Twitter Fancap: Grizzlies Outlast Mavs, 96-85



How will this season end for the Memphis Tigers?

Tuesday’s 84-55 demolition of Central Florida shows just how good this University of Memphis basketball team can be when they’re on their game, but fans have to be wondering if this is a sign of things to come or just another teasing moment.

A tumultuous, rollercoaster season is finally winding down for the Tigers, so it’s time to start looking toward the postseason. If, of course, there is one.  And at this point, it’s entirely possible there won’t be. It’s also entirely possible it could last longer than many expect it to.

Predicting exactly how this season will wind up for the Tigers is like determining what the weather will be in Memphis. As the saying goes, “if you don’t like it, stick around, it will change.” This crazy bunch called the Tigers is tough to nail down when it comes to figuring out who they really are. They havissues and then seem to straighten everything out. And when you think they finally have everything together,

The team was up and down at the beginning of the year, failing to win games against superior opponents but also not falling to inferior foes. But they were consistent in many ways: they couldn’t seem to defend, constantly gave up offensive rebounds and rarely appeared to be putting forth the energy required to live up to their potential.

Then after an embarrassing loss at Georgetown, there was a long team meeting followed by a 6 game winning streak featuring an upgrade in defensive play, overall effort and seemingly improved team chemistry. The streak was finally capped off by a 22 point win at Houston, clearly an inferior opponent but a win that showed a complete game by the Tigers.

Then came a loss at UCF where Memphis held the lead for most of the contest but failed to grab a rebound late and got a bad break on what many feel was a bad call at the end of the game. Still, no one panicked. It’s acceptable to lose on the road in your conference once in a while. Hey, winning is hard. Just ask Josh Pastner.

The Tigers rebounded once again (figuratively at least) to follow up the UCF loss with an 18 point win against SMU and continued to impress by posting solid victories over Rice and Marshall. So once again, all was right with the world. Memphis was back to playing with intensity, giving great effort and more importantly, notching wins.

Then came Southern Miss. The Tigers lost to the Golden Eagles for the first time in nearly a billion years, and Memphis actually held the lead late in that one. So even though Memphis had lost again after a very brief winning streak there was no reason to be overly concerned. Southern was a quality team with a very good RPI ranking, and the game was on their home floor.

Memphis got back to its winning ways in stellar fashion, gritting it out against a very tough and talented Xavier team that threw everything they had at the Tigers. The fun continued with a solid double digit road victory against East Carolina and then a resounding performance against UAB that resulted in a 34 point victory. In that game, the Tigers looked like they might well have become the team that many pundits had predicted they would be in the preseason polls. Another solid win at Tulane seemed to affirm that this U of M team was really starting to become a force.

Then against all odds, it happened again. Memphis failed to bring its A, B, or even C game in a home contest against UTEP and found a way to lose 60-58. As elated as fans had been before, they were just as disappointed after that result. It began hard to know what to expect from this team. Not that it had been exactly easy before.

So Pastner once again went to his back of tricks, taking the names off of the back of the jerseys. Many sports talk radio hosts shunned the notion, laughing it off and saying that it means nothing to the players. But as corny as it was, it may well might have worked. Let’s face it, kids are different. How were they supposed to have been bitter and jaded enough to know that it was just silly?

Since they have all become anonymous, the Tigers have once again started playing with fire and togetherness. Gutty performances has led them to fairly inspiring wins over East Carolina and on the road against Marshall. The win against the Thundering Herd was especially impressive, as many prognosticators had seen this as a possible loss months ago, but the contest wound up as a 20 point blowout in the Tigers favor. An even more impressive smashing of Central Florida has shown that the Tigers can also serve revenge cold.

Things seem to be falling into place. Wesley Witherspoon has been turning in some solid performances. Joe Jackson has returned the starting lineup and has been performing at a high level, even disproving some who don’t believe he can ever be a true point guard. And Chris Crawford has accepted his role on the bench to put some pretty nice numbers as well. Add Will Barton’s steady presence to the mix and the possibility of Adonis Thomas returning and one can’t help but form at least some degree of optimism concerning the short term future of this unit.

So who knows what to make of this Tigers team? Have they finally turned it around and become the squad everyone expected them to be? One thing is for certain. There is little margin for error now, regular season or postseason. Will they simply fail to show up again one night soon and end their season prematurely? Or did the loss to UTEP finally represent a culmination in understanding that you must always bring your A game?

So how will this season end for the Tigers? Anyone want to make a prediction? You won’t find one here. Except maybe this: Prepare to be surprised… one way or another.

Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.

-Photos by Justin Ford

 

The Many Faces of Wesley Witherspoon

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of MemphiSport. 

Perhaps no player in the recent history of University of Memphis basketball has been more enigmatic than Wesley Arington Witherspoon. Coming out of high school, the 6’9” Georgia phenom was rated by Rivals.com as the number 34 overall player in the nation as well as the number 5 small forward. His freshman year saw him show flashes of brilliance and versatility, as John Calipari even installed him as the team’s point guard during one stretch of the season. And the reason Cal asked Witherspoon to be his floor general? Because at the time he thought ‘Spoon was a better option than future NBA rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. The ability to play so many positions had Tiger fans excited and created tremendous expectations. A guard with a power forward’s height, surely this kid was destined for greatness. But the road ahead would be a bumpy one for the Atlanta native, to put it mildly.

John Calipari left after Wesley’s first year, taking the number one recruiting class in the country with him, and many assumed that Witherspoon would follow. But then came an interesting scene. Soon after Josh Pastner was selected to be the new head man at Memphis, the young coach found himself in a room surrounded by a few media members and a handful of players he would have to re-recruit to keep them on his team. The mood was solemn indeed; there was a stillness to the air that hadn’t been present in a long time where Tiger basketball had been concerned. He would have to start over from scratch; Memphis was bereft of talent and Cal had left him very little time to garner new recruits.

But a magical moment then ensued. As Pastner was talking about trying to keep at least some players around, there was Witherspoon, yelling from the back, “We ain’t going nowhere, coach!”  The somber atmosphere suddenly seemed to take a turn. There was ubiquitous chatter among the media, and it seemed that things might not be as bad as they seemed.

His follow-up season didn’t quite get off to the start many expected, however, as the sophomore made only one start early on. And his 10.3 points per game average was not what fans had expected. The team was struggling, and they had been counting on Witherspoon to be a star. Instead it was transfer Elliott Williams, a Memphis native, who became the team’s best player. Witherspoon seemed to lack the desire and intensity many thought he needed to bring, and the expectations began to lessen as he took a back seat to Williams. Many Tiger supporters then found it easier to simply forget about the player they had been so high on just a few months before.

The season might have not have begun the way Witherspoon wanted, the end was a lot better. His form improved, and he wound up starting 19 out of the last 20 games while increasing his scoring average to 12.5 points per game, including four 20-point performances. Though the team just missed out on the NCAA tournament, Witherspoon got to play in all three NIT games, where he averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds, shooting over 52 percent from the field. His game winning basket at the buzzer highlighted a 73-71 Tiger victory over St. John’s in the second round.

At that point, things seemed to be looking up again for the Atlanta prodigy, but if his sophomore year was a bit disappointing, his junior year was laden with turmoil. Witherspoon missed 12 games in total due to a knee injury, although after having surgery to repair a tear in his Meniscus, he returned after only a 2 game absence. The bigger issue, though, was the 2 game suspension he received for disciplinary reasons, where it was rumored that he had been making fun of an assistant coach. Once again however, Witherspoon managed to come back in a big way, playing 28 minutes (the most of any Tiger) in an NCAA tournament game against Arizona. Though the U of M ultimately lost the game, he was a key reason the Tigers almost pulled off the upset.

The anticipation of Witherspoon’s senior season once again effected glorious expectations, upon both he and his team. Memphis began the season ranked in almost everyone’s top 15 and were ranked in the top ten in several publications. ‘Spoon started out the season with a bang, going 8 of 8 from the field in the opener against Belmont, including a perfect 3 of 3 from 3-point range, but since then he has tended to once again be up and down for the most part. His 3.5 points per game average to this point is the lowest of his career. After missing time again due to injury, he has often disappeared on occasion, though at of the time of this article, he is once again on the upswing after having had brilliant games against SMU and Rice, snagging big rebounds, getting key steals, hustling and making free throws. Which Witherspoon Memphis gets during the latter part of his final year here may well determine how the Tigers season winds up.

So who is Wesley Witherspoon? The player who so highly rated out of high school, or the one who fans are constantly riding because of their view that he is an underachiever? Is he the player who stuck around to help out his coach when everyone else was leaving or the kid who complains toward that same coach when he is taking too long in postgame interviews?

Everyone has their own opinion on just who Witherspoon is, but MemphiSport got a chance to speak with the man himself and get his take on things.

 

MEMPHISPORT: What do you think is a common misconception people have about you?

WITHERSPOON: I really don’t listen to what people say about me. I really couldn’t tell you what people say about me.

MEMPHISPORT: What would you want people to know about you that they don’t know?

WITHERSPOON: People that wanna know me know everything about me. I’m just a down to earth outgoing guy, don’t like to be sad, don’t like to frown. That’s just who I am and everybody knows that.

MEMPHISPORT: So you like to keep things positive…

WITHERSPOON: Yeah, no question.

MEMPHISPORT: You are the only guy now who’s been here and had the opportunity to play under two different coaches, Cal and Josh. Obviously they are two different guys…

WITHERSPOON: And my roommate…Preston

MEMHISPORT: Preston, I didn’t realize that.

WITHERSPOON: Yeah, he came in with me.

MEMPHISPORT: So what are some of the differences of playing under them? Though I know you only had one year with Cal.

WITHERSPOON: They got two different approaches to the game. Pastner is a whole lot more laid back. Everybody knows he doesn’t curse, that’s a big difference.

MEMPHISPORT: There are critics out there. And you say you don’t listen to them, but you have to hear something. It’s unavoidable sometimes. What would you say to those guys? The ones who say, “Wes doesn’t do this…Wes should be doing that.”

WITHERSPOON: Just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. That’s what the critics are there for. Critics are there to critique and that’s what they’re gonna do. You just gotta take it for what’s it worth and keep moving.

MEMPHISPORT: This is your fourth year now, and you’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. You’ve had good moments, great moments even, and bad moments too. You’ve also had some injuries. So at this point, are you satisfied with the way your career has gone?

WITHERSPOON: Not even close but there’s nothing I can do about it.

MEMPHISPORT: What would you change if you could? Or what kind of things would you like to have happened differently?

WITHERSPOON: The things I would have wanted to happen differently? It was just in God’s will for things to go the way they went. Of course I wouldn’t want to get hurt, any of the three times I was hurt here…that’s just about it.

MEMPHISPORT: No one likes to make excuses, but do you feel like these things have really held you back from what you can do?

WITHERSPOON: I mean… to a certain extent, but its basketball… you get over it.

MEMPHISPORT: Who would you say you are closest to on the team?

WITHERSPOON: DJ.

MEMPHISPORT: What kind of relationship does you and DJ Stephens have? Do you guys hang out?

WITHERSPOON: He’s like my little brother. Like a little brother I never had. Eight times out of ten when you see him you will see me, and vice versa.

MEMPHISPORT: Do you try to have him look up to you or is that something that’s unfair to have put on you?

WITHERSPOON: We have a relationship that’s just like we are brothers. We pretty much like all the same things, similar interests when it comes to music, you know… foods. Or it’s just easy to relate to him.

MEMPHISPORT: So let’s think back a couple of years ago. When Calipari left, pretty much all the recruits left and there were a whole lot of things going on. I personally remember seeing on TV you saying “I ain’t goin’ nowhere, coach!” Do you remember that?

WITHERSPOON: Uh huh.

MEMPHISPORT: Talk a little bit about that – what was going through your head and how you felt – about why you said that.

WITHERSPOON: When I signed my name I said I was here to play for the University of Memphis and that’s what I intended on doing.

MEMPHISPORT: Do you think that the people backed out of their commitments did the wrong thing? I mean everybody’s different but you know what you would have done, right?

WITHERSPOON: Different strokes for different folks. Other people had other things in mind and they approached the situation a whole lot different.

MEMPHISPORT: Last year there were some things that were pretty difficult to deal with. You got the suspension, for instance. Was that something that affected you and changed the way you do things? That’s always something that has to affect someone to a certain extent.

WITHERSPOON: It didn’t look good. I mean, there ain’t nothing I could do about it. I can’t change the past; I can just look forward and move on.

MEMPHISPORT: Is that something you learned from? Going through something like that?

WITHERSPOON: No question. You gotta learn. Trials and tribulations.

MEMPHISPORT: What did you learn?

WITHERSPOON: Every setback is a set up for a comeback. So, it hindered me for a little while and it was a blessing in disguise. My mother always tells me everything always happens for a reason.

MEMPHISPORT: Do you feel like you grew from something like that?

WITHERSPOON: No question…no question.

MEMPHSPORT: I’ve seen you do this thing a couple of times where after you make a three and blow a kiss to the crowd. Is that something that gets you going?

WITHERSPOON: It’s not to the crowd, it’s to my mother. Her and my father have been there since day one through everything I’ve been through and they have stuck right by my side and I can’t ask for a better support system. My mother is the definition of perseverance and strength and you know my father is the same way. And just to have those two at every home game lets me know that I’ll be alright. As long as they’ll be there with me I’ll be alright.

MEMPHISPORT: You are a senior and we have a couple months of basketball left. Who knows what can happen if you end up pretty successful at the end. But have you started thinking about what happens in your life after this year? Basketball you only have only so much control over. I assume at some point you want to try to further your career however that winds up. Are you making plans for things like that now?

WITHERSPOON: I don’t know the future and neither does anybody else so I look forward to tomorrow. And if I make it to tomorrow, it’s a blessing in itself.

MEMPHISPORT: This is your moment. Is there anything you want to talk about? Here is your opportunity.

WITHERSPOON: Like I said before, everybody who wants to know me knows me. People on the outside looking in will think what they wanna think and that’s perfectly fine with me

Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.

-Photos by Justin Ford

 

Twitter Fancap: NBA All-Star Game



MSL: 2.25.12

In honor of the show’s first time airing in the 10:00 am hour, Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter sample the Mc10:35.  Also, MemphiSport Grizzlies writer Preston McClellan joins the guys in studio to talk about NBA All-Star Weekend, his Grizz Nation Twitter Fancaps, and more. Plus, a look at the week’s biggest stories in the Starting 5.

AUDIO: 

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Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll. 

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter

 

 

Click here to listen to MSL’s Annual Oscars Handicapping Special 2012

MSL’s Annual Oscars Handicapping Special 2012

Oscarologist Greg Akers joined Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter in studio to preview and predict the 84th Annual Academy Awards during MSL’s Annual Oscars Handicapping Special presented by the 15th Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival and Ronald McDonald House Memphis’ Oscar Night America.  Plus, Academy Award winner Frayser Boy stopped by with some Oscar Facts.

AUDIO:

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Click here for more from Frayser Boy

Click here to read Greg Akers and Chris Herrington debate the Oscars

Click here to listen to the MSL interview with Coach Courtney from the Oscar-nominated ‘Undefeated’

Click here for information about the 15th Annual Indie Memphis Film Festival

Click here for information on Ronald McDonald House Memphis’ Oscar Night America

Click here for more MSL.

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll. 

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter

Comedy Night Done Right For The Grizzlies In This Week’s 3-pointer

Photo by Justin Ford

Another week has passed us by, but the excitement and memories still linger.  Perhaps the most intriguing thing that happened this week was NBC’s announcement that “Community” will be returning to the network on Thursdays starting March 15th.  Do not get me wrong I enjoy making fun of Britta’s accent and the way she says bagel as much as the next person, but NBC has decided to put “Parks and Recreation” on a five week hiatus and I do not know what to do with myself.  The move was made to try and create a spark for NBC and boost their Thursday night ratings, but I do not like it because they are taking off one of my favorite shows.  NBC’s new Thursday lineup will consist of   “30 Rock”, “Community”, “The Office”, and “Up all Night”.  So in honor of  the current lineup on NBC Thursdays, here is a “Comedy Night Done Right – All Night” edition of the 3-pointer.

Memphis was in need of a boost this week headed into the All-Star break and they got it. The Grizz went 3-1 this week and are going into the break in the seventh spot of the Western Conference.  A couple of last second put backs by Tony Allen and Dante Cunningham saved the Grizzlies this week after the team blew huge leads, but a win is a win. It is time again for our weekly Grizzlies 3-pointer, three things the Grizzlies are doing, need to do, and will be doing to improve upon their success as a team on a weekly basis.

1) What are the Grizzlies doing?
Playing phenomenal defense.  Coach Hollins would make Jack Donaghy from “30 Rocks” proud with the way he has gotten everybody in a Grizzlies uniform to buy in on the defensive side of the ball. The Grizzlies are currently eighth in the NBA in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 92.2 points per game going into the All-Star break.  They also lead the NBA in steals per game.  Memphis has several players worthy of All-NBA defensive honors so far this season with Marc Gasol fourth in the NBA in blocks and Rudy Gay eleventh in steals.  However, the starting backcourt of Mike Conley and Tony Allen really set the tempo on the defensive side of the ball, just like Tracy and Jenna set the tempo for TGS.  Conley leads the league in steals per game with 2.47, and the pressure he applies on opposing point guards makes it difficult for the opposition to get into their seats quickly.  Allen, who is recognized as one of the best all around defenders there is in the league (and reminds me of a more athletic Tracy Jordan), does not trail Conley in the steals department by much.  He is averaging 1.90 steals per game (which is good for seventh best in the NBA), and often takes on the task of guarding the other teams best player.  This is the type of defense the Grizzlies need to play if they are going to make it back to the playoffs and contend for a Western Conference title.

2) What do the Grizzlies need to do?
Continue crashing the offensive boards.  They are better at rebounding than Jim is at pulling pranks on Dwight in “The Office”.  Memphis is a middle of the pack team offensively that struggles to score the ball at times, and is averaging just 93.4 points per game (significantly fewer points than their 99.9 average from last season).  The Grizzlies are also only shooting 44% from the field and 32% from behind the arch.  With numbers like these extra possessions are a necessity so offensive rebounds is a critical factor in ensuring wins for Memphis. They are averaging 11.8 offensive rebounds per possession which is good for sixth best in the NBA, and that is almost as impressive as “quad desk”.  Perhaps none were more crucial than the two tip ins this week by Cunningham (who is not Z-Bo, but a good will make a good assistant to Z-Bo) and Allen.  Memphis must continue to snag offensive rebounds to make up for their less than stellar shooting percentages from the floor if they are to remain in playoff contention.     

3) What will the Grizzlies do?
Just rest.  It is as easy to do as making fun of Jerry every episode of “Parks and Recreation”,  so if they need an example of what to do then look at Tom.  Most of us are tired with aches and bruises after pick up games once or twice a week and that’s with no one playing defense.  Can you imagine how your favorite Grizzlies player feels?  Their bodies probably feel like Andy’s after he fell into the pit.  They have spent the last 57 days playing 34 games, gritting and grinding every step of the way, giving it their all, and rarely taking a play off. “Parks and Recreations” laziest employee Tom could learn something about work ethic from this team.  It seems like they play every other day, and they have played 9 back-to-backs so you know that this break is much needed for them (and everybody in the NBA for that matter).  Plus the break will give Zach Randolph some time to continue to workout without missing any games.  So enjoy the break Grizz fans (and NBC’s new Thursday lineup) and get ready to see more grit and grind in the second half of the season.

Did you miss last week’s 3-pointer? No worries click here to catch up on what you missed.

C.J. Hurt covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport.  Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from FedExForum. 

Other recent Grizzlies articles:

Twitter Fancap: Grizzlies Run Past 76ers, 89-76



-Photo by Justin Ford

Twitter Fancap: Grizzlies survive scare againsts Warriors


MSL Doubleheader Special: 2.18.12

Hour 1 “Tigers”:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk with MemphiSport Tiger basketball writer Michael Jones LIVE at FedExForum in advance of the game vs. UTEP.  Also, the guys talk about Josh Pastner’s positive comments about John Calipari. Plus, free Tiger basketball tickets are given away during Hang Up & Listen.

Hour 2 “Grizzlies”:

Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter talk about the Grizzlies going HAM. Also, the return of Marcus The Magnificent. Plus, talk about the changes to NBA All-Star weekend and Mario Chalmers during Woohoos and Boos.

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Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter host MemphiSport Live (MSL) every Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm on Sports 56 WHBQ. MSL was voted 3rd Best Sports Radio Show in the 2010 & 2011 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll. 

Follow the MSL hosts on Twitter @cerrito @marcus_hunter