The Memphis Tiger basketball team returned a quintet of talented sophomores for the 2011-12 season and, for the second straight year, welcomed a McDonald’s All-American to the roster. The star power — on paper — led to a preseason national ranking of 11. Among the few things that really aggravate third-year coach Josh Pastner, though, are preseason rankings. “That’s all about recruiting,” he emphasizes. Pastner is more interested in seeing the shape his team takes once talented individuals are allowed to develop as a unit and, hopefully, improve as winter approaches spring.
Pastner front-loaded the U of M schedule with teams destined for the NCAA tournament, and it showed on the Tigers’ record before Christmas. Wins over Belmont, Miami, and Tennessee were offset by losses to Michigan and Georgetown (at the Maui Invitational), a talented (if overlooked in December) Murray State team, then Final Four-bound Louisville and, once again, the Hoyas (this time in D.C.) That second loss to Georgetown prompted a lengthy, team-only meeting in which the Tigers looked carefully at their 6-5 record to try and determine if they were any better.
As it turns out, they were better. Despite an injury in mid-January that sidelined former Melrose star Adonis Thomas — the McDonald’s honoree — the Tigers won 20 of their next 23 games after the meeting in Washington, storming to both Conference USA’s regular season and tournament championships, a double the program hadn’t pulled off since coach John Calipari left for Kentucky after the 2008-09 season.
Three of those core sophomores earned all-conference honors, with Will Barton becoming the first Memphis player to win C-USA’s scoring title and the fourth to be named the league’s Player of the Year. Barton played bigger than his size — that of a shooting guard — would suggest he could, leading the team in rebounding and picking up 11 double-doubles (10 points and rebounds), the most by a Tiger in nine years.
Sophomore center Tarik Black set a single-season Tiger record for field-goal percentage (68.9 percent) and was named to C-USA’s second-team, while sophomore guard Chris Crawford earned third-team honors by leading the team in assists, steals, and three-point field goals.
Despite winning their three games in the C-USA tournament by an average of 25 points, the Tigers were given a relatively low seed (8) for the NCAA tournament. Matched up with a slow-it-down Saint Louis team coached by a man with Final Four credentials (Rick Majerus), the Tigers sputtered on their biggest stage of the season.
Crawford and Joe Jackson (MVP of the C-USA tournament a second season in a row) combined to make only four of 18 shots against the Billikens, with the Tigers as a team missing 13 of 15 three-point attempts. They scored a season-low 54 points and were bounced from the Big Dance in their opening game a second consecutive year.
Barton entered the NBA draft (and was selected with the 40th pick by the Portland Trail Blazers), but Thomas is returning for his sophomore season and will be joined by one of the country’s top recruits, power forward Shaq Goodwin of Decatur, Georgia. When Jackson, Thomas, and Goodwin take the floor together, Tiger fans will see a lineup with three McDonald’s All-Americans in uniform. Will it be enough to earn Pastner his first NCAA tournament win?
Few NBA fan bases endured the league’s labor dispute with more frustration than that of the Memphis Grizzlies. Riding the high of the franchise’s first playoff run (during the 2011 postseason), Grizzly fans anticipated the start of the 2011-12 campaign like none other since the team relocated from Vancouver in 2001. By the time owners and players finally shook hands on a new collective bargaining agreement, the season had been shaved by 16 games, with “opening night” for the Grizzlies coming the day after Christmas.
After a 3-6 start to the season, Memphis reeled off a seven-game winning streak . . . only to lose seven of its next nine games. A knee injury slowed All-Star forward Zach Randolph (who missed 38 games), while reserve forward Darrell Arthur was lost for the entire season, however abbreviated, with a torn ACL. New players — most significantly Marreese Speights and Dante Cunningham — were thrown into the rotation by coach Lionel Hollins, joining the familiar faces from the 2011 run (guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen, forward Rudy Gay, and center Marc Gasol, who played in his first All-Star Game in February).
The Grizzlies won nine of ten games over the last two weeks of February and early March to firmly seize playoff positioning. With Conley (2.2 steals per game) and Allen (1.8) at the vanguard of a pressing, disruptive defense, the Grizzlies stormed their way to a 41-25 finish (the highest winning percentage in franchise history) and the fourth playoff seed in the Western Conference. In another franchise first, Memphis would have home-court advantage for its opening series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then Game 1 happened. Leading All-NBA guard Chris Paul and friends by 24 points in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies collapsed in front of a packed “white-out” crowd at FedExForum. The “Believe Memphis” t-shirts seemed like a desperate plea as Clipper reserve Nick Young began connecting on three-pointers, slicing what seemed like an insurmountable gap in front of a clock that took too long to expire. Gay was able to release a short jumper at the buzzer, only to see it fall away harmless in the 99-98 defeat.
The Grizzlies rebounded to take Game 2 at home, but then dropped the next two in L.A., one by a single point (again), the other in overtime. Facing elimination, Memphis pulled away for a 12-point home win in Game 5, then stormed back in the fourth quarter of Game 6 to win by two at the Staples Center. All of which forced — yes, for the first time — a Game 7 (on Mother’s Day) at FedExForum.
The decisive game was ugly, the final score uglier. The Grizzlies failed to score 20 points in three of the four quarters, but entered the final period leading, 56-55. Memphis shot 32 percent from the floor and missed all 13 of its three-point attempts, while the Clipper bench rose to score all but two of the visitors’ 27 fourth-quarter points. Gay and Gasol were the only Grizzlies to reach double figures in the scoring column (19 points each).
In June, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley announced a preliminary agreement to sell the franchise to California tech magnate Robert Pera. Only 34 years old, Pera made his fortune after leaving Apple (where he was an engineer) and forming Ubiquiti Networks. The sale price of the team is reported to be in the neighborhood of $350 million. Speculation ensued about the possibility of Pera moving the team, though the Grizzlies are bound — through a contract with the city — to remain in Memphis at least through the 2020-21 season.
With the 25th pick in June’s draft, the Grizzlies selected Tony Wroten, a 19-year-old guard who played one season at the University of Washington (where he was named Pac 12 Freshman of the Year). Wroten averaged 16.0 points and 3.7 assists as a Husky and should see playing time as a rookie backup to Conley.
Two recent Memphis Redbirds — Allen Craig and David Freese — played integral roles in helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the 2011 World Series. Despite starting only four of the seven games, Craig hit three home runs and drove in the winning run in three contests. (The Cardinals have played in 18 World Series. Only Craig and Albert Pujols have hit three homers in a single Series.) As for Freese, the St. Louis native became a household name in Game 6 when he delivered a game-tying triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, then homered to lead off the 11th and force a Game 7 (where Freese and Craig delivered the decisive blows to beat the Texas Rangers).
Down here on the farm, the Redbirds enjoyed their fourth straight winning season in 2011 (77-66) under manager Chris Maloney. Nick Stavinoha hit 28 home runs and led the Pacific Coast League with 109 RBIs. The veteran slugger established new franchise records for career games (479), hits (531), homers (74), and RBIs (316).
Closer Victor Marte also entered the Redbirds record book with 31 saves to lead the PCL. Along with pitcher Lance Lynn (7-3 in 2011) and corner infielder Matt Carpenter (.300, 70 RBIs), Marte opened the 2012 season with the parent club in St. Louis. (Lynn earned a spot on the National League All-Star team with 10 wins over the season’s first three months.)
Injuries in St. Louis cut deeply into the Redbirds roster as the 2012 season unfolded. Slugger Matt Adams hit nine home runs and drove in 27 by mid-May, but was recalled by the Cardinals when first-baseman Lance Berkman went down with a knee injury. Two outfielders expected to play regularly at AutoZone Park — Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson — also found themselves on the parent club’s active roster. The result? Two nine-game losing streaks, a five-game slide, and a firm spot in the cellar of their division of the PCL. Even the Cardinals’ top prospect — pitcher Shelby Miller — struggled, going 4-6 with a 5.70 ERA through the end of June.
This fall will mark the dawn of a new era — in more ways than one — for the Memphis Tiger football program. After three dreadful seasons (during which the Tigers went 5-31), Justin Fuente takes over as head coach. The former offensive coordinator at TCU helped mold Andy Dalton into a starting quarterback his rookie season (2012) with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though the Memphis job will be his first as head coach, Fuente doesn’t shy from the challenge he faces.
“There are four fundamental pillars to our program,” he said shortly after the conclusion of spring practice. “Academic integrity, social responsibility, individual accountability, and competitive excellence. In a nutshell, we don’t make excuses.”
For the first time in more than 60 years, the upcoming Tiger football schedule does not include an opponent from the mighty SEC. (“I don’t mind playing them,” says Fuente. “But right now, we’re building this program.”) And starting with the 2013 season, the Tigers will compete as members of the Big East conference, placing the program — for the first time — on the radar of a possible major bowl game or even national-championship playoff. If the darkest days of Tiger football are truly behind, perhaps the arrival of Justin Fuente and the Big East means a bright, new dawn for fall Saturdays.
The Tigers’ 2012 home schedule: UT Martin (Sept. 1), Middle Tennessee (Sept. 15), Rice (Oct. 6), UCF (Oct. 20), Tulane (Nov. 10), Southern Miss (Nov. 24).
Amateur recreational and competitive sports programs in the Memphis area.
compiled by Ashley Neal
Baseball — City of Memphis Division of Parks and Neighborhoods (MDPN) offers Spring and Fall leagues for boys age 5-18. Register March-April or July-August. Seasons run May-July and September-November. Entry fee: $200 per team.
Bartlett Parks and Recreation Department (BPRD) offers leagues for boys age 5-17. Register early February. Season begins in March. Entry fee: $375 per team and $30 for each non-resident or for individuals, $75 per resident and $105 per non-resident.
Collierville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department (CPRCA) offers Fall leagues for boys age 7-14. Register June-July. Season runs August-October. Entry Fee: $95 per Collierville resident for the first child/ $75 each additional child.
Germantown Baseball League (GBL) offers leagues for age 5-18. Register November-February. Season runs March-May. $150-195 per resident and $175-220 non-resident. For more information please visit gblbaseball.org
Basketball — MDPN offers Spring and Fall leagues for boys and girls age 5-18. Register March-April or September-October. Seasons run April-June and November-March. Entry fee: $200 per team.
CPRCA offers recreational and competitive leagues for boys and girls age 7-17. Register in mid-September. Season runs December-March. Entry Fee: $95 per resident for the first child/ $75 each additional child, $145 per non-resident for the first child/ $125 each additional child.
Germantown Parks and Recreation Department (GPRD) offers leagues for boys and girls age 7-14. Register August-September. Season runs November-March. Fee: $95 per resident, $133 per non-resident.
Cheerleading — CPRCA offers recreational leagues for Grades 1-6. Register May-June. Season begins in August. Entry fee: $135.
Germantown Youth Cheerleading offers recreational leagues for Grades K-6. Register in April. Season begins in August. Entry fee: $85 per resident and $122 per non-resident. Contact Craig Melton at email@example.com and 757-7389.
Wings Gymnastics Memphis offers cheer squads for girls Grades 1-6. Register year-round. Season runs September-April. Week-long summer cheer camps. Entry fee: $35 for one child and $50 for two or more. wingsgymnasticsmemphis.com
Football — MDPN offers flag recreational leagues for boys. Register August-September. Season runs September-October. Entry fee: $200 per team.
CPRCA offers recreational leagues for age 6-11. Register May-June. Season begins in September. Entry fee: $185 for the first child/ $145 each additional child. Non-residents $235 for the first child/ $195 each additional child.
Germantown Football League offers team play for age 5-12. Register May-July. Season begins in August. Entry fee: $200 per resident and $280 per non-resident. eteamz.com/GFLfootball
Lacrosse — Memphis Lacrosse League offers year-round team play for Grades K-8. Register January or September. Seasons run February-May, June-July, and October-December. Fees vary. memphislacrosseleague.com
Soccer — MDPN offers four league divisions for boys and girls up to age 12. Register February-March or July-August. Seasons begin in March and September. Entry fee: $200 per team.
MidSouth Futbol Club offers recreational leagues for boys and girls age 4-12 and competitive leagues for boys and girls age 8-19. Registration starts in August. Seasons run August-December and January-June. Fees vary. midsouthfc.org
Legends Germantown Soccer Clubs offer Spring and Fall recreational and competitive leagues for boys and girls age 3-18. Register in December for Spring season or June for the Fall season. Seasons begin in February and August. Entry fee: $100 per child. germantownlegendssoccer.com
Collierville Soccer Association offers recreational leagues for age 4-18 and competitive leagues for age 7-18. Seasons run August-November and February-May. Recreational fee: $110 per season. Competitive fees start at $295 per season. colsoc.com
Softball — MDPN offers leagues in four divisions for girls age 18 and under. Register in early Spring. Season runs May-July. Entry fee: $200 per team.
BPRD offers leagues for girls age 5-17. Register in early February. Entry fee: $75 per resident and $105 per non-resident.
CPRCA offers recreational and competitive leagues for girls age 7-14. Register June-July. Season runs August-October. Entry fee: $95 per Collierville resident for the first child/ $75 each additional child
Gameday Softball League offers divisions for girls age 8-18. Registration starts August 1. Season runs September-October. Entry fee: $75 per player or $300 per team. gamedaysoftball.com
Swimming — MDPN offers teams for boys and girls age 18 and under at designated community centers. Contact Aquatics Department: 547-8018.
Germantown Swim Team offers teams for ages 6 and up. Entry fee: $106 per child. gstswimming.yoursitemate.com
Memphis Tiger Swimming offers a year-round competitive team with professional coaching and instruction for beginners to Olympic level, beginning at age 5. Registration fee: $100 per child. Monthly dues vary by group. memphistigerswimming.com
Tennis — Memphis Public Tennis Centers are owned by the City of Memphis and managed by Tennis Memphis. Three tennis centers — Leftwich, Wolbrecht, and Eldon Roark — are open to the public 7 days per week and offer open court time, adult walk-in clinics, junior programming, league play, tournaments, and private lessons. tennismemphis.org
Volleyball — MDPN offers co-ed leagues for age 14-18. Register February-March. Season runs March-April. No entry fee.
BPRD offers leagues for girls age 11-17. Register in early September. Season runs March-April. Entry fee: $50 per resident and $80 per non-resident.
CPRCA offers leagues for girls grade 3-8. Register July-August. Season runs September-November. Entry fee: $95 per resident for the first child/ $75 each additional child, $145 per non-resident for the first child/ $125 each additional child.
Baseball — GPRD offers leagues for men age 18 and up. Register in April. Season runs May-August. Entry fee: $1,500 per team and $21 per non-resident player.
Basketball — MDPN offers Summer and Fall leagues for men and women age 18 and up. Register April-May or September-October. Seasons run June-August and November-February. Entry fee: $400 per team.
BPRD offers Summer and Fall leagues for men age 18 and up. Register in May for Summer league or September for Fall league. Seasons start in June and October. Entry fee: $500 per team.
CPRD offers leagues for men and women age 18 and up. Register in June. Season begins in July. Entry fee: $550 per team.
Cycling — Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club offers weekly bicycle rides and social events for all ages and skill levels. Many rides do not require membership. Fee: $25 per year for individuals and $40 per year for households. memphishightailers.com
Mid-South Trails Association offers a calendar of racing and mountain-biking events, and detailed maps of Memphis Area Trails. Members receive discounts at many area bicycle shops and work to promote off-road cycling. Fee: $20 per year for individuals and $30 per year for households. midsouthtrails.com
Flag Football — MDPN offers flag recreational league for ages 18 and up. Season begins in October. Entry fee: $600 per team.
CPRCA offers men’s and women’s leagues for participants 18 and up. Register September-October. Season runs October-December. Entry fee: $575 per team. Teams may have only 2 non-Collierville residents per team.
Kickball — MDPN offers leagues for Spring and Fall, age 18 and up. Register in March or August. Seasons run April-August and September-October. Entry fee: $500 per team for Summer, and $350 per team for Fall.
BPRD offers co-ed leagues for age 18 and up. Register in April. Season begins March. Entry fee: $200 per team.
GPRD offers co-ed leagues for age 18 and up. Register in August. Season runs September-November. Entry fee: $275 per team and $6 per non-resident player.
CPRCA offers co-ed and 40 and Older co-ed leagues. Register June-July. Season runs August-October. Entry fee: $175 per team.
Roller Derby — Memphis Roller Derby offers teams for women age 18 and up. Newbie “Boot Camps” and open registration held in January, May, and September. Season runs January-September. Fee: $45 per month. memphisrollerderby.com
Soccer — Greater Memphis Soccer Association offers men’s, women’s, and co-ed leagues for Fall, Spring, Summer, and Indoor, age 16 and up. Fee: $93-123 per season for individuals. memphissoccer.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Softball — MDPN offers leagues for Spring and Fall, ages 18 and up. Seasons run April-August and September-October. Entry fee: $500 per team for Spring, and $350 per team for Fall.
BPRD offers men’s, women’s, and co-ed leagues for Spring and Fall. Register in February and July. Entry fee: $500 per team.
CPRCA offers men’s and co-ed leagues for age 18 and up. Register June-July. Season runs August-October. Entry fee: $550 per team.
GPRD offers men and co-ed leagues for ages 18 and up. Season runs September-November. Entry fee: $425 per team and $11 per non-resident player.
Tennis — Memphis Tennis Association offers year-round leagues for men and women age 18 and up. Runs the local USTA Tennis Leagues. memphista.com
BPRD offers men’s singles and doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. Season begins in March. Fee: $15 per individual.
Track — Memphis Runners Track Club offers a racing schedule of events, retail discounts for running merchandise, training, and weekly workouts. Fee: $25 per year and $45 for two years for individuals and $30 per year and $55 for two years for households. memphisrunners.com
Volleyball — MDPN offers co-ed leagues for ages 18 and up. Season begins in September. Entry fee: $250 per team.
BPRD offers Spring and Summer leagues. Seasons begin in March and June. Entry fee: $150 per team.