A couple of years ago, I made the profound discovery that there’s an Elvis Presley song for every last one of us. Then I applied the formula to a few Memphis sports figures. Time for an update.
Stuck on You — Rudy Gay
$82 million is a lot to pay an NBA player who has yet to appear in an All-Star Game or playoff series. But Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley has clearly seen enough of his small forward — who turns 24 next week — to make him the centerpiece of the franchise’s climb back to playoff contention. By modern standards of pro sports contracts, Gay is a healthy investment. In four seasons, he’s never missed more than four games. And his scoring averages the last three seasons have been a metronomic 20.1, 18.9, and 19.6, even as O.J. Mayo has emerged as an equal threat with the ball. An important lyric to remember, at least from Heisley’s perspective: “Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly bear.”
Return to Sender — Allen Craig
The Memphis Redbirds’ top prospect opened the season with the St. Louis Cardinals, only to be sent down in late April after a slow start and limited playing time. The Cardinals’ 2009 Minor League Player of the Year proceeded to knock the stitches off the ball for Memphis and earned a recall to St. Louis on July 15th. But soon after hitting his first big-league home run, Craig was again optioned to Memphis. In 77 games at the Triple-A level this season, Craig has hit .322 and driven in 76 runs. Last week, the Cardinals again promoted the 26-year-old and started him in rightfield just in time for an 18-4 drubbing at the hands of Houston. No postage due on such a natural hitter. Here’s hoping we’ve seen the last of Craig at AutoZone Park.
Kentucky Rain — John Calipari
Oh yeah, Calipari is a Memphis sports figure. And will always be. Considering the millions Kentucky hoops boosters are paying Calipari to recruit the finest NBA prospects in the land, that “cold Kentucky rain” is a perfect metaphor. Another tune I was itching to give Coach Cal: “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise.” But that would be harsh.
A Little Less Conversation — Larry Porter
The Memphis Tigers’ new football coach has quickly developed a reputation for controlling information into and out of his program. The writer in me may miss Tommy West’s open-door policy and comfortably familiar conversation style. But Porter was hired to win games and sell tickets. Those don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with keeping media types happy. I look forward to the chats (however infrequent) we get to have, and hope discussing 2-10 football teams isn’t a regular topic.
Teddy Bear — Greivis Vasquez
“Don’t wanna be a Tiger ... “ During the 2009 NCAA tournament, the Maryland guard all but mocked Conference USA before the Terrapins faced the U of M. “’Cause Tigers play too rough ... “ Memphis took the floor and beat Maryland by 19 points. “Just wanna be, your teddy bear.” Looks as though Vasquez has taken to Memphis after all. The 28th pick in last June’s draft, he’ll back up Conley at point guard for the Grizzlies, all the while giving Memphis fans new reasons to cuddle. At his introductory press conference, Vasquez emphasized, “I love the Tigers now, love them.”
If I Can Dream — Tiger basketball freshman class
"Where all my brothers walk hand in hand . . . .” Dreaming is easy when you have the kind of recruiting class Josh Pastner has brought to town. Even with the apparent loss of Will Barton, this year’s frosh inspire. And with a pair of local prep stars (Joe Jackson and Tarik Black) in the mix, there’s a deeper sense of “home team” than there’s been in a while. Dreams are two parts optimism, one part excitement, and a pinch of faith. It’s a good time for Tiger Nation to dream of “a sky, more blue.”
It’s Now or Never — Mike Conley
I get the sense that Grizzly fans want Conley to be the team’s long-term point guard ... they’re just not certain he’s the guy. Considering how young Conley is — he’ll turn 23 in October — a bit of patience may still be in order. (Had Conley stayed in college, last season would have been his senior year at Ohio State.) Can he be a primary scoring option, in the Tony Parker category? (Conley averaged 12.0 ppg last season.) Or might he be the much-sought-after distributor for a team with stronger shooting options? (Conley’s assists were up 20 percent last season compared to his second year as a pro, but his turnovers were up 19 percent.) O.J. Mayo has been considered a possibility at the point, and the Grizzlies how have Vasquez (rehabbing from surgery) and Acie Law on the roster. The upcoming season will be enormous for Conley, and tomorrow may be too late.