MOODY BLUES (AND GRAYS)
That most celebrated of Memphis months is almost upon us. May happens to be among my favorite sports months of the year, as baseball season hits its stride while the NBA and NHL playoffs separate the contenders from the pretenders. A fun time to read the sports page. But try as I might, I cant shake the blues over the University of Memphis basketball program. To take the next logical step in this colorized analogy, you might say skies over The Pyramid have grown considerably gray.
When Dajuan Wagner announced on April 17th that he would take his skills to the pros, declaring his eligibility for the NBA draft after a single year of college ball, no one should have been surprised. The surprise may well have been that he didnt announce such a decision a year ago. Tiger fans have to feel that one year with Juanny was better than none. No way do the Tigers win the NIT title without Wagners scoring punch. And hey, he established a new single-season scoring record at the U of M. Disappointing as it may be that Tiger Nation cant enjoy Wagner another season (or three), his time here wont be forgotten.
But what of that fateful dates second roundball announcement, that sophomore Scooter McFadgon was leaving as well, a transfer to -- say it aint so! -- the University of Tennessee? While Wagner was a longshot to ever wear blue and gray, McFadgon might as well be a poster boy for future U of M varsity candidates. Born and raised here, a prep star at Raleigh-Egypt, a sweet-shooting, versatile player with plenty to offer at both ends of the floor. McFadgon had two solid if not spectacular seasons under his belt, having averaged just under 10 points a game and hitting several clutch shots, particularly during his freshman year of 2000-01. Transferring to Tennessee? Something doesnt compute here.
Since Wagner first stepped on campus, head coach John Calipari has all but endorsed the precocious stars leap into NBA life, even when Dajuan seemed to be actually leaning toward another year in Memphis. One is Left to assume Coach Cal was covering bases here, making what might be considered bad news appear to be part of a plan, a necessary step back for the program Calipari aims to take several steps forward. Dajuan Wagner, if nothing else, was an investment in the programs Q rating.
But then what of Scooter? By all appearances, McFadgon was -- simply put -- a good kid. He wasnt flashy on the court, which means he didnt showboat when things went well and didnt visibly drag when fortunes turned sour. He has stated publicly that his decision to leave Memphis is not related to basketball, that he needs a change of scenery. And one would have to believe him on this matter. If he had a problem being a second or third option behind Wagner and/or Kelly Wise . . . well, that problems gone. McFadgon would likely have been the first option with a game on the line next season. So what could be so miserable for him to choose to transfer, meaning he wont play another Division I game until November 2003?
The answer to that question may have more to do with the long-term success of Tiger basketball -- and the future of John Calipari -- than any Wagner fallout. Did Scooter simply run out of time on Cals watch of player development? Was there a personality conflict?
The guess here is that, whether either party will admit it, Scooter McFadgon -- originally recruited by Tic Price, remember -- is not a John Calipari-style basketball player. Similar to fellow transfers Courtney Trask and Paris London, McFadgons demeanor leans toward reserved. Hes not animated, in body or spirit. And while hell contribute to winning basketball in several areas, hes not capable of taking over stretches, as Wise and Wagner so often did.
The 2002-03 Tiger basketball team is going to be hard to recognize and a longshot, at best, for the NCAA tournament. With four of seven rotation players gone -- forward Chris Massie announced he was leaving on April 22nd -- Caliparis task will be essentially the same as it was two years ago: building a team from the ground up. Hopefully the addition of Vanderbilt transfer Billy Richmond will alleviate some of the pressure on returnees Earl Barron, Antonio Burks, and Anthony Rice. Maybe Wagners old running mate, Arthur Barclay, can contribute some muscle and effort. But as the roster continues to take on the personality of its helmsman, continues to become the team John Calipari wants to coach and likes to coach, another question is dangling out there. Is it a team Tiger fans will want to watch?