The University of Memphis Tigers Saturday matinee with the DePaul Blue Demons turned out to be a fitting send-off for a stoic star who quietly climbed his way up the charts of Tiger basketball history and the Conference USA record book.
Having played under three coaches in his four years as a Tiger -- often as the first and only scoring option -- Kelly Wise was the center of attention for pregame ceremonies on Senior
Day. Never has a more reserved Memphis Tiger commanded the stage for himself than on this day as Wise -- the lone U of M senior -- walked to
center-court accompanied by his mother and grandmother to receive a framed portrait of himself, and the proper adulation of 14,000 of his
Still recovering from a sprained right knee thats
limited his play of late, Wise managed to score 23 points and grab 13 rebounds as Memphis wrapped up its 2001-02 home schedule with an 88-61 drubbing of the Demons.
Appropriately enough, Wise opened the scoring with an inside bucket 40 seconds after tip-off, and the Tigers never looked back. In seizing an
18-point halftime lead, Wise displayed the kind of play that has endeared him to head coach John Calipari, but that may not be seen in tomorrows
box score. On consecutive possessions midway through the half, Wise penetrated the DePaul defense well within his shooting range, only to
dish the ball off to fellow big man, Earl Barron, who was fouled on each occasion.
On the defensive end, Wise quarterbacked the Tiger halfcourt trap, forcing the DePaul defense into a reactive mode and leading to transition buckets for Memphis. He just is so active, said Calipari after the game. There is no halfcourt trap when Kellys not in there. Youve got to be active.
An alley-oop pass from Antonio Burks at the top of the key was jammed home by a sky-walking Anthony Rice almost eight minutes into the second
half, giving Memphis a 20-point cushion. Rice, with 14 points and a season-high 9 rebounds, was one of five Tigers to reach double figures
in the scoring column, joining Wise, Barron (15), Dajuan Wagner (20), and Chris Massie (10). DePaul -- who fell to 9-17 (2-12 in C-USA) -- was
led by sophomore forward Andre Brown with 21. Memphis out-rebounded the Demons, 46-30, and shot 51 percent from the field.
Already fourth in Tiger history among rebounders, Wise has climbed into the ninth slot on the all-time Memphis scoring list and is within reach
of number eight (he trails Phillip Haynes by 18 points with one regular-season game remaining, followed by the C-USA tournament and,
hopefully for the Tiger faithful, an NCAA bid). Wises numbers when viewed in the context of C-USAs seven-year history are even more
impressive. Hes the conferences all-time leading rebounder, its second-leading shot-blocker, and has more double-doubles (42) than any
player who has suited up in the 14-team league. Wise is the only player in C-USA history to accumulate 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
His numbers aside, Wise should be appreciated for being a shining member of a dying breed: the four-year Division I college basketball star.
While some might argue Cedric Hendersons case, youd probably have to go back more than a decade, to Elliot Perry, to find a Tiger who put in four years of excellence that approach those of Wise. His university should at least consider adding a ninth retired jersey to the Pyramid
rafters. Were top-20 with Kelly, said Calipari. Top-60 without him. He did today what he does all the time. Didnt surprise me. He covers for a lot of the players on this team.
Having clinched C-USAs National Divison title and now with a record of 22-7 (16-2 in The Pyramid), Memphis has a week to prepare for next
Saturdays showdown with mighty Cincinnati. Fueled by the conferences player of the year, Steve Logan, the Bearcats have been in the nations top five for most of the season and should give Memphis a nice test as the Tigers measure their worth for the conference tournament and the big dance beyond.
Calipari is prepared for a heavyweight battle with Bob Huggins rugged club, and hes not afraid to meet muscle with muscle. [Cincinnati] will take your lunch money, said the coach, not smiling. They walk into school and ask, Do you have 50 cents? Youre gonna have to have a
helmet and shoulder pads. Its the last guy standing. Thats what you do in Cincinnati.