A YEAR TO REMEMBER As we draw the curtain on 2002, let’s take a look back at one of the more eventful sports years in Memphis history. Following -- in classic Letterman style -- is one man’s Top 10 Memphis Sports Stories for the past year.
  • 10) Pitts calls it quits. Known affectionately as “Chief,” Redbirds manager Gaylen Pitts announced the 2002 season would be his last in Memphis. In five seasons, Pitts saw but one losing campaign and called the shots for the ‘Birds during their storybook run to the Pacific Coast League title in AutoZone Park’s 2000 inaugural. He wraps up his Bluff City career with 364 wins, second all-time in Memphis baseball.
  • 9) “Memphis” trio drafted into NBA. In theory, it would have been a college lineup almost beyond compare: Dajuan Wagner, Amare Stoudemire, and Qyntel Woods. Alas, after but one season as a Tiger, Wagner set his sights on the pro game. As for Stoudemire and Woods, after informal “oral commitments” to John Calipari’s program, each player followed Wagner’s lead. All three were taken among the first 21 players in the 2002 draft.
  • 8) Sling it, Danny! What a miserably disappointing season for the University of Memphis football program. With all kinds of excitement over a new, quick-strike offense, the Tigers tumbled to a record of 3-9. Don’t blame Danny Wimprine. The sophomore quarterback broke the school’s single-season record for passing yards (2,820) and touchdowns (19).
  • 7) ‘Kings of hockey. Call them the Southaven RiverKings if it makes you feel better, but call them champions. Playing their tenth season in greater Memphis (their second in DeSoto County), the ‘Kings were a staggering 27-2-3 on home ice and whipped the Austin Ice Bats in five games for the franchise’s first Central Hockey League title.
  • 6) Redbirds on Cruz control. Our Triple-A outfit finished a disappointing 71-71 (last in the Pacific Coast League’s Eastern Division), but where would they have been without big first baseman, Ivan Cruz? The career minor-leaguer broke franchise records for home runs (35) and RBIs (100). No one in all of minor league baseball hit more dingers in 2002.
  • ) Hubie at the helm. Remember when former Grizzlies coach Sidney Lowe -- erely a college player -- helped N.C. State win that magical championship back in 1983? At that time, Hubie Brown was a veteran NBA coach, in his first season with the New York Knicks (one of his stars was current Chicago Bulls head coach Bill Cartwright). Skip ahead a generation, and none other than Brown was chosen to take Lowe’s seat following a second consecutive 0-8 start for the Griz. He becomes the oldest full-time coach in NBA history.
  • 4) WTA at The Racquet Club. No, we didn’t see the Williams sisters. And no, Anna Kournikova didn’t show up for her usual crowd-stirring first-round loss. But when women’s tennis took the uniquely cyan stage alongside the annual Kroger St. Jude, well, Memphis had itself an ace. Now one of only five venues outside the Grand Slams to feature the boys AND girls, The Racquet Club has a marketing button to push unlike ever before. Just wait till Anna does show up in February.
  • 3) Tigers national champs! Okay, John Calipari’s U of M squad merely won the NIT. But it was a nice consolation prize, seeing One-Year Wonder Wagner light up Madison Square Garden for 32 in the semis before handling South Carolina in the final. Sadly, this is perhaps the only championship in sports nobody wants to defend.
  • 2) Lewis-Tyson is over. Whew! Talk about the perfect storm. An international army of media types (yikes!), celebrity entourages (shamelessly ducking their “scheduled appearances” all over town), and a big, bad Brit with a reputation for being no more fierce in the ring than he is at the chess table. And, oh yeah, Mike Tyson. Memphis somehow hosted, survived, and actually seems to have benefited from the biggest sporting event it has ever seen, the surprisingly entertaining -- and one-sided -- eight-round knockout victory by Lennox Lewis.
  • 1) Memphis goes West. A heavywight title fight is extravagant, but take it for what it is: a tear-down-the-walls one-night stand. Welcoming Jerry West to the family . . . now that’s a relationship to savor. Ever hear of Gordan Giricek before his 29-point NBA debut on opening night? Jerry West had. In late August, West described himself to me as “just another educated pair of eyes.” Right. Marilyn Monroe was just another platinum blonde. Next week: a look forward to 2003.

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