- Josh Pastner pounded his fist on the scorer’s table as the shot just missed.
“I’m just glad we won the game,” he said. “That last shot looked good. He got open. We were supposed to be switching on that, and we didn’t. There was some miscommunication. Then, we did a good job making sure on the rebound they didn’t get an outback. Usually, it’s the second shot that beats you.”
He admitted to being more angry about the way his team left a man open than experiencing relief that they got the win. And his actions fell right in with the kind of night it had been after a tightly contested, physical battle. It appears the Tigers coach had gotten off to his own excitable start long before tipoff. Some listeners thought he had been a bit terse during his pregrame radio show. Not precisely rude or contemptuous, just a big edgy, most notably concerning some local radio pundits who he did not feel were nearly as knowledgeable about basketball as they considered themselves to be.
And it shouldn’t be that surprising. This fit in well with Pastner’s modus operandi as of late: Pounding scorer’s tables, firing back at critics, getting in player’s faces, sitting them down when needed, requiring them to have both feet in.
It’s all about performance, and effort. If you produce results, you play. It’s that simple. Like when Tarik Black stood with his back to the basket after a missed shot and proceeded to block out empty space. After Southern Miss came up with an offensive rebound, Pastner sent Stan Simpson scurrying off the bench to check in. Then when Black caught the ball inside, went up strong and scored, the Memphis coach quickly pulled Simpson right back, rewarding Black for his immediate redemption effort.
The Tigers head man appears to have undertaken some changes. He might not be ruling with an iron fist exactly, but it would be hard to deny that it has at least become anodized aluminum, or some sturdy alloy. And with his change in style and demeanor, his team has also undergone its own metamorphosis.
In its first 11 games, Memphis had revealed itself to be an offensive minded, flashy collection of individuals. Call this the pupal stage if you will. But after a tough loss to Georgetown, the Tigers spent over 2 hours in the locker room, with Pastner even missing his postgame media obligations. No one outside the room knows exactly what was said in there, but it now seems as if the team was actually enveloping itself in a cocoon, and when they emerged, this new entity had been transformed into a gritty, defensive-oriented squad that seemed to be playing a bit more for each other, finally having been instilled with the level of intensity and energy that fans have been wanting to see.
They still haven’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and the Southern Miss game was a perfect example. They gave up 3 point shots on three consecutive possessions when it looked like the game might be over. They didn’t get out much in transition and often looked stagnant in their half-court offense. They continued to give up offensive rebounds at inopportune moments.
Yet, since their newfound image has taken hold, the Tigers are undefeated. It hasn’t been pretty, but overall, the results have been there. It seems as though the team has essentially started over, reconstructing their foundation based on defense, just how Pastner said they would play prior to the start of the season. He has shaken the quintessential nice guy image a bit, and that may be exactly what this particular group of kids has needed. You’ll never hear him say this publicly mind you; that’s now he does things. But there is no doubt that some attitudes have been transfigured.
So the conference season has just gotten underway, but it appears Memphis might finally be on the right track. There are several things to shore up, but the groundwork appears to have been reestablished.
These Tigers seem to have changed their stripes; and that’s a good thing.
Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.