Sunday’s win over Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State made for the best day to be a Memphis Tiger Basketball fan since John Calipari bolted for bluer grass. Yes there have been great moments in the past five years. The recruiting classes have been phenomenal. The CUSA domination was extremely fun. Being accepted to the Big East was nice, while it lasted. But yesterday, watching a team that has all the potential in the world, a team with youth and experience, with grit and finesse, with new faces and old faces, come together into one unit was something to behold. It was something beyond words. It was a special, special moment for the program and the fans. I was emotionally moved watching the final sequences, the hugs and the celebrations between teammates and coaches. When the game was over, I couldn’t stop smiling.
It was great to see the emergence of Memphis players who have been largely mediocre all year. Joe Jackson found his rhythm. Chris Crawford ditched the catch and shoot for the dribble and drive to the hole. Austin Nichols was simply amazing. And Shaq Goodwin? Well Shaq was everywhere. He was hustling and scoring, rebounding and blocking shots. He was cheering and celebrating and running around the court to encourage the team and their fans. And above all else, he was happy. Goodwin looked like a kid should look when he plays basketball. He was playing a game he loved, and he couldn’t stop smiling.
And on top of the win, on top of the moment, to have a coach that has been nothing but genuine and sincere in his desire to not only see the team succeed, but more importantly to see his players succeed off the court, finally get the elusive “big win” the city had been waiting for was just icing on an already sweet cake. It’s no secret that the media spent the last 13 days tearing Josh Pastner apart for not being able to coach and not being able to win when it matters, but yesterday he coached and he won and he beat one of the best teams in the country on a neutral court. He was great. He was the coach everyone knows he could be, and yesterday’s win was the one where he proved it to the world. He could have come out afterward and given the proverbial middle finger to the media. He could’ve said, “I told you so.” He could’ve been a jerk. But he didn’t. He came out and answered questions and lamented that he wouldn’t have time to ride the rides at Disney World and, well, he couldn’t stop smiling.
The season ahead for the University of Memphis basketball team will be long one. There will be wins and losses and ups and downs; that is expected. But yesterday, for a few minutes, everyone associated with this program, the fans, the players, the coaches, the boosters, the administration, none of those people could stop smiling.