When 14,000 Tiger fans gathered this past weekend (Jan. 18), they thought that they were merely attending a basketball game. As they filed into the FedExForum, little did they know that they were stepping into a time machine for a trip to the future.
The game began much like all the others, with the regular starters taking the floor for the opening tip. Yet, it didn't take long to reach 88 miles per hour! Suddenly, everyone in attendance was witnessing the future of the Tiger basketball program right before their eyes.
Heading into the season, Memphis had claimed one of the nation's top recruiting classes. However, four senior guards, a senior transfer (David Pellom), and a sophomore standout (Shaq Goodwin) have kept many of the highly talented players on the bench.
Not known for a deep rotation, Coach Josh Pastner usually only deploys seven, maybe eight, players; however, this was no normal game.
Memphis usually plays The LeMoyne-Owen College in an early season exhibition game, but a scrimmage with Baylor this year made it impossible to schedule both CBU and LeMoyne-Owen.
A promise from one coach to another kept LeMoyne-Owen on the Tigers' schedule. And after Memphis' recent home loss to UConn, it was a perfect time for a bounce-back game.
"I wanted to play everyone, get minutes for the young guys," Pastner said. And that's just what he did. Freshmen Nick King (23), Kuran Iverson (22), Austin Nichols (19), and Dominic Woodson (16), all played big minutes. Sophomore Damien Wilson(16) also saw plenty of action.
As expected, the Tigers handled the Magicians with ease and won 101-78. The game didn't have the same atmosphere as a conference game, but those in attendance got a glimpse into the future. And boy, is it bright!
Nick King looked spectacular in his 23 minutes, scoring 18 points and grabbing 5 rebounds, while committing no turnovers. Kuran Iverson totaled 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals while also only playing just over half the game.
Iverson and King look to be very promising for the Tigers, but there is still more to look forward to for the True Blue Nation. Two other top recruits, Pookie Powell (academic ineligibility) and Markel Crawford (injury), won't even see the court until next year.
It's enough to make one forget that Memphis still has 14 regular season games remaining this season. And for many of these gifted young prospects, that means back to the bench.
It has to be exasperating going from playing all the minutes in high school to stepping into a program where their services aren't needed immediately.
After the game, that frustration was voiced when Iverson said, "Sometimes I wonder why I'm on the bench." Yet, he was quick to follow that with, "but I know I have to be patient."
Nick King also understands the process, calling this a "learning year."
Regardless of how the Tigers finish this season, the True Blue Nation came take solace in the words of Pastner.
"The future bodes well for us."
As for now, the Tigers seem to have their swagger back as they head into another AAC match-up this Thursday with an old C-USA foe, the Houston Cougars.