There has been a lot of worry about the fate of the University of Memphis men's basketball team this coming season (2009-2010). It seems like whenever something good happens, something bad happens as well:
We had the #1 ranked recruiting class coming in, then
John Calipari leaves for Kentucky, taking several recruits with him
We hire Josh Pastner as a promising new head coach, then
We get hit with some NCAA violations (nothing too serious about basketball)
We get Latavious Williams and Elliot Williams (no known relation), then
Latavious is going overseas (or not...who knows?)
So with all of this stuff going on, what kind of season do we have to look forward to? A pretty damn good one. Here's the breakdown:
We lost 5 players after this past season (Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier, Tyreke Evans, Chance McGrady, and Shawn Taggart; two good guards, two starting big men, and a reserve). We've definitely picked up 1 great player (Will Coleman), possibly 2 more if eligible (Martin Ngaloro and Elliot Williams), and maybe not a fourth (Latavious Williams). At best, that leaves us down 1 player from last year. Except that Angel Garcia, who never played last year, is now eligible, becoming almost like a fifth possible recruit as his input was missing in the last season. So, if L. Williams ends up overseas, we're only down one player from this past season, and we can deal with that.
Our potential roster:
Will Coleman (PF), Angel Garcia(PF), Pierre Henderson-Niles(PF), Willie Kemp (PG), Preston Laird (SG?), Doneal Mack (SG/SF), Martin Ngaloro (SF/PF), Roburt Sallie (SG), Elliot Williams (PG), Latavious Williams (SF/PF), and Wesley Witherspoon (SG/SF).
So, yes, losing L. Williams would be a blow, but his position is pretty well covered. The only position that isn't crawling with potential players is the point guard, and we've got two great players there. Everyone's seen what E. Williams did at point for Duke last season as a starter, and most of us remember Kemp's freshman year. I know a lot of people are disillusioned about Kemp after the last few years, but I've got faith in the guy. He plays a very high energy game, and even on his off days he can produce a bit above mediocrity. Honestly, the weakest link on this team is Laird, and he's a walk-on reserve player. He's a great kid, but he's not the best on the team (we'll probably see more of him this season).
The one worry about our roster is the lack of experience. Yes and no. Obviously our seniors (H-N, Mack, and Kemp) have quite a bit of experience. Our juniors (Coleman and Sallie) are both experienced, as well. Coleman has no D-I games under his belt, sure, but the boy can play, and I believe he was part of the best JuCo team of this past season. He'll be a force to be reckoned with. And we know Sallie. If he can get some more consistency in his game, he could be one of our top players this year. Our sophomores (Garcia, Laird, E. Williams, and Witherspoon) are odd. Garcia doesn't have experience, Laird has about 4 minutes or so, Williams has played a decent bit, and Witherspoon is about the same. These guys may or may not be great, but they'll be developing chemistry over the next few years and will solidify into a very strong senior lineup. Add to these guys the incoming freshmen (Ngaloro and L. Williams?), and new recruits over the next few years, and 2011 might be our year. Obviously, our freshmen don't have experience...or do they? Remember that Ngaloro has been attending Canarias Basketball Academy ("The top basketball academy in Europe located in the beautiful Canary Islands, Spain"), basically a prep school focused on basketball. He'll need to muscle up and get ready for the American version of the game (read: more physical), but this guy is as prepared as can be.
So yeah, maybe we could do with a little more experience, but we can't just recruit players away from other schools (*cough*).
So now what do we have? A talented roster with a surprisingly good amount of experience. There has also been concern expressed over Coach Pastner's inexperience as well. I'm not touching that. I have no idea. There are people who worship him, and people who think he's a punk kid taking credit for his head coach's work. We'll see in the next few years (remember the year 2011). I can say that he's put together a very nice supporting cast of assistant coaches, etc. in Cyprien, Murphy, Wilson, and Sebastian. In this group, he has both experience, and the young, ambitious tenacity that has characterized him thus far. I'm looking forward to seeing how that all works out.
So how about a little bit of fantasy in here? I'm thinking our starting lineup will be one of these two:
PG - Willie Kemp
SG - Doneal Mack
3G - Roburt Sallie
PF - Angel Garcia
PF - Will Coleman
PG - Elliot Williams
SG - Doneal Mack
SF - Martin Ngaloro
PF - Angel Garcia
PF - Will Coleman
Kemp is more suited to run point for the 3-guard setup, methinks. Obviously, you can see that I think Mack, Garcia, and Coleman will be starting no matter what. If I remember correctly, Williams played with more big men on the floor. Either way, Kemp is a better scorer than Williams, and that's what you want with 3 guards on the floor. The one thing I am least convinced about is the 3G and SF position. That one could go to Witherspoon depending on the day.
Defensively, we will hurt from losing Anderson on the perimeter, but I think we'll do better down low with Coleman and Garcia than with Dozier and Taggart. I don't know how good E. Williams is on D, but I've got a feeling he won't be surpassing Anderson. We'll probably allow a few more open perimeter shots, but with strong defense down low, our opponents will have to rely on that too much. So unless they've got Roburt Sallie from the UC-Northridge game last March, they could be hosed from this.
Offensively, it's much the same. We've lost our top 4 scoring and top 3 assisting players. Our incoming players aren't looking like the high-volume scorers that we've gotten accustomed to over the last few years. I'm expecting a lot more close, physical, intense games this season.
After it's all said and done, I think we'll probably have to say goodbye to our unbeaten conference streak about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the season. We might make Sweet 16 if we get a few lucky breaks, or if our offense starts kicking. If our defense is as it will most likely be, and our offense can just be consistently good (60-70 ppg), we could be pretty impressive. All in all, though, this is not a season to give up hope. We're getting a good restart, blowing out the pipes, and continuing on down our path. And just remember that, though this year may not be the one we want to remember forever, it won't be abysmal, and things will continue getting better.