House of Blues
Memphis coach John Calipari is paying the price for his
quick-fix method of rebuilding
Memphis coach John Calipari has long been equal parts Tony
Robbins and P.T. Barnum, but he has had to be especially reliant
on his huckster's optimism lately. Having failed to lead the
Tigers to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year,
Calipari suffered massive defections this spring: Two starters,
freshman Dajuan Wagner and junior Chris Massie, left for the NBA
draft, as did Calipari's top incoming recruit, Qyntel Woods of
Northeast Mississippi Community College. In addition, starting
guard Scooter McFadgon announced he was transferring to
Tennessee. Yet despite losing 63.7% of his scoring and 57.3% of
his rebounding, Calipari, who took over at Memphis in March
2000, insists that his program is on solid ground. "I'm telling
you, I'm juiced about where we're heading," he says.
Calipari may yet build Memphis into a powerhouse, but for now he
is paying the price for his get-rich-quick methods. He made an
instant splash two years ago when he recruited Wagner out of
Camden (N.J.) High, but it was widely known that Wagner was
unlikely to play more than one season of college ball. Likewise,
Woods was also expected to enter the draft. Undaunted, Calipari
is still doggedly pursuing Kendrick Perkins, a 6'10" high school
junior from Beaumont, Texas, who is already drawing intense
interest from NBA scouts. "I'm going to recruit the best
players," Calipari says. "Why should I let a guy [play]
somewhere else just because he might only stay one year?"
Well, one reason might be that there are plenty of talented high
school players in Memphis who might play four years for Calipari
if he weren't in such a hurry all the time. Right after taking
the Tigers job, Calipari passed on two-time city player of the
year Earnest Shelton after Shelton took too long to make his
college choice. (Shelton has been a solid contributor at Alabama
the last two years.) The coach similarly lost interest in the
city's reigning player of the year, 6'7" Derrick Byars of
Ridgeway High, because Byars refused to verbally commit to
Memphis at the end of his junior season. Byars, who will attend
Virginia this fall, had a 3.9 GPA, which means he might have
given a much-needed boost to Memphis's woeful academic record--a
zero graduation rate in the latest NCAA stats--something
Calipari has promised to improve.
The loss of McFadgon to instate rival Tennessee is another bad
sign. A popular Memphis native who was second on the team last
season in minutes played, McFadgon will pay his own way in
Knoxville for one year before going on scholarship for his
remaining two years of eligibility.
To be sure, Calipari's courtship of city business leaders has
enabled Memphis to dramatically upgrade its facilities, and he
rightly points out that the Tigers will probably still be the
preseason favorites to win Conference USA's National Division.
"I had to do a lot of housecleaning when I took this job," he
says. "Look at us after I've been here four or five years. Then
you can make a judgment."
Having already seen Calipari make inquiries about the South
Carolina job a year ago and heard him mention his desire to
return to the NBA, Memphians have to wonder whether Calipari
will be around that long, building the kind of strong foundation
that leads to long-term success.
Discipline Lax For Scorer?
Terrell Taylor stole the spotlight on March 15, when he sank a
three-pointer in the final second to give Creighton a
double-overtime upset of Florida in the first round of the NCAA
tournament. Since then, however, the 6'3" junior guard has come
crashing to earth. On May 8 coach Dana Altman announced that
Taylor would transfer, a move Altman described as "a mutual
decision." But last week Taylor told SI that he failed a drug
test after the tournament, his second positive test in eight
Taylor and the school were further embarrassed on May 11, when
the Omaha World-Herald reported that the player had been
convicted of 12 misdemeanors since January 2001 and had been
briefly jailed four times. That raised a question as to whether
Creighton overlooked Taylor's misdeeds while there were games to
be played and then cut him loose after the season.
Altman said he did not know about all of Taylor's brushes with
the law, notably his Oct. 13 arrest on suspicion of marijuana
possession. (Taylor was released after posting bail; the trial
is set for June 10.) But Altman did know about many of them, and
he defends his decision not to dismiss the player during the
season or even suspend him. "I feel comfortable with the way we
handled Terrell's situation based on the information we had,"
Athletic director Bruce Rasmussen said Taylor first failed a
school-administered drug test last October. According to the
World-Herald, on Nov. 18 he was arrested for failing to appear
in court on a charge of driving without a license. On Jan. 4 he
was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after his
blood-alcohol level was .13, above the legal limit of .08.
(Taylor pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving
and was fined $250.) Taylor did lose his starting spot going
into last season, but he was still the team's second-leading
scorer (12.6-point average).
Since announcing his decision to leave, Taylor has entered his
name in the NBA draft. Conceding that he has little chance of
being drafted, he says he will likely try to get into the NBA as
a free agent or pursue a professional career overseas. "I
realize I created a lot of problems at Creighton, but I believe
I'm ready to play at the next level," he says.
NBA Predraft Camps
Players to Pay for NCAA Oversight
In recent years the NCAA has, to its credit, relaxed its rules
to enable underclassmen to test the NBA draft waters and return
to school with their eligibility intact. This makes it all the
more baffling that the association is now saying that players
who go back to college after participating in the NBA's predraft
showcase, which will take place in Chicago on June 4-7, will
have to sit out one game at the start of the season for each
game they play there, typically three or four games.
Even though players had gone to the NBA camp for about the last
decade and returned without penalty, the NCAA ruled this year
that the showcase violated the prohibition against "outside
competition." While the event clearly meets that
definition--score is kept, rosters are predetermined, uniforms
are used, etc.--an exception could have been made for it, just
as there have been for USA Basketball events, sanctioned summer
leagues and overseas excursions by college teams.
Most distressing, the basketball issues committee, which was
formed three years ago to be a rules watchdog, gave its putative
support to the NCAA's stand during a Feb. 25 conference call.
When asked to comment, the committee's chair, Syracuse
chancellor Kenneth Shaw, first said he was "not well-versed"
enough on the issue to comment, then gave a tepid endorsement of
the new policy, saying it was "an arguable point."
The showcases could be added to the list of exceptions for 2003,
but that will be too late to help underclassmen who want to see
where they stand in this year's draft.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES McFadgon (3) and Wagner played a total of three seasons for the Tigers before leaving.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Stokes had lost his starting job at Missouri.
Coming and Going
College basketball season is followed by transfer season, when
disgruntled players and others who have been run off look for
greener pastures. Here are the most significant players who have
left this spring, plus a look at the ones who transferred last
year and will be eligible in the fall.
PLAYER HT. POS. FORMER SCHOOL DESTINATION
Adam Boone 6'2" G North Carolina Undecided
Rashaad Carruth 6'3" G Kentucky Oklahoma
J.C. Mathis 6'8" F Virginia Undecided
Brian Morrison 6'2" G North Carolina Undecided
Shane Power 6'5" F Iowa State Undecided
Tony Stockman 6'5" G Clemson Ohio State
Wesley Stokes 5'10" G Missouri Undecided
J.J. Sullinger 6'5" G Arkansas Ohio State
PLAYER HT. POS. NEW SCHOOL FORMER SCHOOL
Todd Billet 6'0" G Virginia Rutgers
Jon Crispin 6'0" G UCLA Penn State
Demetrius Hunter 6'2" G UNLV Georgetown
Robert Jackson 6'9" F Marquette Mississippi State
Ben Johnson 6'3" G Minnesota Northwestern
Danny Miller 6'8" G Notre Dame Maryland
Andre Owens 6'2" G Houston Indiana
Damien Wilkins 6'6" F Georgia N.C. State