Monday, February 13, 2006

FROM MY SEAT: Rodney's Rank

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2006 at 4:00 AM

With the sun starting to set on the college career of University of Memphis
forward Rodney Carney, it's time we measure Carney's achievements and
standing relative to the all-time greats in Tiger basketball history. The U
of M has retired the uniform number of eight players: Forest Arnold, Win
Wilfong, Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, John Gunn, Keith Lee, Elliot Perry,
and Anfernee Hardaway. (It should be noted Gunn's tribute was a posthumous
honor, as the young man died in 1976, shortly after the beginning of his
junior season.) Where exactly does Carney fit among this Tiger pantheon?
There are four categories to consider.

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THE NUMBERS -- With 1,699 career points (through Saturday's win over
Marshall), Carney is fifth in Memphis history, trailing only Lee (2,408),
Perry (2,209), Finch (1,869), and Arnold (1,854). Finch, it must be
remembered, accumulated his total in but three seasons, as the NCAA didn't
allow freshmen to play in his day. (Finch's career average of 22.3 points
per game remains the Tiger standard.) With six regular-season games and a
minimum of two postseason contests left to play, Carney would need to
average 21.3 points to catch Finch. Carney has already established a new
record for three-pointers, with 261 (he shattered the record of 242 set just
last year by Anthony Rice). And then there's my favorite Rodney Carney
number: 4 (as in years played). Remarkably, only three of the players to
have their numbers retired by the U of M played four seasons for the school
(Lee, Perry, and Arnold). And in this era of college basketball, when even
marginal stardom can have a player scrambling for an agent, Carney's staying
the course is an impressive highlight on his resume.

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MARQUEE VALUE -- All you have to do is look at this year's schedule poster
distributed by the U of M athletic department. Most prominent is a soaring
image of Carney, flying to the basket for one of his cloud-breaking dunks.
The two most exciting plays in basketball are the three-point shot and the
slam dunk, and Carney has been a virtuoso at both crafts. In my 15 years of
watching the Tigers, the only player who could approximate Carney's leaping
ability was Michael Wilson (1994-96), and Wilson wasn't in Carney's category
as a scoring threat. (Want a measure of how high Carney can leap? In an
otherwise forgettable play against UAB January 26th, Carney went up for a
dunk, only to have the ball stripped by a Blazer. He still slapped the top
of the foam padding that runs halfway up the backboard . . . on his way
down.) The U of M doesn't keep stats on dunks, but any witness to Carney's
exploits knows the
Indianapolis native is among the top three or four
rim-rattlers in program history. Combined with his three-point legacy?
Beyond compare.

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INTANGIBLES -- What about recognition? Among the honored Tigers, only Lee
and Hardaway were named All-America by the Associated Press. Depending on
how he finishes this season, Carney stands a legitimate chance to land at
least second-team honors. Lee was a two-time Metro Conference Player of the
Year and Hardaway was twice named MVP of the Great Midwest Conference.
Considering the Tigers' dominance of Conference USA this season, and
Carney's role as leading man, it's hard to imagine him not garnering Player
of the Year laurels. In terms of leadership, Carney might best be remembered
for what he didn't do while teammates, one year after the next, found
themselves in hot water, both with the university and the Memphis police
department. Carney has been an exemplary student-athlete at the University
Memphis, and he's on schedule to graduate in August with a degree in
interdisciplinary studies.

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TEAM SUCCESS -- This is the category that will determine if Carney's
uniform is raised to the FedExForum rafters. And it's the category where he
can make the most impact between now and when he takes his number-10 jersey
off for the last time. John Calipari periodically reminds his troops that
the 1973 NCAA runners-up (a team led by Finch and Robinson) are still talked
about throughout the Mid-South, here 33 years later. Lee played for a team
that reached the Final Four (alas, only to be later disgraced by
transgressions, some involving Lee himself). Arnold led the Tigers to their
first NCAA tournament appearance in 1955. Wilfong starred for the 1957 NIT
runners-up, the team that put Memphis basketball on the national map.
Hardaway's talents were simply not of this planet, and his 1992 squad
reached the NCAA regional finals.

Carney's postseason legacy, to this point, is an appearance in the 2005 NIT
semifinals, and one NCAA tournament victory (a 2004 contest, in which he had
26 points against
South Carolina). The U of M hasn't won a conference
tournament since the 1987 Metro, and hasn't reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen
since 1995. If Rodney Carney can help his Tigers reach these two goals -- not
all that lofty, considering the C-USA tourney will be held here in Memphis
and the third-ranked Tigers are sure to receive a high NCAA seed -- the
verdict seems clear on his standing among this program's greats. And a ninth
uniform number should be raised as Carney makes his leap to the NBA.

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