on the court predicated by a close person bond is far from a lock. Just ask the 2010 class. According to 247Sports, the Tigers had the best recruiting class in the nation that year with the likes of the Barton brothers, Chris Crawford, Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Jelan Kendrick.
That was a very close-knit group as well. They were all buddy-buddy with each other and not just the local kids. They had all met at camps and had an existing relationship prior to the U of M.
However, the situation when the 2010 class arrived on campus was much different than it has been for the 2013 group. The 2009-10 season ended with a loss in the second round of the NIT, and the pressure to win was at an all-time high. Sure, the 2010 class had a few seniors on the roster to learn the ropes from, but the focus was on that class and how long it would take them to return to the program from one of its nadiral stages back to the pinnacle of college basketball.
Memphis would make the NCAA tournament in 2010-11, but it wouldn’t be until two seasons later that this group would get their first tournament victory. A great deal was expected from the 2010 class, but the foundation just wasn’t there prior to them arriving on campus. Over time, this group molded itself into a winner. Tiger nation was patient, and got rewarded last season with an undefeated record in conference play and a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
So here’s the point. There is no covenant in place promising that the class of 2013, rated as the top class in the American Athletic Conference by 247Sports, will be an instant winner. But here’s the thing; they don’t have to be.
Josh Pastner has done the groundwork and this group now has six seniors to learn from and develop under. The 2013-14 season hasn’t even started yet, and the freshman class is already learning from the veterans.
“You can tell that they (the seniors) have bought into what coach Pastner has said,” added Kuran Iverson. “Everybody is getting it now and listening.”
King praised the seniors for being role models on and off the court, and their role in pushing to freshman to reach the next level.
“They work like they’ve been here and know what they are doing,” Crawford said. “They just set an example for the younger guys to not give up on what you are doing. Just keep pushing through everything.”
Obviously a number of the freshman will contribute and play a major role this season, but the pressure to deliver immediately is not quite as overwhelming as it was three years ago.
This class has time to learn from the talented group already in place at the U of M, and ultimately translate their friendship into a successful product on the court. When a team starts playing for each other rather than themselves, the possibilities are endless.
“As far as right now, I haven’t scored for Memphis, no rebounds or anything,” said Crawford. “For me, it’s just listening to what they have to say. Whatever they have to say, I’m listening. They have so much to teach us in terms of basketball and what we do off the court so I’m going to listen.”