5 Reasons the Grizz are better with Battier

Only Battier could get away with wearing red on his shoes in his Grizzlies return.

While the scores won’t be as lopsided as the 120-92 shellacking of Sacramento the Grizzlies dropped Saturday, the Memphis blue bears are a much improved team after moving Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and a draft pick while acquiring Shane Battier and Ish Smith.

The price may seem high, especially if Battier is not resigned after the season ends, but the end result is a team that has a very good chance of finally bringing Memphis a playoff victory – and here’s why.

5) PR Bonanza

What happens when you trade away the most hated player in franchise history for the most beloved player in franchise history?

Fan euphoria.

It was on display extensively last night. Rudy Gay, who, it could be argued, was never fully embraced by fans because Battier had to leave so he could come, introduced Battier to a raucous ovation to start the game. The applause was even bigger when Battier finally checked in.

“When I first checked in, my initial reaction was ‘take it in, soak it in,'” Battier said, “But after about two seconds I realized I had no idea what I was doing out there and I hoped I didn’t embarrass myself.”

Not only was the crowd louder and rowdier, it was bigger too. Almost 17,000 (at least 3,000 more than average) people showed up to see a Tyreke-less game against the Kings. That number is just below Laker-game levels.

And it makes a difference. Hollins put Battier in early when the Grizzlies were trailing, hoping the crowd would get into it and give the team a boost.

Did they ever. The crowd enthusiasm was at a level rarely seen, and it stayed that way for the entire game. Meanwhile the Grizzlies won by 28 without Rudy Gay.

It was playoff enthusiasm. It is something that would not have been there without Battier.

Because this is how Memphians view him.

4) Battier is focused on getting a playoff win

He said it in his introductory conference, and he said it last night. Shane Battier sees this opportunity in Memphis as a second chance. A second chance to get the one thing that he never delivered when he was there the first time, the one thing that stayed so far out of reach that Jerry West left and Chris Wallace decided to blow up the team by shipping Pau Gasol to Los Angeles.

The playoff win.

At his presser Battier was talking about how badly he and the team wanted it then and went on about how important it is to get it now. Last night he talked about it again.

With the Spurs looming tonight, Battier discussed the game as a chance to get familiar with a team they may face in the postseason.

“You have to start preparing yourself for a playoff mentality now,” he said. “You have to start looking at all the little things and finding what works and what doesn’t. If you’re going to make a playoff run you start preparing now.”

Battier is putting in the mental effort already, but does his veteran presence and attitude rub off on the other players?

3) Battier’s veteran presence and attitude rubs off on the other players

Battier's presence will be felt far beyond his stat line.

Before the Battier trade, the Grizzlies were slowly becoming Tony Allen’s team. He wasn’t the high scorer, he wasn’t even starting in most games, but he was the glue guy. He was the guy coming in and pushing everyone to a higher level.

It’s become clear lately that J-Will is surprisingly having a similar effect. And now there’s Battier.

“It’s great to have another role man in the locker room,” Marc Gasol told me last night. “The more we have the better. It’s the kind of thing that gets everybody going and gets everyone in the right mindset.”

Battier has consistently said that the Grizzlies are “Rudy’s team.” But right now they are a team. In the locker room and on the court, the team with Battier has a lot more, as Hollins so eloquently put it, “settle-ness.” It just feels right.

2) The Grizzlies are, again, built 10 deep

Right now the 10 deep at small forward includes Rodney Carney, but when Rudy Gay comes back the Grizzlies will have a complete second unit that is starting to show it can be good enough to allow Hollins to park himself in a chair and hang out.

In 2004 and 2005, the Grizzlies were able to make the playoffs on the backbone of a very strong bench. With the acquisition of Battier, this team has a bench almost if not just as good as those teams, and, with Gay, a much better starting 5.

When these two are both in uniform, look out.

Last year one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses was the way the starters dominated the box score and the bench produced little to nothing. Now it’s spreading out and there’s no glaring weakness in the roster. Mostly because…

1) Hasheem Thabeet is GONE

Pictured: Something nobody misses.

This was the most glaring weakness in the roster. By far. Also it kept Haddadi on the bench. While Hollins has said that Haddadi needs to “get in shape” and “learn the plays” he was still much better last night than Thabeet ever was.

Hollins doesn’t have to look at his bench and figure out a way to put Thabeet in the game. Chris Wallace and Heisley don’t have to keep making excuses for why they wasted a #2 pick on a player who, will now likely take Brian Cardinal’s title of “worst Grizzly ever.”

He was never liked. Fans were recording songs begging Wallace not to draft him, and while, recently, the crowd has begun to treat him with some love during games, it was the kind of love a parent gives for their child who, bless their heart, just doesn’t get the effing game.

Few things united Grizzly fans like their hatred of Thabeet. A few things like a love for Shane Battier and dreams of a playoff win.

Two of those things are all right in Grizz Country now, and signs are pointing to the third being just beyond the horizon.

Doug Gillon covers the Grizzlies for Memphisport. You can follow him via Twitter @douggillon. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow  @memphisport@cerrito, and @chasingphoto.

Story photos by Justin Ford and Chase Gustafson.

Carney’s 10 Day Trip Home

In the spirit of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, I decided to hand out an Oscar of my own.

If Saturday’s Grizzlies domination of the Sacramento Kings was a film, the title might look something like “Battier’s Speech”, “The Trade Network”, or “The Fighter: Starring Shane Battier.”

Each of the films you could have guessed by now focused on the night’s main character, Shane Battier, and his triumphant return to help bolster a Memphis squad pushing for playoff position.

If Battier starred in the lead role, Rodney Carney won Best Supporting Player.

How He Got Here

The Memphis born Carney has bounced around the league becoming what has been known a “journeyman” of the NBA.

Drafted by the Bulls in the 2006 NBA Draft, the 16th pick was traded to the 76ers for the exchange of the 13th pick, Thabo Sefolosha.

Carney spent his first season in Philadelphia seeing limited action on the floor, he averaged just over 3 points and 1 rebound per game during the fall of his rookie season.

Things got better for Carney following the departures of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber.

Rodney became a starter and his averages rose but not to any great heights.

The roller-coaster career took Carney to Minnesota in 2008 where Carney played one season before being offered a spot back in Philadelphia for a short spell in September of 2009.

366 days later, Carney signed a contract that led him to the west coast to join the Golden State Warriors.

Four months later… he was released.

As we circle back around to the present day, we find Carney back home in Memphis where he is known not for his NBA career, but rather the four years he spent playing downtown at FedEx Forum.

While at Memphis, Rodney became a fan favorite immediately after making the C-USA All-Freshman team in 2003 and led the team in scoring two seasons later.

Carney was named C-USA Player of the Year following the 2005-2006 season before he led the Tigers to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers lost 50-45 to UCLA in one of the lowest scoring games ever played in tournament history.

Carney finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 steal in what would be his worst/last game in a Tigers uniform.

Maybe it was a sign of things to come.

The Carney story has been a tough one to watch for those die hard fans of Memphis who sport both the blue/gray and blue/gold at the Forum.

Even his return to Memphis didn’t quite play out like he may have wanted.

Back Home in the Bluff City

10 days is what the Memphis front office promised Carney after he was picked up by the Grizzlies last Tuesday and given a contract that is set to expire later next week.

Carney’s first game with the Grizzlies fell on “Welcome Back Shane Battier Night.”

Shane entered the game in the first half to a standing ovation while Carney watched from the bench.

Battier struggled to find the bucket until late in the second half which extended the “Oohs” and “Aahs” till his first points back as a Grizzlies were made.

Fans chanted “Carney, Carney, Carney” for several possessions before Coach Hollins answered the call and pointed back at Rodney telling him to get in the game.

But it still wasn’t going to be a perfect homecoming.

Carney walked over to the scorers table and took off his warm-up as the crowd stood and cheered, but it was all for nothing as the officials took a timeout that took the buzz out of the building.

Regardless, Carney’s expression didn’t change as he entered the game out of the timeout.

Maybe luck was falling back his way as he found himself underneath the basket with a loose ball that he dropped in for a deuce less than one minute into his debut.

And although he didn’t show it, I got the sense sitting court-side that he felt right at home on the court downtown.

Maybe the story will simply be a bitter sweet homecoming for a man who has bounced around more than the ball he plays with as he passes the half-way point of his contract.

It remains to be seen if the Grizzlies will opt to re-sign Carney to a longer deal or if he will be released following the next 4 days but however it turns out, he says he’ll accept his role and do what he can to fight for the Grizzlies’ cause.

Brennan Somers is a regular contributor to Memphisport. You can follow him on Twitter @brennansomers. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow @memphisport, @douggillon, @cerrito, and @chasingphoto.

Story photo by Justin Ford.

 

 

 

 

Battier’s Back!

Shane Battier is back and Grizz fans are all smiles.

The player Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace called “the most popular in franchise history” is back in town – officially.

Shane Battier took to a makeshift stage in the FedExForum lobby today with Wallace and newly acquired guard Ishmael Smith in front of a full compliment of media and Grizzlies sales staff, along with a public gallery boasting about 50 people.

“This is huge,” a ticket rep sitting in the media gallery said. “To this day I still get people telling me they would buy tickets again if Shane was here, and talking about how much they loved Shane.”

Well now, thanks to a trade announced yesterday in which the Grizzlies sent much-maligned center and former #2 pick Hasheem Thabeet, permanent bench warmer DeMarre Carroll and a lottery-protected first round pick to Houston for Battier and guard Ishmael Smith, those fans have their favorite Grizzly back in town.

The approval was obvious. Wallace has, at other times, tried to force excitement into press conferences (“We brought Xavier Henry back to Memphis!”), but this time none was necessary. The love was all around.

The love wasn’t lost on Battier. The 6-8 forward was greeted to raucous applause when he entered, and many in the media gallery, including Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and his ever-present sidekick Kevin Kane, stood up to welcome him.

“Shane have you been here before?” Grizzlies TV announcer Pete Pranica asked sarcastically.

Battier had some sarcasm himself, saying he was glad to be able to continue wearing his trademark number 31, although he was worried that “Darko may have retired the jersey.”

Wharton kept up the humor, poking fun at the regime change that has taken place since Battier last donned a Grizzlies uniform, and the crowd was eager to laugh and clap at anything Battier had to say.

But when it came to basketball, wit was more reserved.

“It’s rare to get a second chance in life, and especially in the NBA,” Battier said. “I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity and bring some playoff success here to Memphis.”

Outside of the crowd clamoring, the mayor beaming and the city just, in general being overly gleeful about the return of Battier the person, Battier the player brings a lot to a team clawing for its first playoff win, especially now that franchise forward Rudy Gay will miss at least three more weeks with a shoulder injury.

Battier beams from the crowd love, Ish Smith is happy to be there.

In the two games without Gay, coach Lionel Hollins has used an abundance of talent at the shooting guard position to fill in the gap, but it left the team’s lineup lacking in size.

“We needed a true small forward and Shane was the best guy to get,” Wallace said. “We would have done this trade whether Rudy had been healthy or not.”

In addition to adding size, Battier brings excellent perimeter defense and offense to the team, two things which have been sorely lacking. Teams like Chicago, Golden State, and Battier’s former team, Houston, have exploited the Grizzlies’ difficulty covering the perimeter and inability to score from the perimeter for big wins.

“This team already has strengths, they score a lot of points in the paint,” Battier said. “But we have to have guys who can stretch the floor. I’m going to do the same thing I did here five years ago – stretch the floor and make guys pay for double-teaming Zach.”

Battier will likely be the go-to player at the small forward position until Rudy Gay’s return, but will just as likely be filling in for Gay when the Grizzlies franchise player returns.

This is interesting as Battier was originally traded to Houston so the Grizzlies could acquire Gay. While Battier admits to “maybe preparing a little harder and practicing a little more” for games against the Grizzlies, he says there is no delusion as to his role on this team.

Battier smiles at grizzlies press conference

So far there is no negativity from Battier. "It's Rudy's team" he says. "I'm just happy to keep the ship afloat."

“It’s Rudy’s team,” he said, “He’s the franchise guy. I’m just here to keep the boat afloat while he’s out and help the team push forward when he comes back.”

The push forward (read: playoffs) is the focus. Battier won playoff games in Houston. Even won a series. Never happened in Memphis, and that’s what has Battier talking about second chances.

“We wanted to win a playoff game so bad for the fans, especially one at home,” he said. “We want them to taste what that feels like. Maybe even to win a series. Playoff basketball is the next level.”

And that’s what Battier is here for. Battier’s stay could last the rest of his career, or it could last just a few months as his contract expires at the end of this season. Both Battier and Wallace were tight lipped about Battier’s future with the team.

“It’s like that old Redskins coach used to say, ‘the future is now.’ And that’s how we looked at this.”

That must have been Wallace’s attitude going into the trade. Wallace had been talking with the Rockets about Battier for months, but was reluctant to make the deal happen immediately because the Rockets would not budge on the Grizzlies including a protected lottery pick.

At the final hour, Wallace and Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley decided to go ahead and give up the pick, which is lottery protected but cannot be used before 2013, and bring Battier home. Since then it’s been unicorns and rainbows, at least from the fans.

Lost in all the love for Battier is guard Ishmael Smith, who was also acquired in the deal. Smith, who worked out for the Grizzlies several times last summer, becomes the fourth point guard on the Grizzlies on the Grizzlies roster, part of yet another logjam in the Grizzlies back court.

Smith was polite as he played Robin to Battier’s Batman, but noted that for him, the most exciting part of coming to Memphis was another blast from the past: Jason Williams.

“I’m going to have to work hard to earn any minutes, but the big thing will be learning from [Williams],” he said. “I’ve been a fan of his for a long time.”

The connection Williams and Battier share, as both members of the Grizzlies last playoff team and now this team, is lost on no one. A picture of the two in the old Grizzlies uniforms sat next to the stage, and Battier when approached by the media hordes after his public talk, made the Blues Brothers reference that many have made since news of the trade became official:

“We’re getting the band back together!”

Fans are happy to see both Battier and Williams back, it gives them a connection to this team and to these players. Williams has, so far, been a positive to the franchise. Logic dictates that Battier will also give quite a boost.

And with all these shorelines and second chances floating around, perhaps Memphis and the Grizzlies will be the ones to finally have a happy ending.

Pick up the current issue of Memphisport to see our 9 question interview with Battier to learn about his aspirations as an NBA general manager. The magazine is available for free at Kroger, Huey’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, the Flying Saucer and other participating locations around the Mid-South.

Doug Gillon covers the Grizzlies for Memphisport. You can follow him via Twitter @douggillon. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow  @memphisport@cerrito, and @chasingphoto.

Story photos by Justin Ford.

MSL’s Annual Oscars Handicapping Special 2011

Oscarologist Greg Akers joins  Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter in studio on MSL to preview and predict the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.

AUDIO:

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Click here to download MSL’s Annual Oscars Handicapping Special 2011

Click here for more MSL interviews.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host Memphisport Live (MSL) every Tuesday at 6:00 PM on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Show in the 2010 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll. Listen to full episode podcasts here.

Memphisport Live: 2.23.11

Hour 1:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk about the NBA trade deadline, Joe Jackson’s lack of playing time,  Jerry “the King” Lawler’s unsuccessful world title attempt, and more during the Starting 5. Plus, the guys give away a Harrah’s Tunica prize pack to the winner of another entertaining edition of Hang Up & Listen.

Click here to listen to Hour 1 of the 2.23.11 MSL

Hour 2:

MSL transforms into the “Best Oscars handicapping show in the Mid-South” when Oscarologist Greg Akers joins Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter in studio to preview and predict the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Plus, the guys discuss the Tiger basketball student section and the possible relocation of the Sacramento Kings during Woohoo’s and Boo’s.

Click here to listen to Hour 2 of the 2.23.11 MSL

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host Memphisport Live every Tuesday at 6:00 PM on Sports 56 WHBQ. Memphisport Live was voted 3rd Best Sports Show in the 2010 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.

Battier returns, Thabeet leaves

The Grizzlies were crazy active at the trade deadline, dealing away fan-hated big man Hasheem Thabeet and re-acquiring fan-favorite Shane Battier. Another trade involving O.J. Mayo and Pacers forward Josh McRoberts was discussed but not finished in time.

The deal with Houston is reported to be as such…

Houston sends forward SHANE BATTIER and guard ISHAMEL SMITH to Memphis.
Memphis sends center HASHEEM THABEET and a FIRST ROUND PICK to Houston.

A deal involving O.J. Mayo and Josh McRoberts was discussed and reported but not finalized by the trade deadline.

Battier makes around $2M more than Thabeet on the current contract.

Things to watch: Battier’s contract is expiring, meaning if Memphis does not re-sign him, they will have again given up draft picks in exchange for about 20-25 games from a swingman in a trade.

And if he is signed for the long term, I'll probably never get to run this again.

Also interesting will be to see how Mayo reacts to the fact that he was very publicly ALMOST traded for very little.

Ishmael Smith is pretty much a non-factor here. He has rarely played and spent some time in the d-league this season after being signed as a free agent.

I’m sure fans will be excited to see Battier and Jason Williams back together on the court. It is 2011, not 2005, but at least part of the band has been put back together.

Offside Thursday/Wow, we’re a bad bad hockey team

Well, not another great weekend for the Kings. Two games, two defeats. We got are #*# whipped last weekend. Did I expect more? No, not really. A person can hope, right.

I don’t understand this, the RiverKings waived forward Jeff Christian. Shouldn’t of  happened 20 games ago. Maybe we could have traded for two players back then. Good luck to Jeff and his family. This just in…News Flash…Jeff gets picked up by Evansville. Hmmm…maybe a coaching job for him next season. Jeff didn’t have the season, he has had in the past. 52 games,14 goals, 25 assists for 39 points.

Saturday

Boy, I dislike the Eagles. But hey, they always put a winning team on the ice, unlike the Kings.

Colorado spanked us 5-1 in Eagle country on Saturday night. The Eagles Glasser scored first at 5:32, then 43 seconds later Andrej Hebar’s found the twine behind Kings goaltender Alexander Pechurskiy at 6:15. It was 2-0 Eagles after twenty minutes of play.

The Kings got on the board in the second period pereiod on a deflection by Maslonka at 12:02. The Eagles incresed the lead as Riley Nelson scored at 17:15 and then scored again with only 38 seconds left in the period. It was 4-1 Eagles after forty.

In the third period, Eagles Hebar scored again, this time on a penalty shot, it was 5-1 Eagles. That’s the way it stayed for the rest of the night. A collossal 5-1 whipping by the Eagles.

I get tired of writing this one, Mississippi was 0-for-4 on the powerplay, Colorado was 1-for-6. The Eagles dominated the game they outshot the RiverKings 36-26. Pechurskiy stopped 31 of 36 shots directed his way. Eagles netminder Kyle Jones stopped 25 of 26 shots directed his way.

Mississippi has a record of 24-24-4.

What’s up next up for the RiverKings. Tulsa is in town Friday and Saturday night.Start time is at 7:05 pm at the DeSoto Civic Center. Friday is “Go Red For Women” night for the American Heart and Strok Association, Saturday’s game supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Friday

What a load of crap, seriously folks. We lose 5-2 to the Wichita Thunder on Friday night.What a joke.

Wichita got on the scoreboard first as A.J. Gale found the back of the net with 36 seconds left in the first period. It was 1-0 Thunder after twenty minutes of play.

The Thunder walked all over the Kings in the second period as they scored two more. Mike Looby scored at 2:02 and Troy Schwab scored at 19:33. It was 3-0 Thunder after forty minutes of play.

Mississippi finally got on the board early in the third period on a goal from Matt Summers at 1:38. Wichita put the game away on a goal from Jesse Bennefield at 3:18. Bennefield did again at 8:30 of the third period, it was 5-1 Thunder. The Kings would one more as Levesque scored at 10:41. The final 5-2 Thunder.

Sterling stopped 31 of 36 shots directed his way. The Thunder were 1-for-5 on the powerplay.Mississippi was 0-for-6.

Joe Sports thoughts

Wow, we’re a bad bad hockey team.

The Kings are bad, But Are They Still The Worst Team Ever? Email me at:

joesports@ymail.com

So let the tanking continue from now until the end of the season. The players need to stop partying, if you get my drift.

I’ll never root against the Kings. From now on I won’t be too upset when they lose. Seldom has rooting for my fav team been so complicated.

Is it time for this ?

That’s the way I see it and I’m Joe Sports.

It’s time for Offside Thursday.

Devils bench boss Jacques Lemaire recently reached a milestone notching his 600th NHL coaching win. No one was awake to see it.

Although it was the most lopsided NHL outdoor game yet played 4-0 Flames over the Habs, it sure looked like nobody left the park until the 50/50 winning ticket was announced with seven minutes left.Hope you didn’t throw out that ticket. No one has claimed the prize. It’s worth over $70,000 bucks !!

NFL great Joe Montana’s son Nate has left the Fighting Irish for the Grizzlies in Missoula. This means he’ll have Montana on the front and back of his jersey. He may not know if he’s coming or going.

The LPGA is allowing transgendered competitors this year, in part because of a suit filed by former male police officer Lana Lawless. It seems they fought the Lawless and the Lawless won.

Jeopardy-winning supercomputer Watson made an error in naming Toronto a U.S. city. An even bigger mistake? It thought the Raptors were an NBA team.

Soviet-born beauty Irina Shayk, who is dating Cristiano Ronaldo, is the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model. Even Colonel Klink would love this Russian front.

Great line from Mike Keane on the Manitoba Moose retiring his jersey: “I’m probably going to cry because I’ll be remembering the time I was playing with Tommy Maxwell and he dumped the puck in on a 3-on-1.” Sounds like something the Kings would do.

Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera was arrested in Florida for driving while intoxicated. The County Sheriff’s Department confirmed they put a Tiger in their tank.

An Ottawa radio station says NHL fans were betrayed by Carrie Underwood ‘luring Mike Fisher to Nashville’ and will no longer play her music.

Here’s a better idea for suffering fans; ban the Senators from playing.
Here’s a look at the latest videos making the rounds on YouTube this week.

Canadian girl from Winterpeg(Winnipeg) girl covers Lady Gaga

10-year-old Maria Aragon became a YouTube sensation this week after covering Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Lady Gaga herself has become a fan, saying “Can’t stop crying watching this, this is why I make music. She is the future.”

Hipsters and Arcade Fire

We love Arcade Fire…but some can take things too seriously.

Alex presents: Commando

There are a lot of misconceptions about Africa. We’ve been embedded with images of famine, war and disease by many non-profit companies for a long time. Mama Hope has decided to re-humanize Africa with a series of videos that feature the shared traits that make us all human. In the first video, Alex explains the film, “Commando.”

World’s Fastest Game of Hide and Seek

There is something so inspiring when children are fully enthralled in their time of play. Their excitement and imagination transport themselves to another world where a simple game of Hide and Seek bring pure satisfaction; despite lack of concealed space.

James Earl Jones, Baby

James Earl Jones stopped by the Gayle King show this week and read lyrics to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” on air. His baritone vocals took some juvenile lyrics of heartbreak and transformed them into a prestigious story of loss and regret.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkDbTEemErA&feature=player_embedded

Animatronic Eye Mechanism

If the brilliance of Watson on Jeopardy! last week didn’t conjure up the idea that robotic humanoids may eventually take over Earth, maybe this video will bring you up to speed at the possibility. Like Ken, we welcome our new computer overlords

This guy is good or what?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8KqD2JlzIA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6DkBehMKU8&feature=related
That’s it for today, enjoy the Kings games this weekend.

I’m Joe Sports.

Picture of the day!! We’ve come along way from the first computer.

Roddick wins 30th in Memphis

A bloodied and stunned Andy Roddick hosted the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships trophy Sunday evening after defeating Milos Raonic in Memphis 7-6(7), 6-7(11), 7-5. In a thrilling 3 hour, 3 set blast fest, it took a diving forehand winner that left Roddick bloodied and bruised to capture his 30th singles tournament.

Tigers’ streak goes sour quickly

The loss at SMU was bad, but it’d happened before, so maybe that made it bearable. The loss at Marshall was bad, but it was just a bad game against an OK team. The loss to Tulsa was bad, but the Tigers followed it up with four straight wins, so maybe it was just a fluke.

But Memphis’ 67-52 loss to Rice on Saturday was bad because, well, it was completely awful.

The Tigers, riding a four-game winning streak, had somehow built a solid RPI in the 20s and crept back onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. ESPN’s resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi even had Memphis among the “Last Four In” late last week. Now that is no more. At least it seems that way.

No surprise

Memphis’ up-and-down play has driven fans wild this season, but it should come as no surprise.

The Tigers lost back-to-back games to Marshall and Tulsa, but went on the road and won at Gonzaga — a place where few teams leave with victories. The slew of star freshmen have dazzled as much as they’ve disappointed. They’ve left crowds in awe as much as they’ve left them aghast.

Photo by Chase Gustafson

The Tigers are what they are. Their talent is exceptional, but they’re not ready to utilize it in full.

Will Barton is the best player on the team, but he’s not going to look like it every night. Joe Jackson is fast, but he’s not at all used to the college game. Tarik Black has shown more development than any of the freshmen this season, but he — like a man named Joey Dorsey once did — hasn’t figured out how to stay out of foul trouble.

Throw in Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman being veterans in name only, and you’ve got the recipe for what you’ve seen out of Memphis basketball this season.

Going forward

With four games remaining and only one of them against an above-.500 team (as if that matters), the Tigers’ focus needs to be on getting the absolute best seed possible in the C-USA Tournament.

As of Sunday, Memphis’ RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com, had only dropped to No. 34, though it could continue to drop — even despite a win — with games against Tulane, Houston and East Carolina (in addition to UTEP) left to play. Throw in a few games in the conference tournament, and the Tigers could very well be hovering in the 40s or 50s come Selection Sunday.

Crazier things have happened and worse teams have probably tripped and fell into the NCAA Tournament field, but Memphis has to be realistic. And judging by how upset coach Josh Pastner in his postgame radio interview Saturday, the Tigers probably completely understand their predicament.

“I told the guys we’ll meet (Sunday) as a team,” Pastner said. “I said ‘Do not come in there tomorrow if you’re not ready to win four straight.’ We still control our destiny to win out, and if we win out, we win the conference title.”

If Memphis does reel off four straight and make a very strong run in the conference tournament — it would probably need to be an appearance in the championship game — the Tigers might have enough street cred to warrant an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.

But with this Memphis team, that’s a big, big “if.”

The Front Nine with Shane Battier

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2011 issue of Memphisport.

One of the most beloved players to ever wear a Grizzlies uniform, Battier played in Memphis’ for five years before being traded to the Houston Rockets.

There was a time when you said you wanted to be an NBA general manager. Do you still?

Oh, heck yeah. Being a GM of a major sports franchise is arguably one of my biggest dreams.

If you could be the GM of the Grizzlies, what would be the first thing you would do?

(Laughing) Man, it’s hard to say, really. Let me get back to you on that one…

So, how is your chess game?

You just keep the hard questions coming, I see. Well, my chess game has progressed considerably over, I’d say, the past three or four years. But there’s always room for improvement.

Who in the NBA can you beat at chess?

(Laughing) Coach (Rick) Adelman.

Does chess in any way prepare you for a game?

Well, that’s hard to say, really. You know, maybe that’s something I ought to take time to assess for the rest of this season.

Are you still the tech editor for HOOP Magazine?

Yeah, I’m still very much active with the magazine and I plan to do a lot more hands-on stuff with it in the offseason.

Who do you stay in touch with the most from the Grizzlies 50-win team?

Well, I speak with Pau (Gasol) on a regular basis. Of couse, a lot of that comes from playing in the same conference.

How often do you talk to Coach K?

Oh, man, Coach K is like a dad. And children with a tight
bond with their dad talk to their dad all the time. Even
after years of being in the NBA, I still reach out to Coach K
for wisdom and guidance. That’s priceless, man.

How long do you anticipate playing professional basketball?

As long as the league and teams enjoy having me. Basically, no one knows how long they will play professional ball. Me, on the other hand? I’m just enjoying the ride while the car is still in motion.