Grizzlies Set To Acquire Marreese Speights from 76ers

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Memphis has agreed in principle to a three-team trade with New Orleans and Philadelphia that would send Grizzlies’ guard Xavier Henry to New Orleans and bring 76ers’ center Marreese Speights to Memphis. Philadelphia would receive two future, second-round draft picks in the deal.

Memphis has needed increased front court depth since the beginning of the season, and that need has only been augmented by injuries to Zach Randolph (bruised knee; day-to-day) and Darrell Arthur (torn Achilles; out for season).

Speights is in his fourth season with Philadelpha after the 76ers picked him with the 16th selection in the 2007 NBA Draft. An imposing force at 6-foot-10, 245 lbs, Speights has not played this season. In his first three seasons with the 76ers, he averaged 7.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Henry played in 38 games for Memphis last season, averaging four points and one board per contest. Henry was expected to help the Grizzlies with outside shooting upon returning from his injury; however, the Memphis front office decided adding more size up front was more important.

Thoughts:

  • I think this is a good move by Memphis. Dante Cunningham has been underwhelming since coming to the team and didn’t look good at all last night when starting in place of Zach Randolph. Though Speights has mostly been a disappointment since being in the league, his physical size is something Memphis needs.
  • Henry may turn out to be a great player down the road, but Memphis is facing the franchise’s highest expectations ever this season and is more concerned with winning now than down the road. Because of that, Chris Wallace decided to sacrifice a better long-term prospect in Henry to fill an immediate need of the team.

Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

Other recent Grizzlies articles: 

 

Grizzlies Sign Restricted Free Agent Dante Cunningham to Offer Sheet

The Commercial Appeal reported this afternoon that the Grizzlies officially tendered a three-year offer sheet to Charlotte’s restricted free agent Dante Cunningham. The contract is reported to be a two-year deal with a team option for the third year. The deal would also keep Memphis under the $70 million luxury tax threshold.

Cunningham played his first season in the league with Portland  after being taken as the 33rd overall pick in the 2009 draft coming out of Villanova. He was traded to Charlotte during the 2010-11 season. In two years, he has averaged five points and three rebounds per game while logging just under 17 minutes per outing. Cunningham has a mid-range game that is comparable to Darrell Arthur’s, which is why the team became interested.

As Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer pointed out today on Twitter, Cunningham also has the ability to log minutes at the small forward position and provide a longer player to back up Rudy Gay, which is something head coach Lionel Hollins has advocated.

If Charlotte decides to keep Cunningham, Memphis will have to look elsewhere. Let’s look at some of the other options the Grizzlies are pondering to bolster their frontcourt.

  • Tillery also reported that Memphis is looking at a possible trade with the 76ers for Marresse Speights. He was the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft and has averaged seven points and nearly four rebounds during his time in Philadelphia. Speights also stands at 6-10, while Cunningham is 6-8. Speights would also become a restricted free agent after the season.
  • The problem with the deal for Speights is how much the 76ers may ask for in return. Speculation has been that Philadelphia would ask for some combination of back court players from Memphis, most likely Greivis Vasquez and Xavier Henry. I think Memphis would be okay parting with injury-prone Henry, but Vasquez showed a lot of potential last season, and I don’t think Jeremy Pargo is ready to be the go-to backup at point guard.
  • Cap issues also further complicate the trade. Grizzlies’ owner Michael Heisley has been emphatic in saying Memphis will not go over the $70 million luxury tax threshold. In order to avoid this and pick up Speights (scheduled to make $2.7 million this season), the Grizzlies will probably have to sacrifice Henry – at least.
  • Reggie Evans, a nine-year NBA veteran, has also surfaced as a potential option. According to NBA writer Chris Tomasson, Evans is considering Boston and the Clippers along with Memphis. Evans
  • Kris Humphries is off the market. The restricted free agent has signed a one-year deal with between $7 and $8 million with the New Jersey Nets.

Memphis has two of the more dominant big men in the game with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, as each averaged a double-double during last year’s playoff run. However, the Grizzlies announced yesterday that the team will be without power forward Darrell Arthur for the duration of the season after he suffered a torn achilles.

With Arthur gone, the Grizzlies roster will stand at 12, and Randolph is currently the only healthy power forward Memphis has on its payroll. If owner Michael Heisley is dead set on not paying luxury tax as he has indicated, the team will have to sign three cheap big men, carry a roster of 15 and hope one of those bigs shows promise and earns minutes.

Memphis seems to be trying to solve its roster problems without moving OJ Mayo, which will be a difficult task. The Grizzlies are also being forced to consider their long term financial future in these deals. As it stands now, the team is on the hook for more than $60 million in salary next season for just seven players – and that doesn’t include Arthur and Mayo.

The Grizzlies also have to deal with the fact that other teams in the league know Memphis is in a tough position. Because of the franchise’s desperation, other organizations are asking for a lot in return for big men in an effort to capitalize on Memphis’s misfortunes.

Memphis plays its final preseason game Wed. Dec. 21 on the road agains the New Orleans Hornets. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Click here to read about the Grizzlies 2011-12 roster

Click here to learn how NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement will impact the Grizzlies

Click here to read what Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley have to say about the 2011-2012 NBA season.

Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

A breakdown of the Memphis Grizzlies 2011-12 roster

Michael Heisley and Chris Wallace made no secret that keeping Marc Gasol in a Memphis uniform was the most important thing that needed to get done before the season started.

Well, Gasol broke the news via twitter last night that he has reached a tentative agreement with the Grizzlies that will keep the emerging center in Memphis via a four-year, max contract offer.

Here’s Gasol’s (@marcgasol) tweet:

I’m proud to say that we have reached a tentative agreement with my team @memgrizz , can’t wait to get on the court with all my teammates!

This was crucial for the Grizzlies, as Gasol was rated as the No. 1 free agent available this offseason by SBNation. After signing Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo earlier this week to add depth, it now remains to be seen what the franchise will do to further bolster its frontcourt depth. Memphis has submitted a $2 million qualifying offer to Haddadi, but there are issues with him getting back into the country - issues which stem from an off-the-court domestic incident during last season.

This morning, the Commercial Appeal’s Grizzlies blog broke the news that the proposed Mayo-McRoberts deal is officially dead and that Mayo has been informed he will remain in Memphis for the foreseeable future. Sources indicated that the decision came on the heels of injury concerns of Xavier Henry and Sam Young, who have both been limited in practice due to ankle injuries. Some reports earlier today said that Henry has a sprained ankle that will keep him out of the lineup for at least two weeks.

Trading Mayo would have left the Grizzlies’ with a serious depth problem and meant the team didn’t have a dynamic scorer coming off the bench. Mayo settled into a sixth-man role last season, starting only 17 games while averaging 11.3 points per game.

According to the official Memphis Grizzlies website, there are currently 19 players listed on the Memphis roster. The Grizzlies will have to trim that to 15 signed players, three of which will be on injured reserve, before the start of the season. With that said, let’s take a look at the roster on a position by position basis:

Point Guard

Mike Conley: The Grizzlies received a lot of negative publicity last offseason when Heisley signed Conley to a long term, very lucrative deal. Many people perceived Conley as a solid NBA point guard, but not one worth the money the Grizzlies gave him. Conley responded to the criticism, however, and posted career highs in points per game (13.7), assists per game (6.5), rebounds per game (3.0) and steals per game (1.8). The fifth-year point guard also stepped up his play in the postseason, averaging better than 15 points per contest.

Greivis Vasquez: Entering his second season in the NBA, the former Maryland standout finally made a name for himself among Memphians for something other than making derogatory remarks about C-USA during the 2008-09 NCAA Tournament. In his rookie season, Vasquez emerged as a viable backup option for Conley, though he did struggle with ball control at times. He finished the season averaging just under 11 minutes and 4.3 points per game. Many Grizzlies’ fans may remember Vasquez memorable shot in the triple-overtime game against Oklahoma City during last year’s playoff run.

Jeremy Pargo: Memphis signed free agent Jeremy Pargo to a two-year contract to help add depth at the point guard position. Pargo spent the last two seasons playing overseas for  Hapoel Gilboa Galil Elyon in Israel and Euroleague power Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. Pargo put up good numbers in those leagues, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the NBA.

Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Rudy Gay: The most unknown piece of the puzzle this season is returning superstar Rudy Gay, who missed the last 27 games of the 2010-11 season with an injured shoulder. Gay is the team’s “superstar” by all accounts and by his numbers. Before getting injured, the sixth-year guard out of Connecticut was averaging just shy of 20 points per game in addition to 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Gay is by far the Grizzlies’ best scorer, but getting him back into the rotation and finding him shots will be no easy task after the team adjusted to playing without him during the stretch run last year.

Tony Allen: Grit. Grind. Welcome to the Grindhouse. Allen endeared himself to the entire city of Memphis last season with his emphasis on toughness and blue collar play throughout the playoff run. Allen is not a great offensive threat, but he more than makes up for it on defense and with his tough-guy mentality.

OJ Mayo: As I mentioned above, Mayo emerged last season as the sixth-man option for the Grizzlies. Mayo was almost always the first man off the bench and still averaged more than 10 points per game. Despite getting suspended for 10 games because of the league’s substance abuse policy last season, Mayo earned himself a solid spot in the rotation and has the respect of his teammates.

Xavier Henry: The 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Henry has struggled with injuries since entering the league. He played in 38 games last year, starting 16, and averaged 4.3 points and one rebound per game before being sidelined with a knee injury. The Memphis front office was expecting more from him this year, but it has been reported today that he could miss almost a month with an ankle injury.

Sam Young: Entering his third year in the league, Young will have stiffer competition for minutes this season compared to last. Young saw increased minutes during the latter half of last season and into the playoff because of injuries to Gay and Henry, and the guard/forward combo responded. He played in 78 games, starting 46 and averaged more than seven points per game. Young’s lack of a consistent jumper did hurt the Grizzlies in the playoffs, however. The Commercial Appeal has also reported today that Young is battling an ankle injury that has kept him out of early practices.

Josh Selby: A rookie out of Kansas that many considered a steal as the 49th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Selby is a wild card for the Grizzlies this season. He has undeniable talent, but questions about his attitude and work ethic have surrounded him at every level. Selby had sit out his first nine games at the University of Kansas due to uncertainties around his recruitment and was a star at times once he made his debut with the Jayhawks. He battled injuries throughout the season, however, and ended up only averaging 7.9 points per game in 26 appearances.

Ish Smith: *12/15 Update* Smith has been waived by the Grizzlies.

Forward/Center

**Note: Memphis has far too many big men on its roster right now. I expect them to drop at least two of those guys and maybe add another player that’s in free agency now like Leon Powe or Troy Murphy.**

Here are the key frontcourt players:

Marc Gasol: The younger of the Gasol brothers, Marc helped Grizzlies fans get rid of the bitterness towards his brother after a stellar season in 2010-11. Gasol emerged as one of the premier centers in the NBA. Standing at 7-foot-1 and 265 pounds, Gasol is a force on the glass and in the lane. He averaged 11.7 points and more than seven rebounds per game last year during the regular season and saved his best for the post season. Gasol performed on the big stage in the playoffs, averaging better than 15 points and 11 rebounds each game.

Zach Randolph: An embodiment of the blue-collar style that is Memphis, Randolph related to the Memphis fan base in a way that few can. Though he stands at 6-foot-9, Randolph is known for everything but his leaping ability and mostly operates as a below the rim type of player. Still, he came to Memphis with questions about his attitude, charisma and character and was able to put all that aside to have an extremely productive season in 2010-11. After Gay went down last season, Randolph stepped as a team leader and averaged more than 20 points and nine rebounds per game.

Darrell Arthur: Perhaps the most athletic post presence on the roster, Arthur was used as an energy spark for most of last season. He captivated fans with highlight-reel dunks, averaging more than 20 minutes and nine points each game.

Hamed Haddadi: Mostly a minute-filler, Haddadi is the tallest player on the roster at 7-foot-2. Memphis has extended a $2 million qualifying offer to the Iranian big man, but there are issues as to whether or not Haddadi can even make it back into the country.

Click here to learn how NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement will impact the Grizzlies.

Click here to read what Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley have to say about the 2011-2012 NBA season.

Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.

MSL: 6.18.11

Hour 1:

With Marcus Hunter still in hiding following the Miami Heat’s loss in the NBA Finals, Ben Hogan sits in with Kevin Cerrito to talk about Tiger Football’s $10 million plan, the Grizzlies getting ranked 9th in North America, the Bluff City Classic, and more during the Starting 5. Also, callers compete in another edition of Hang Up & Listen. Plus, it is announced that Prince Mongo will return to MSL in studio on June 25 for the “State of the Mongo Address.”

Click here to listen to Hour 1 of the 6.18.11 MSL

Hour 2:

Grizzlies guard Xavier Henry joins Kevin Cerrito and Ben Hogan to talk about his current health status, why he is not on twitter, what he plans to do this year on draft night, the X-Men movies, The Grindhouse and more.  Also, the “Unofficial President of the Mid-South’s Miami Heat Fan Club” Marcus Hunter comes out of hiding to discuss the NBA Finals and Lebron James.  Plus, the guys discuss this year’s Sports Ball host, Game 7′s,  the Tuohy family’s celebrity status, and more during Woohoo’s and Boo’s.

Click here to listen to Hour 2 of the 6.18.11 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 Show in the 2010 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.

Xavier Henry tells MSL he is “really close” to 100%

Grizzlies guard Xavier Henry joined Kevin Cerrito and Ben Hogan  on MSL to talk about his current health status, why he is not on twitter, what he plans to do this year on draft night, the X-Men movies, The Grindhouse and more.

AUDIO:

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Click here to download Xavier Henry’s appearance on the June 18, 2011 MSL

Click here for more MSL interviews.

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 Show in the 2010 Memphis Flyer Best of Memphis poll.

Déjà vu: Grizzlies beat Kobe, Lakers, 98-96

No Kobe Bryant buzzer-beater. Not last night.

With 28 seconds on the clock and a chance to tie the game, Mike Conley capped a 28-point night with a bad pass turnover that set the Lakers up with a potential winning possession.

Everyone in the arena, watching at home and on the internet was thinking the same thing, “We’ve seen this before, the Grizzlies outplay the Lakers, do dumb stuff at the end, and here comes Kobe to win with a three at the buzzer.”

But no. This time it was different. Kobe drove for a tying shot but was met by a wall of Memphis defenders. He kicked the ball out to Ron Artest for a game-winning three, but Rudy Gay closed fast enough to get a hand on the shot, tipping it short and right into Marc Gasol’s hands.

As the buzzer sounded and the confetti came down, Gasol through the ball into the stands in a show of emotion that’s sure to dominate forum hilghlight reels for as long as the Spaniard is with the team.

“Sometimes [Kobe] does it and we’re heartbroken,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said after the game, “but he didn’t do it tonight and we’re going home celebrating.”

Aaaaand going toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant is… Mike Conley?

Screw you Pau! I'm Mike Conley!

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley has been a source of ridicule for almost his entire tenure in Memphis, with perhaps only Hasheem Thabeet receiving more negative press and opinions for his play and value for being a high pick.

Though Conley has improved over his four NBA seasons, many fans and pundits thought the recent $40M contract extension given to him by the Grizzlies was premature.

Well last night Conley was worth every penny.

Conley’s 28 points were a season high, and just three short of his career high. He spent much of the game trading baskets with Kobe Bryant, and was able to get inside and create tough shots in the paint despite facing much larger opponents.

“He’s just so nimble and quick,” Xavier Henry said of the 6’1” veteran. “He’s able to get in past everyone else, and then he’s skilled enough to make hard shots over much bigger players inside.”

Speaking of Henry…

Should he be called Shane Xavier?

Henry has held his own since replacing O.J. Mayo in the starting lineup, providing defensive support and appropriate role-playing as he assisted the other starting four.

Last night he was his own offensive force. Henry finished with 12 points and, as Hollins put it, “helped us out a lot more than you see on the stat sheet.” He also did a solid job guarding Bryant for much of the night.

“I think he’s a very mature person,” Hollins said of Henry. “I remember when we interviewed him in Chicago and I remember thinking, ‘that’s Shane Battier all over again.’ He’s poised he’s mature and he understands the big picture of what’s going on.”

So a guy who does what he’s supposed to a plays well above his line night in and night out? That was Shane Battier, and so far, that’s been Xavier Henry.

WTFakers

Faux-laker fans, fairweathers, fakers, whatever you want to call them, they were there last night. Late in the game the forum was almost constantly filled with noise, with every play getting big cheers and, if Bryant was involved, boos from the extremely mixed crowd.

Grizzlies fans did come through big towards the end, with the Grizzlies up 98-91 with a little over a minute left, “Beat LA!” jeers rang heavy.

Press Conference Highlight

Lionel Hollins knows what déjà vu is. So if you were worried about that, don’t be.

Me: At the end of the game did you feel a sense of déjà vu?

Hollins: I don’t get what you mean. I mean I know what déjà vu is.

So there you go.

Twitter watch:

Greivisvasquez Gracias a dios por esa Victoria en equipo.. Ahora en camino al aeropuerto via Atlanta. Dios por favor cuida a mi venezuela!
He thanks God for the win and now he’s about to fly to Atlanta, also Venezuela? I don’t know use google translate.

RudyGay22 RT of Greivis and then “wht he said! Lol”

SamyYoung4 “You might win some but you just lose one” ….lol A town what’s good.

Shameless section
We have this fancy newfangled website, and it’s pretty awesome, but we’re still figuring it out! (Or I am at least). We’ll be up to 100% again very soon, but in the meantime and even afterwards, we want to hear from you! We’re Memphisport, not a regular paper, we can get the real scoop on the things you care about, but everyone else is afraid to ask. Like what? Well like why no headband for Zbo in the first half last night?
See I knew you would ask that, so I asked him. He said he was “just trying something different,” but thinks things will go back to normal because he “sweats a lot.” Quality journalism.

Stuff like this. We’re on it. So follow us on twitter. I’m @douggillon. Kevin Cerrito is usually at Grizz games too. He’s @cerrito. Send us a DM. Leave a comment here. Send me an email. (it’s doug at the name of this website) Whatever you need. This is your blog too.

Story photos by Chase Gustafson. The Grizzlies next game is tonight at Atlanta.

Sunblock: Grizzlies beat Heat 97-95

Zach Randolph provided the spark for the Grizzlies, this time from the bench. Randolph and O.J. Mayo were not allowed to start tonight’s game after showing up late for a shootaround early in the day.

“I just thought for the moment it worked out,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “Zach was hungrier and he knew that he had messed up and he came in and did work and in the fourth quarter he was just amazing.”

Randolph had 9 rebounds and 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Grizzlies battled through several of the game’s 12 ties and 20 lead changes to set up Rudy Gay’s game winning basket at the buzzer. The Grizzlies ended a five-game losing streak with the home win.

“It was just a blessing the way things worked out,” Hollins said. “I wouldn’t want them to late again, but I think they got the message that we’re a team, and it wasn’t about them, it was about the guys waiting on them. That’s what team is all about.”

Crowd Pleaser
In a change of pace from the usual crowd makeup for a high-profile visiting team, the crowd for this game was decidedly with the Grizzlies. Heat forward LeBron James was booed incessantly whenever he went to the line, and almost every time he touched the ball.

Grizz center Marc Gasol, who expressed some frustration with having only “half the gym with [the Grizzlies]” after last week’s overtime loss to Boston, erupted into a smile when asked about tonight’s crowd.

“A lot better. A lot better, and you see the difference. It sounds tired to say that the crowd plays the sixth man but they really are, and we use that.”

Bench Stars?
Darrell Arthur and Xavier Henry got the start over Randolph and Mayo as a result of shootaround-gate, (sorry but they’ll take away journalism credentials if anything resembling a scandal is not followed with a –gate suffix) and they were awesome.

Arthur set the tone of the game early, jumping the Grizz out to an early 20-10 lead by scoring 10 points. Xavier Henry continued to shoot the NBA’s longest two-point attempts, but was rock-solid on defense.

Hollins attributed some of Randolph’s fourth quarter performance to Arthur being able to eat up 28 minutes, and Henry played for 26.

O.J. on the upswing?
Mayo continued his recent streak of super-suck, for 45 minutes of the game, until he hit his only shot with 2:52 left to put the Grizzlies up by one after facing a late three-point deficit. The crowd reaction to Mayo making the shot (he had missed his previous six attempts) was comparable to a parent cheering for their terrible kid who FINALLY GOT THAT ONE BASKET IN A GAME!

“It felt like a million pounds off my chest,” Mayo said.

More Zbo
It should be noted that the giveaway was for Zach Randolph headbands, and even a few LeBron jersey wearing fairweathers were sporting the bright orange headgear.

Randolph’s contribution was even stronger than his line, as his offensive rebounding in the third quarter set up put-back after put-back to keep the game close.

“Yeah I didn’t get the start, coach punished us, but we got the win,” he said after the game.

Perimeter woes. Free throw shows.
If fans expected LeBron James to be the Heat’s show stealer tonight, they ended up disappointed. Eddie House did more to keep the Heat in the game than any other player, hitting 6 three-pointers en route to scoring 20 points off the bench.

The Grizzlies meanwhile hit only one three-pointer in the game (out of 11…ugh.) but made up for the difference by dominating the glass and forcing 27 free throw attempts.

It’s what you pay for!
Rudy Gay went from $80M waste of money to TOTALLY FREAKING WORTH IT in about 45 seconds. First, with the Grizz up 95-93, Gay tripped on himself and turned the ball over to allow a James layup to force the tie with 5.3 seconds left.

Then he came out of the timeout and nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to win the game.

Press conference highlight
Geoff Calkins: “That just like you drew it up at the end Lionel?”

Hollins: “Yeah of course.”
Note: That’s a paraphrase. Someone is laughing in my mic and can’t quite make out exactly what he said. But it was like that. Serious.

Dunk of the Game
Rudy Gay on a sick putback the made the building explode. Put the Grizz up two with 4:11 left in the fourth.

Twitter watch
@ricktrotter was the game’s twitter star, somehow finding time to tweet about legal trends in online plastic surgery reviews while doing the PA announcing AND dropping terrific lines like the LeBron-inspired “It’s time to take your talents to Grizz-cam!” and a WWE-inspired “Wait a minute… that sounds like Super Grizz’s music!”

Final Shots
Don’t feel too bad about the Grizzlies’ 1 of 11 shooting night from beyond the arc. The Grizzlies were 2 for 2 on three-pointers after the whistle. Thabeet only played about 6 minutes. Greivis Vasquez enthusiasm is as fun as it is hilarious. When coming in to replace Mike Conley, Vasquez gave Conley a hard point, you know… to clear up any confusion about whom he was replacing. Oh and a big low-five. Plus he has really nice vision on the court. Also LeBron sucked. Sure he scored 29. But expectation is everything, and compared to the expectation, he sucked. He’s also 0-2 in Memphis over the past two seasons.

Follow @memphissport @douggillon @bharris901 @chasingphoto and @cerrito for live Grizzlies tweets during games and check Memphissport.net after each game for a full recap from FedExForum.

Written by Doug Gillon. Photo by JD Meredith.

Grizzlies begin 10th “Read to Achieve” program with Xavier Henry and Tony Allen

New Grizzlies players Xavier Henry and Tony Allen fired up an already excited assembly of young students at Robert R. Church elementary school yesterday as the Grizzlies started this year’s Read to Achieve program.

The event is part of the team’s 10 days to the 10th season buildup to the Oct. 27 home opener against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Read to Achieve program, now in its tenth year, encourages elementary level students in the Memphis area to read at least one book per week during the six-week contest. The school with the most participating students wins a trip to FedExForum and is the site for the following year’s kick-off rally.

“We hardly had any absentees today,” said Patricia Stone, the school’s program coordinator and librarian. “The kids are so fired up to see the players. When they think about the potential reward, they really stay committed to the program.”

Stone monitored the school’s students during last year’s program, and said that Robert R. Church students not only fulfilled their pledge to read one book a week, but several students doubled their work, reading two books a week during the program.

Teresa Dickerson, the Grizzlies director of community investment, has been running the program since the team moved to Memphis in 2001. Dickerson said the effects of the program are obvious, from the thank you letters the team receives from students to the high participation rate.

“A program like this can take a child who might not be the best reader and make them think, ‘if [the players] can do it, I can do it too,’” Dickerson said, “And then they’ll just put a little more effort into trying to learn how to read.”

Allen and Henry were impressed with the tenacity and enthusiasm of the children.

“All y’all are winners to me,” Allen said during a school-wide rally, “Y’all can be whatever you want to be.”

The event featured a brief reading session with the players and a school-wide assembly in which the players fielded questions from students, handed out t-shirts and judged a costume contest.

As part of the event’s theme, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” students had worn costumes representing their dream careers.

Nurses, doctors, lawyers and athletes were popular choices, but Allen and Henry selected a first-grader dressed as a mustachioed reading teacher as the winner.

“We had to give it to the mustache,” Allen said.

During the question and answer section, Allen, who was an education major at Oklahoma State, revealed a more unique personal reason for his involvement when asked what his career would have been if not for the NBA.

“If I wasn’t playing ball I’d probably be teaching in a school a lot like this somewhere,” Allen said.

Standing next to Allen, his teammate Henry just kept doing what he did the entire morning, smiling wide, taking in the reactions of an excited, miniature audience.

“If NBA players had come to my school my eyes would have been wide open,” Henry said. “I would have just been staring at them the whole time, not able to ask questions, I would have been too nervous. But these kids had fun with us and we had fun with them.”

On a day when Henry fumbled with a question about what he’ll do after basketball, (“I really have no idea,” he said.) maybe it was him who was in awe of the children.

Follow @memphissport @douggillon @bharris901@chasingphoto and @cerrito for live Grizzlies tweets during games and check Memphissport.net after each game for a full recap from FedExForum.

Memphisport Live: 09.21.10

Marcus and Andy discuss the Xavier Henry signing, college football, and more in a “Cerrito Free” edition of the show. Plus, the return of the Yes or No Speed Round.

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