A FAB FOUR? Carney, Grice, Barron, and Rice. Try it again: Carney, Grice, Barron, and Rice. Nice ring to it, no? As this still-young season of Tiger basketball picks up speed, it’s starting to look like this group is going to make up a four-wheel-drive of sorts for John Calipari, with the dribbling Flash himself, Antonio Burks, in the driver’s seat. Whipping the likes of Arkansas-Little Rock and Furman is hardly going to punch this team’s ticket to the Big Dance. But the U of M’s recent outings have helped provide an identity to a team that, quite honestly, opened the season without one. Most of Tiger Nation presumed this club would go as far as Burks and senior center Earl Barron could carry it. No more Dajuan Wagner to light up the scoreboard. No more Kelly Wise to clean the glass and pick up the garbage points. No more Scooter McFadgon, even, setting up for a crowd-stirring trey. The burden would be on Barron and Burks to find wins when the schedule allowed. Think again, ye blue-and-gray-clad army. This writer, for one, had already performed taps on John Grice’s college career. Two years on campus and all of eight games played? See you in the scrap-heap of “what might have been,” John. I look up, though, and the guy is torching Syracuse in The Garden, draining five triples and scoring 17 points in 36 minutes of action. We all knew Rodney Carney was an athlete. But an 18-year-old athlete, a “’tweener” if there ever was one, not as big as the forwards he’d have to guard, not as quick as some of the guards he’d have to beat. Twelve points and 9 rebounds later, Carney has his first college start under his belt, and a few Syracuse Orangemen in his rearview. The kid, apparently, hasn’t looked back since. As for Barron, the hope for Calipari and his staff was (is?) that big Earl will dominate a game or two, pick up a few wins by himself. He’s the most experienced Tiger player and, at 7’0”, certainly the most equipped to dominate. We’re still waiting to see this, hoping it comes in conference play, when Memphis will need him most. Finally there’s Anthony Rice. If you can forget the melee against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Rice has been the guy who has come closest to what the Tiger coaching staff expected. (Rice better have a big ol’ present under assistant coach Steve Roccaforte’s Christmas tree. That sideline tackle was the most significant Memphis stop this fall, and that’s including Tommy West’s bunch.) The sophomore guard looked especially sharp against the Trojans, drilling four of five from beyond the arc in scoring 18 points. Carney, Grice, Barron, and Rice. The quartet scored 47 of 70 points in the Syracuse win (another 18 were tallied by the one-game wonder, Jeremy Hunt). Just as importantly, they pulled down 24 rebounds, despite a disappointing 4 from Barron. Skip ahead to the UALR game, a lesser opponent to be sure, but much the same kind of production. A combined 65 points (out of 73) and 34 rebounds (out of 42). As close to a Fearsome Foursome as this program will see this year, with but one of its members having played more than a single season of Division I basketball. Tiger Nation has to hope that the 2002-03 team is better as a unit than the sum of its parts. The guess here is you won’t see a 30-point individual performance all season, unless Barron wakes up in just the right mood. Don’t hold your breath waiting to see the Tigers on SportsCenter, and there’s nary a first-round NBA pick on this roster. Perhaps, though, John Calipari finally has four (or more?) players ready to make their mark on the college landscape.

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