If the face of a city's sporting life is its lone big-league operation, then Memphis did a rather nice Picasso impression over the last twelve months. If you have a clear picture on where our NBA outfit is heading, please send word. Sports are never dull, though, in the Bluff City. A little faith, combined with a dose of determination, can take a fan a long way. And remember, it's about the journey.
Ownership turmoil. An injured All-Star. A coaching change. Dwindling attendance. Year six of Memphis Grizzlies basketball was a bitter dose of reality for Mid-South NBA fans. After three straight playoff appearances and the grand-opening of palatial FedExForum merely three years ago, the Griz suffered about as many razor cuts as a professional franchise can be expected to absorb and keep a team on the floor.
When Pau Gasol broke his left foot playing for the Spanish national team in the 2006 World Championships, the local team was destined for stumbling out of the blocks. And stumble they did. By the time Gasol returned on December 15th, the Grizzlies had lost 17 of their first 22 games to all but drop out of the ultra-competitive Southwest Division race. When they proceeded to lose seven of their next eight, third-year coach Mike Fratello was dismissed and replaced with director of player personnel, Tony Barone. (Team president Jerry West — in the last year of his contract — emphasized that Barone would finish the year on an interim basis.) Memphis won three of their first six games under Barone, but didn't win consecutive games until late March and finished the season with the worst record (22-60) and lowest home attendance average (14,654) in the entire NBA.
Silver linings? Mike Miller (who scored a franchise record 45 points in a February loss at Golden State) and Gasol remained steady scoring options and a pair of rookies (Rudy Gay and Tarence Kinsey) showed promise at both ends of the floor, however sporadic at times. Add second-year forward Hakim Warrick and rookie point guard Kyle Lowry — who missed virtually the entire season with a broken wrist — to the mix, and the Griz appear to have a kind of youthful vigor Memphis fans have yet to see on their NBA roster.
Somehow, all the losing on the court was a mild set-up for the disappointment of May 22nd, when the Grizzlies, despite having statistically the best chance at winning, fell to fourth in the NBA draft lottery. The drop in draft position meant Memphis would miss out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, the most acclaimed draftees since LeBron James went to Cleveland in 2003. (With their top selection, the Grizzlies drafted Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. Local hoop fans will have to learn to love Conley, as the son of the Olympic triple-jumper was integral in the Buckeyes' defeat of the Memphis Tigers in the 2007 NCAA tournament.)
The collective mood shifted on May 31st, when the Grizzlies introduced Marc Iavaroni as their new head coach. The 50-year-old Iavaroni had been considered the top head-coach "prospect" in the league (as defined by assistant coaches looking for their first top job). Known for his defensive attention to detail and tight relationships with players, Iavaroni is leaving the Phoenix Suns bench, where he was Mike D'Antoni's top assistant. (The Suns averaged 59 wins the last three seasons.)
The loss of three certifiable stars was not so much as a speedbump for the 2006-07 University of Memphis Tigers basketball team. Running roughshod over the depleted Conference USA, coach John Calipari's troops enjoyed a 25-game winning streak — the longest in school history — on their way to an undefeated league mark of 16-0 and a second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight.
Depth and pace were the operative words for the Tigers, as Calipari used no fewer than six guards in a nine-player rotation built to push the basketball on offense, and suffocate opponents defensively. With a freshman (Willie Kemp) at point guard and a pair of gritty sophomores (Antonio Anderson and all-conference selection Chris Douglas-Roberts) on the wings, the Tigers beat their undermanned C-USA foes by an average margin of 18.5 points. With center Joey Dorsey (the league's Defensive Player of the Year) and Robert Dozier providing rebounding and shot-blocking, Memphis developed into one of the finest defensive teams in the country. A pair of All-Americas — Nick Fazekas of Nevada and Acie Law of Texas A & M — were kept under control in the Tigers' march to the South Regional finals in San Antonio. (Memphis, Florida, and UCLA are the only schools to reach the Elite Eight each of the last two seasons.)
As in 2006, though, the Tigers' dream season ended a game shy of the Final Four. Facing Ohio State (the top-ranked team in the country), the Tigers actually led with 10 minutes to go in the game, only to see the Buckeyes' freshman stars — Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. — take over down the stretch. Even with 26 points from senior Jeremy Hunt in his college finale, Memphis came up on the short end of the 92-76 final score. The U of M finished the season with the same sparkling record of a year ago: 33-4.
One of the top five recruits in the country — point guard Derrick Rose from Chicago — arrives for the 2007-08 season. With Hunt being the only significant loss from last season's rotation, the Tigers stand to gain more national attention and, particularly considering the powder-puff league in which they play, a firm spot in the country's top-10 rankings. Chief among the challenges Calipari will face is how to incorporate three point guards — Kemp, Rose, and Andre Allen — into a rotation where the pace will be fast and furious. Count on the leadership of Anderson and Douglas-Roberts serving as the glue for a team with Final Four aspirations.
The 2006 season was about as bittersweet as they come for a Triple-A baseball franchise. The Memphis Redbirds fluttered to the worst record (58-86) in the nine -year history of the franchise. But looking up a level — and remembering that minor-league baseball is first about development — local baseball fans saw no fewer than 12 former Redbirds in uniform for the St. Louis Cardinals when the parent club won its 10th World Series. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, So Taguchi, Anthony Reyes, Chris Duncan, and Adam Wainwright were among the former Memphis players starring for the Cardinals in their five-game victory over the Detroit Tigers. (Having pitched 89 innings for the Redbirds, Reyes may have been the most compelling story as he retired 17 consecutive Tigers in Game 1.)
Back on the farm, the local club found it impossible to climb out of an 0-9 hole it dug to start the season. Among the season's few highlights were John Gall becoming the franchise's career leader in games played (454) and hits (476) before leaving in mid-summer to play in South Korea. Fans continued to support the club, the best evidence being a Memphis-record 18,302 in attendance for the Fourth of July game.
Considering their struggles, perhaps the best development at the dawn of the 2007 season was the fact that the entire lineup on Opening Day was different from the year before. Having finished last in the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2006 (.243), the Redbirds showed some offensive pop in April and May. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick hit .340 with eight home runs and a league-leading 36 RBIs in just 29 games before earning a promotion to St. Louis (where the Cardinals were hardly in championship form themselves). Former pitching star Rick Ankiel manned centerfield and was near the top of the PCL with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs by the end of June. If the Cardinals continue to slide, Ankiel's power from the left side of the plate may be valuable tonic.
Despite celebrating their 10th season in Memphis, the Redbirds are suffering a six-year playoff drought, the fourth-longest in the 16-team PCL. They gained some positive karma in April by retiring the number — 10, naturally — of the most popular member of the 2000 PCL champions: Stubby Clapp.
The first year of Memphis Tiger Football A.D. (After DeAngelo) was one to be forgotten, and soon. Were it not for a road victory at Texas-El Paso to finish the season, the Tigers would have been winless against Division I-A competition. (The U of M also beat I-AA Chattanooga to finish 2-10). Three years of DeAngelo Williams heroics and bowl appearances felt like a lifetime ago for coach Tommy West, as one ugly loss followed another in the program's worst campaign since the 1-10 nightmare of 1986.
What exactly was the nadir over three months of misery on the gridiron? Perhaps it was the third game of the season, at East Carolina, when Memphis blew a 20-7 lead to an underwhelming Pirate team, largely due to five interceptions thrown by Tiger quarterback Martin Hankins. Two days after the defeat, West fired defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, assuming the defensive playcalling himself for the balance of the season.
Perhaps even worse, though, were a pair of nationally televised drubbings, one to Tennessee (41-7) and another to arch-rival Southern Miss (42-21), both games played in the relative comfort of the Liberty Bowl. Even when fortune seemed to have turned in the Tigers' favor (a blocked field-goal attempt was returned 80 yards to tie a strong Houston team with two minutes to play in their November contest), a kick in the gut remained a part of the script (the Cougars drilled a field goal in overtime to win the game and lock up a spot in the Conference USA championship).
Amid discussion — started by Mayor Willie Herenton in January — of building a new football stadium, West finds himself aiming to get his house in order at the Liberty Bowl for the 2007 campaign. He'll be doing so with six new assistants, including defensive coordinator Rick Kravitz, and Clay Helton assuming the offensive coordinator's job after coaching receivers in 2006. Helton will have some passing weapons at his disposal, as Martin Hankins returns at quarterback, with Duke Calhoun and Carlos Singleton among the downfield receiving threats. On the defensive side of the ball, end Greg Terrell could be the star for Kravitz. Terrell had five sacks and earned C-USA All-Freshman honors in '06.
The 2007 U of M home schedule: Ole Miss (Sept. 1), Jacksonville State (Sept. 15), Marshall (Oct. 2), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 13), East Carolina (Nov. 3), UAB (Nov. 17), SMU (Nov. 24).
PLAY TIME! A starter's list of amateur sports.
compiled by Carson Irwin
Parks and Recreation Offices:
Memphis Division of Park Services (MDPS): 576-4200
North Zone: 2893 N. Watkins, 353-9532
North East Zone: 4575 Raleigh-LaGrange, 388-5911
East Zone: 4585 Willow, 767-4580
West Zone: 4376 Horn Lake, 789-5665
Germantown Parks and Recreation: 757-7375
Germantown Youth Athletic Association (GYAA): 754-4922
Germantown Centre: 757-7370
Collierville Parks and Recreation: 853-3225
Collierville Youth Athletic Association (CYAA): 853-2922
Shelby Youth Sports: 386-9700
Baseball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS offers recreational baseball for children ages 7-14. Coed T-ball has been added for 6 and under. GYAA recreational baseball is divided into age groups: T-ball (5-6), coach pitch (7-8) and youth pitch 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. The season generally consists of 12-16 games and twice-weekly practices beginning in late February and running through mid-June. CYAA provides recreational baseball leagues for kids ages 7-18. Collierville Parks and Recreation's T-ball program is for kids in Collierville ages 5 and 6. For more information contact Jay Porter at 853-3225.
Youth (competitive) — GYAA's competitive baseball program is for boys age 7-14. The Germantown Giants organization runs competitive baseball teams for ages 7 to 14 (7-year-olds play coach-pitch baseball while ages 8 and up are kid-pitch). In addition to the Germantown Giants, Sox and White Sox teams are formed when there are enough participants (generally ages 9 and up). CYAA also organizes competitive baseball for boys ages 7-14.
Germantown Parks and Recreation manages the Germantown Adult Baseball League (GABL), open to men ages 18 and older. The league runs from May through August at Cameron Brown Park.
Basketball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS youth recreational basketball programs are open to boys and girls 18 and under. Registration in September, play begins in November. Call MDPS zone office (see below). Germantown Parks and Recreation organizes leagues for boys (7-17) and girls (7-15).
Youth competitive — CYAA's competitive basketball program provides competition for girls ages12 and under and 14 and under. Four age groups are available for boys: 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, 17 and under.
Adult — The Germantown Centre offers both A and B adult leagues for men ages 18 and older. Play begins in September and lasts through January. Cost: $475/team.
Cheerleading: The GYAA Cheer season corresponds to the GYAA Football season in the Fall. Cheer divisions are by grade, not age, and are Flag (K-1st grade), Pee Wee (2nd-3rd grade) and Junior (4th, 5th, and 6th grades). Collierville Parks and Recreation has cheerleading teams open to boys and girls ages 4-15.
Football: MDPS offers flag football for both boys and girls, in six age groups (14 and under). Registration in August, play begins in late September. Contact your local zone office. GYAA recreational football is for ages 5 and up. Divisions consist of Flag (5-7), Pee Wee (8-9) and Junior (10-11 plus 12-year-olds who are not 13 by Dec. 1st and are not in the 7th grade). Contact GYAA. CYAA offers football leagues in flag, peewee, and junior divisions. Visit www.cyaafootball.com for more info.
Golf: MDPS operates seven public courses: Audubon (4160 Park, 683-6941); Davy Crockett (4270 Range Line Rd., 358-3375); Fox Meadows (3064 Clarke Rd., 362-0232); Galloway (3815 Walnut Grove, 685-7805); Overton, 9 holes (2080 Poplar Ave., 725-9905); Pine Hill (1005 Alice Ave., 775-9434); M.L. King, Jr., 9 holes (465 South Parkway West, 774-4340). Contact the golf department of MDPS for more information (576-4260).
Hockey: Youth — The Memphis Youth Hockey League (MYHL) is composed of three divisions for kids ages 6 to 18. Competition from October through March. For information, call MYHL Chairman Russ Beatse (861-3600) or go to www.memphisyouthhockey.com.
Lacrosse: Memphis Lacrosse runs a youth program in spring, summer, and winter for kids in K-8th grade. Registration for the spring is in January, and the season runs from February to May. The summer season runs from June through July. The winter indoor league holds registration in September, and plays in October and November. Contact Pat Demento (820-0145).
For kids in grades 8-12, clubs compete under the Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association (there are currently 8 teams). Fees vary; call Ed Reynolds (277-2991).
Soccer: The MDPS runs a Youth Soccer League with three divisions (12 and under, 10 and under, 8 and under) during the spring. In the fall, MDPS offers a league for youths, ages 6 and under. Participants can pick up registration materials at any zone office in mid-July. Team roster deadline is early August. Play will begin August 27th and continue into the fall. For more information contact your local zone office. The Germantown Soccer Club runs recreational and competitive soccer programs for boys and girls. Registration for the fall recreational league is from May to August, with the season running from September through November. Registration for the spring recreational league is from late December to February, with the season running from March through May. Teams are open for children ages 4 to 18, and there is a sign-up fee. Tryouts for the competitive league, which is split into two divisions (Arsenal and Fury), are held in May and June for ages 8 to 18. Please call the soccer office (755-6688) or go to www.gscfury.com for sign-up fees and more information. You can register online for recreational league. Both competitive and recreational youth soccer are organized by the Collierville Soccer Association. Spring and fall leagues are offered. Call 854-8724 or visit www.colsoc.com for more info.
Adult — The Greater Memphis Soccer Association plays regulation seasons in the fall and spring and has a seven-on-seven summer league. Games are played at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex, and 50 to 55 teams are divided into four men's and three coed divisions. Players ages 16 and up are welcome; individual registration will take place in July. The average cost is $90 per person per season. Access the GMSA at www.memphissoccer.com or call Curt Rogers (489-0553).
The Hispanic League, founded in 1997, is made up of around 50 teams of mostly Hispanic membership. They play every Sunday year-round in Memphis city parks; in the winter, games are held indoors. For more information about playing, contact Ivan Lopez (603-2982).
Softball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS offers four divisions that compete from May to July, with registration in early spring. Girls ages 18 and under create their own teams and play in the fall and spring leagues. For fees and more information, contact your local zone office. GYAA recreational softball is for ages 5 to 18. Divisions are Fawns (5-7, coach pitch), Lassies (8-10), Juniors (11-13), and Seniors (14-18). Play from April to July. CYAA also provides recreational softball teams for girls ages 7 through 18.
Youth (competitive) — The Red Devils organization fields teams in all age divisions from 10U to 18U. CYYA organizes a softball league for girls under 18. Season runs from April to July.
Adult — MDPS organizes approximately 300 teams that compete from April through July, followed by a citywide tournament. Games are played every night except Saturday. The fall softball league starts registration in August. The cost is $250. The season begins in September and ends with a tournament. To register or get information about organizing a team, call the MDPS.
Special Olympics: The sports program for mentally handicapped youth is run by the Greater Memphis Special Olympics organization. It offers training and participation in regional, state, and national competition. Contact GMSO for more info (683-1271).
Swimming: Youth (ages 5-18) — Club teams swim competitively year-round and offer practices for novices through Olympic hopefuls. Fees vary. Memphis Thunder Aquatic Club, 1880 Wolf River Blvd., St. George's High School, Collierville (www.memphisthunder.com). Germantown Swim Team, 1801 Exeter Rd., Germantown Centre (757-7390) (www.gstswimming.com). Memphis Tiger Swimming, 620 Echles, University of Memphis (678-2809) (www.memphistigerswimming.com). Bartlett Xtreme Swim Team (BXST), 7700 Flaherty Place, Bartlett Recreation Center (385-6470).
Adult — Memphis Thunder, Germantown Centre, Memphis Tigers, and Bartlett Xtreme offer masters practices for adults ages 18 and over year-round. Fees vary. Contact coaches for information.
The MDPS (576-4200) operates several city pools, which are all free to the public. Each pool also offers swim lessons and teams for both children and adults. Sessions are 45 minutes for 2 weeks and cost $25 per session for children and $48 per session for adults. Contact the MDPS Aquatics Administration (547-8018).
MDPS pool locations: Bickford (indoor; 235 Henry); L.E. Brown (617 S. Orleans); Douglass (1616 Ash); Fox Meadows (3064 Clarke Rd.); Ed Rice (2907 N. Watkins); Gaisman (4223 Macon); Gooch (1974 Hunter); Hickory Hill (indoor; 3910 Ridgeway); Lester (Tillman at Mimosa); Tom Lee (328 Peach); Charlie Morris (1235 Brown); Orange Mound (2430 Carnes); Pine Hill (973 Alice); Raleigh (3678 Powers); Riverview (182 Joubert); Westwood (810 Western Park); Willow (4777 Willow).
Tennis: MDPS operates seven local tennis centers: Leftwich, 8 outdoor courts, 4 indoor (4145 Southern Ave.); Wolbrecht, 6 outdoor, 2 indoor (1645 Ridgeway); Roark/Whitehaven, 8 outdoor, 4 indoor (1500 Finley); Bellevue, 4 outdoor, 2 indoor (1310 S. Bellevue Blvd.); Frayser, 8 outdoor (2907 N. Watkins); Wooddale, 8 outdoor (3391 Castleman); Raleigh, 8 outdoor (3680 Powers).
Many parks contain tennis facilities as well: Bert Ferguson (8505 Trinity), Gaisman (4221 Macon), Glenview (1813 Southern), Hickory Hill (3910 Ridgeway), Martin Luther King, Jr. (South Parkway at Riverside), University (University at Edward).
The MDPS coordinates a variety of tennis-related activities including the Memphis Area League Tennis (MALT), a citywide adult program; adult and youth (ages 6-18) clinics; private lessons; and a Junior Development Program. For more information call the Tennis Center (374-0603).
Germantown also coordinates leagues, lessons, and camps. Contact Bryan Rogers, head tennis professional (212-5583), for more information.
Volleyball: In the spring, MDPS serves up volleyball to 18-and-under girls and boys. Registration starts in January, with play in April. Zone offices have more information. The Germantown Parks and Recreation Department also coordinates leagues for girls (ages 5-18) as well as adults. All matches are played at the Germantown Centre (757-7379). Contact Germantown Parks and Recreation for info.
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