Anfernee Hardaway played his last game as a Memphis Tiger on March 18, 1993 (a loss to Western Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA tournament). Among the eight Tiger greats to have had their numbers retired, Hardaway is the last to have worn that number in game action. (Forest Arnold had his number retired in 1995, but starred for Memphis from 1952 to 1956.) Which means almost 19 seasons have now passed since a Tiger star received the ultimate honor from the university he represented on the hardwood.
The drought is too long. Going back to 1952, when Arnold played his first game, the longest previous drought between honored players was 13 years, from 1957 (when Win Wilfong played his last game) to 1970 (when Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson played their first). The Sixties weren’t exactly a golden era for Tiger hoops. Between one NCAA tournament appearance and three NIT trips, Memphis won only one postseason game in the decade (at the 1963 NIT). But since 1993? The Tigers have appeared in nine NCAA tournaments, winning 16 games (in addition to 14 wins in the NIT over the period). Far too much success for there to be no player representing the era in the rafters at FedExForum.
I’ve got the guy. But first, a look at three candidates who could make a claim for the honor:
• Rodney Carney, #10 (2002-06) — Carney thrilled Tiger fans from two extremes, as a high-flying dunker and a three-point marksman (his 287 treys are a U of M record). He finished his career with 1,901 points, behind only Keith Lee and Elliot Perry. Carney was a second-team All-America in 2006. Among the top five scorers in Memphis history, Carney is the only player not to have his number retired.
• Chris Douglas-Roberts, #14 (2005-08) — A first-team All-America in 2008, CDR is ninth on the Tiger career-scoring chart (1,545 points) despite playing only three seasons with Memphis. He was part of 11 NCAA tournament wins.
• Robert Dozier, #2 (2005-09) — Dozier played in 148 games as a Tiger, third-most in the program’s history. He was part of an NCAA-record 137 wins (until the governing body stripped Memphis of 38 from the 2007-08 season as punishment for the Derrick Rose affair). He ranks sixth among Tigers in rebounds (961) and 14th in points (1,381).
Any of these three stars would be worthy of a banner, but my vote goes to number 5 in your program, Antonio Anderson.
Like Dozier, Anderson played over that glorious four-year stretch (2005-09) in which Memphis never won fewer than 33 games and never lost more than four. He played in a program-record 150 games (starting 133 of them). What separates Anderson from the other candidates is ironically the all-around play that made him blend so seamlessly with his teammates on the floor. Anderson is the only Tiger in history with 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, and 500 assists. On January 3, 2009, he joined Hardaway as the only Tigers to achieve a triple-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists in a win over Lamar).
And Anderson was clutch. His free throws inside the final minute beat Texas A & M in the 2007 Sweet 16. He hit a game-winning shot as time expired at UAB in 2008 to help Memphis stay atop the national rankings. And it was Anderson — not CDR, Rose, or Dozier — who earned MVP honors at the 2008 Conference USA tournament. As a senior, Anderson earned a rare honor for a guard: C-USA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The U of M needs to reclaim the 2005-09 era, having been forced to remove the 2008 Final Four banner by the NCAA. The best — and classiest — way to accomplish this would be to raise Antonio Anderson’s #5 to the rafters for good.