Reason to Cheer

Thanks to a recordbreaking college hoops team, the local sports scene went national in 2008.



A Memphis sports review is typically just that: a Memphis sports review. But in 2008, what mattered in the Bluff City mattered coast to coast when it came to this town's flagship team.

More than 300 college basketball teams begin practice each fall with dreams of playing on the final Monday of the season, for the NCAA championship. For only the second time in history — and the first in 35 years — that dream was realized by the University of Memphis. As with so many stories from these parts, though, the dream came packaged with heartache.

The 2007-08 Memphis Tiger basketball team will be remembered for three significant things: (1) reaching the NCAA tournament's prestigious Final Four for only the third time in the program's history, (2) winning more games (38) than any team in the history of college basketball, and (3) losing a national championship that was firmly in their grasp over a two-minute stretch of what will be remembered in these parts as pure basketball tragedy.

Sparked by the addition of freshman point guard Derrick Rose (who would earn third-team All-America honors from the AP), coach John Calipari's team returned virtually intact from a 2006-07 season that saw them go 33-4 and reach the NCAA's regional finals. Junior swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts climbed to ninth on the program's all-time scoring chart and became the first first-team All-America for Memphis since 1993. Senior center Joey Dorsey earned a second straight Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year award and finished his Tiger career second only to the great Keith Lee in rebounds. With another pair of juniors — Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier — rounding out the starting five, Memphis obliterated C-USA competition, going undefeated (16-0) for a second straight season and winning both the regular-season and tournament championships for an unprecedented third straight year.

On January 21st, their record un-blemished after 17 games, the Tigers ascended to the number-one ranking in the AP poll, a feat the program accomplished only once before, and for but a single week in 1983. Big wins over the likes of Connecticut, Southern Cal, Georgetown, and Arizona captured national attention, but nothing like the prime-time, nationally televised showdown with the second-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on February 23rd. In what pundits called the biggest sporting event in the city's history, the Tigers saw a late lead disappear, losing 66-62 and ending a school-record winning streak of 26 games.

But Memphis didn't fall far. The Tigers held the number-two ranking through the end of the regular season and captured a top seed in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. After a second-round scare against Mississippi State in Little Rock, the Tigers destroyed Michigan State and handled Texas in the South Regional at Houston. They joined college basketball aristocracy — UCLA, North Carolina, and Kansas — as the only Final Four ever made up entirely of number-one seeds.

Led by 28 points from Douglas-Roberts and 25 from the precocious Rose, Memphis beat the Bruins handily in the national semifinals, a small measure of revenge for the 1973 championship game won by UCLA. In the national championship contest on April 7th, the Tigers struggled inside against a big Kansas team (outrebounded 39-28) and missed 16 of their 22 three-point attempts. Nonetheless, the U of M held a nine-point lead with just over two minutes to play.

That's when the Jayhawks started fouling. For 39 games — 38 of them wins — critics argued the Tigers' weakness at the foul line (61 percent for the season) would catch up with them. With Kansas converting desperation field goals, the Tigers missed free throws precisely when Calipari said they wouldn't: when it counted most. Over the last two minutes, Douglas-Roberts missed three and Rose one, just enough to allow Mario Chalmers to drain a three-point shot with two seconds left to force the game into overtime. The Tigers were outscored 12-5 in OT, handing the Jayhawks their first national title in 20 years.

The healing began nine days later, when Philadelphia high school star Tyreke Evans announced he would attend Memphis for the 2008-09 season, filling a large void after the early departures of Douglas-Roberts and Rose for the NBA. (Like Rose, Evans is expected to be a "one-and-done" star for the Tigers.) A starting lineup that should include Evans, Anderson, Dozier, point guard Willie Kemp, and center Shawn Taggart will keep the Tigers in or near the nation's top 10. The biggest challenge for Calipari's club in the season ahead? How do you improve upon 38-2?

The seventh season of Memphis Grizzlies basketball opened with considerable optimism. The team's franchise player — Pau Gasol — was healthy, unlike the previous season when he was recovering from a broken foot as the Griz stumbled out of the gate. A rising star — Rudy Gay — was starting his second season and looking to gain traction toward the All-Star status many see in his future. Rookie Mike Conley was dealing with some injury trouble, but was targeted to complement Kyle Lowry as one of the best young point-guard tandems in the NBA. Perhaps best of all, a rookie coach — Marc Iavaroni — was in control of a team he aimed to guide toward the elite status enjoyed by the franchise he previously served as an assistant (the Phoenix Suns).

Considering that optimism, what ensued made the 2007-08 season the most dispiriting since the Grizzlies arrived from Vancouver in 2001. Memphis lost seven of its first nine games and never had so much as a winning month (bottoming out at 1-11 in February) on the way to a second consecutive 22-60 season.

The biggest news of the season came on February 1st, when the Grizzlies traded Gasol — the franchise's lone All-Star and all-time leading scorer — to the Los Angeles Lakers for a pair of reserve players (center Kwame Brown and guard Javaris Crittenton) and two future draft picks. In the interest of creating "cap space" (financial flexibility under the maximum payroll an NBA roster can hold), general manager Chris Wallace essentially sacrificed the last 36 games of the season (the Griz would win nine of those games). Attendance dwindled from a league-low average of 14,655 in 2006-07 to 12,770. Despite the often electric play of Gay (who averaged 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds for the season) and the steady improvement of Conley (4.2 assists per game), the local NBA team lost its position as the city's sports focal point. The local ownership group even saw its shares in the franchise reduced as Michael Heisley juggles a rebuilding effort with his continued goal of selling the franchise.

In June's draft, the Grizzlies selected UCLA All-American Kevin Love with the fifth pick, then traded Love to Minnesota for a package that included the third selection, O.J. Mayo (another one-and-done collegiate star from Los Angeles, though Mayo played at USC). A national figure even in high school, Mayo immediately raises the Grizzlies' leaguewide Q rating, and should combine with Gay as a lethal tandem on the offensive end.

After a dreadful 2007 baseball season in which the Memphis Redbirds established franchise lows for wins (56) and attendance (paid average just under 8,800), the St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate rebounded handsomely over the first three months of 2008. Whereas 32 home runs from pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel provided the only highlights in '07, Memphis fielded four of the top five prospects in the Cardinal system in '08 and the results showed at AutoZone Park.

Those prospects — centerfielder Colby Rasmus (ranked 1st by Baseball America), relief pitcher Chris Perez (2nd), catcher Bryan Anderson (3rd), and starting pitcher Jaime Garcia (5th) — were supplemented by sluggers Joe Mather and Nick Stavinoha and had the Redbirds atop their division of the Pacific Coast League as late as Memorial Day. Having slugged 12 home runs in the season's first two months, Mather was promoted to St. Louis on May 30th, joining Perez and pitcher Mike Parisi among Memphis players making a Cardinal impact sooner rather than later.

Thanks largely to a seven-game winning streak in June, the Redbirds entered the season's final two months just four games back of Iowa in their division of the PCL. Parisi and P.J. Walters were a combined 11-2 on the hill, and Memphis had five players in its lineup hitting at least .290 (including PCL All-Star Nick Stavinoha at .346).

The University of Memphis football program enjoyed what might best be described as a "bounceback season" in 2007. Having played in bowl games after three straight seasons (2003-05), the Tigers endured a 2-10 nightmare in 2006, the first season after the departure of record-breaking running back DeAngelo Williams. But despite a dreadful start on the field — and tragedy off the gridiron — the '07 Tigers fought their way back to postseason football.

Having lost three of their first four games, the Tigers were preparing for a rare Tuesday night game at the Liberty Bowl when they learned of the shooting death of reserve defensive lineman Taylor Bradford. On September 30th — just two days before the Marshall Thundering Herd came to town — Bradford was shot near his on-campus apartment in a bungled robbery, then crashed his car trying to leave the scene.

The Tigers rallied to beat Marshall on an emotionally turbulent night, the band playing "Amazing Grace" at halftime in tribute to Bradford. The victory proved to be the first of a school-record six conference wins for Memphis, with back-to-back wins at Southern Miss and at home over UAB critical to earning the team a berth in the New Orleans Bowl. A 44-27 loss to Florida Atlantic left the Tigers with a record of 7-6, the fourth winning season in the last five under coach Tommy West.

Looking ahead to 2008, quarterback Martin Hankins (who passed for a school-record 3,220 yards and 25 touchdowns in '07) will have to be replaced. Transfer Arkelon Hall and senior Will Hudgens (drafted as a pitcher by the Cincinnati Reds in June) will be in the mix for the luxury of throwing to a deep, experienced receiving corps. Junior Duke Calhoun needs just 44 catches and 553 yards to become the most prolific receiver in U of M history. Carlos Singleton (767 yards and 11 touchdowns in '07), Maurice Jones (639 yards), and Steven Black (477 yards) will also return for pass-catching duty. On defense, senior lineman Clinton McDonald (a captain as a junior) and senior safety Brandon Patterson (an academic All-America) are the top returnees.

The 2008 Memphis home schedule: Rice (Sept. 6), Nicholls State (Sept. 20), Arkansas State (Sept. 27), Louisville (Oct. 10), Southern Miss (Oct. 25), UCF (Nov. 22), Tulane (Nov. 29). M

PLAY TIME!

A starter's list of amateur sports.
Compiled by Laura Fritzsche
 

Parks and Recreation Offices:

Memphis Division of Park Services (MDPS): 576-4200
North Zone: 2893 N. Watkins, 353-9532
North East Zone: 4575 Raleigh-LaGrange, 388-5911
East Zone: 4585 Willow, 767-4580
West Zone: 4376 Horn Lake, 789-5665
Germantown Parks and Recreation: 757-7375
Germantown Youth Athletic Association (GYAA): 754-4922
Germantown Athletic Club: 757-7370
Collierville Parks and Recreation: 853-3225 (ask for Jay Porter or Brad Heacox)
Collierville Youth Athletic Association (CYAA): 853-2922
 

Baseball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS offers recreational baseball for children ages 7-14. Coed T-ball has been added for 6 and under. GYAA recreational baseball is divided into age groups: T-ball (5-6), coach pitch (7-8) and youth pitch 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. The season generally consists of 12-16 games and twice-weekly practices beginning in late February and running through mid-June. CYAA provides recreational baseball leagues for kids ages 7-18. Collierville Parks and Recreation's T-ball program is for kids in Collierville ages 5 and 6. Registration is in February. For more information call Collierville Parks and Recreation.

Youth (competitive) — GYAA's competitive baseball program is for boys age 7-14. The Germantown Giants organization runs competitive baseball teams for ages 7 to 14 (7-year-olds play coach-pitch baseball while ages 8 and up are kid-pitch). In addition to the Germantown Giants, Sox and White Sox teams are formed when there are enough participants (generally ages 9 and up). CYAA also organizes competitive baseball for boys ages 7-14.

Germantown Parks and Recreation manages the Germantown Adult Baseball League (GABL), open to men ages 18 & older. The league runs from May through August at Cameron Brown Park.

Basketball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS youth recreational basketball programs are open to boys and girls 18 and under. Registration in September, play begins in November. Call MDPS zone office. Germantown Parks and Recreation organizes leagues for boys (7-17) and girls (7-15). Collierville Parks and Recreation also offers recreational basketball for kids age 7-14 and also has a high school league organized by grades. Registration is in September.

Youth Competitive — CYAA's competitive basketball program provides competition for girls ages 12 and under and 14 and under. Four age groups are available for boys: 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under, 17 and under.

Adult — The Germantown Athletic Club offers both A and B adult leagues for men ages 18 and older. Play begins in September and lasts through January. Cost: $475/team.

Cheerleading: The GYAA Cheer season corresponds to the GYAA Football season in the fall. Cheer divisions are by grade, not age, and are Flag (K-1st grade), Pee Wee (2nd-3rd grade) and Junior (4th, 5th and 6th grades). Collierville Parks and Recreation has cheerleading teams open to boys and girls ages 4-15.

Football: MDPS offers flag football for boys, in 10 under and 12 under. Registration in August, play begins in late September. Contact your local zone office. GYAA recreational football is for ages 5 and up.  Divisions consist of Flag (5-7), Pee Wee (8-9) and Junior (10-11 plus 12-year-olds who are not 13 by Dec. 1st and are not in the 7th grade). Contact GYAA. CYAA offers football leagues in Flag, Peewee, and Junior divisions. Visit www.cyaafootball.com for more info.

Golf: MDPS operates eight public courses: Audubon (4160 Park, 683-6941); Davy Crockett (4270 Range Line Rd., 358-3375); Fox Meadows (3064 Clarke Rd., 362-0232); Galloway (3815 Walnut Grove, 685-7805); Overton, 9 holes (2080 Poplar Ave., 725-9905); Pine Hill (1005 Alice Ave., 775-9434); Riverside, 9 holes (465 South Parkway West, 774-4340); Links of Whiteaven (750 E. Holmes Rd., 396-1608). Contact the golf department of MDPS for more information (576-4260).

Hockey: Youth — The Memphis Youth Hockey League (MYHL) is composed of three divisions for kids ages 6 to 18. Competition from October through March. For information, call MYHL Chairman Russ Beatse (861-3600) or go to www.memphisyouthhockey.com.

Lacrosse: Memphis Lacrosse runs a youth program in spring, summer, and winter for kids in K-8th grade. Registration for the spring is in January, and the season runs from February to May. The summer season runs from June through July. The winter indoor league holds registration in September, and plays in October and November. Contact Pat Demento (820-0145).

For kids in grades 8-12, clubs compete under Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association (there are currently 8 teams). Fees vary; call Ed Reynolds (277-2991).

Soccer: Youth — The MDPS runs a Youth Soccer League with three divisions (12 and under, 10 and under, 8 and under) during the spring and fall. Pick up registration materials at any zone office.

The Germantown Soccer Club runs recreational and competitive soccer programs for boys and girls. Registration for the fall recreational league is from May to August, with the season running from September through November. Registration for the spring recreational league is from late December to February, with the season running from March through May. Teams are open for children ages 4 to 18, and there is a sign-up fee. Tryouts for the competitive league, which is split into two divisions (Arsenal and Fury), are held in May and June for ages 8 to 18. Please call the soccer office (755-6688) or go to www.gscfury.com for sign-up fees and more information. You can register online for recreational league.

Both competitive and recreational youth soccer are organized by the Collierville Soccer Association. Spring and fall leagues are offered. Call 854-8724 or visit www.colsoc.com for more info.

Adult — The Greater Memphis Soccer Association plays regulation seasons in the fall and spring and has a seven-on-seven summer league. Games are played at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex, and 50 to 55 teams are divided into four men's and three coed divisions. Players ages 16 and up are welcome; individual registration will take place in July. The average cost is $90 per person per season. Access the GMSA at www.memphissoccer.com or call Curt Rogers (489-0553).

The Hispanic League, founded in 1997, is made up of around 50 teams of mostly Hispanic membership. They play every Sunday year-round in Memphis city parks; in the winter, games are held indoors. For more information about playing, contact Ivan Lopez (603-2982).

Softball: Youth (recreational) — MDPS offers four divisions that compete from May to July, with registration in early spring. Girls ages 18 and under create their own teams and play in the fall and spring leagues. For fees and more information, contact your local zone office.

GYAA recreational softball is for ages 5 to 18. Divisions are Fawns (5-7, coach pitch), Lassies (8-10), Juniors (11-13), and Seniors (14-18). Play from April to July. CYAA also provides recreational softball teams for girls ages 7 through 18.

Youth (competitive) — The Red Devils (GYAA) organization fields teams in all age divisions from 10 and under to 18 and under.

CYAA organizes a softball league for girls under 18. Season runs from April to July.

Adult — MDPS organizes approximately 300 teams that compete from April through July, followed by a citywide tournament. Games are played every night except Saturday. The fall softball league starts registration in August. The cost is $250. The season begins in September and ends with a tournament. To register or get information about organizing a team, call the MDPS. Collierville Parks and Recreation has leagues for fall (July registration) and spring (February registration).

Special Olympics: The sports program for children and adults with intellectual disabilities is run by the Greater Memphis Special Olympics organization. It offers training and participation in regional, state, and national competition. Contact GMSO for more info (683-1271) or visit their website (www.specialolympicsmem.org)

Swimming: Youth (ages 5-18) — Club teams swim competitively year-round and offer practices for novices through Olympic hopefuls. Fees vary. Memphis Thunder Aquatic Club, 1880 Wolf River Blvd., St. George's High School, Collierville (www.memphisthunder.com). Germantown Swim Team, 1801 Exeter Rd., Germantown Centre (757-7390) (www.gstswimming.com). Memphis Tiger Swimming, 620 Echles, University of Memphis (678-2809) (www.memphistigerswimming.com). Bartlett Xtreme Swim Team (BXST), 7700 Flaherty Place, Bartlett Recreation Center (385-6470).

Adult —Memphis Thunder, Germantown Centre, Memphis Tigers, and Bartlett Xtreme offer masters practices for adults ages 18 and over year-round. Fees vary. Contact coaches for information.

The MDPS (576-4200) operates several city pools, which are all free to the public. Each pool also offers swim lessons and teams for both children and adults. Sessions are 45 minutes for 2 weeks and cost $25 per session for children and $48 per session for adults. Contact the MDPS Aquatics Administration (547-8018).

MDPS pool locations: Bickford (indoor; 235 Henry); L.E. Brown (617 S. Orleans); Douglass (1616 Ash); Fox Meadows (3064 Clarke Rd.); Ed Rice (2907 N. Watkins); Gaisman (4223 Macon); Gooch (1974 Hunter); Hickory Hill (indoor; 3910 Ridgeway); Lester (Tillman at Mimosa); Tom Lee (328 Peach); Charlie Morris (1235 Brown); Orange Mound (2430 Carnes); Pine Hill (973 Alice); Raleigh (3678 Powers); Riverview (182 Joubert); Westwood (810 Western Park); Willow (4777 Willow).

Tennis: MDPS operates seven local tennis centers: Leftwich, 8 outdoor courts, 4 indoor (4145 Southern Ave.); Wolbrecht, 6 outdoor, 2 indoor (1645 Ridgeway); Roark/Whitehaven, 8 outdoor, 4 indoor (1500 Finley); Bellevue, 4 outdoor, 2 indoor (1310 S. Bellevue Blvd.); Frayser, 8 outdoor (2907 N. Watkins); Wooddale, 8 outdoor (3391 Castleman); Raleigh, 8 outdoor (3680 Powers).

Many parks contain tennis facilities as well: Bert Ferguson (8505 Trinity), Gaisman (4221 Macon), Glenview (1813 Southern), Hickory Hill (3910 Ridgeway), Martin Luther King, Jr. (South Parkway at Riverside), University (University at Edward).

The MDPS coordinates a variety of tennis-related activities including the Memphis Area League Tennis (MALT), a citywide adult program; adult and youth (ages 6-18) clinics; private lessons; and a Junior Development Program. For more information call the Tennis Center (374-0603).

Germantown also coordinates leagues, lessons, and camps. Contact Bryan Rogers, head tennis professional (212-5583), for more information.

Volleyball: In the spring, MDPS serves up volleyball to 16-and-under girls and boys. Registration starts in January, with play in April. Zone offices have more information. The Germantown Parks and Recreation Department also coordinates leagues for girls (ages 5-18) as well as adults. All matches are played at the Germantown Athletic Club (757-7379). Contact Germantown Parks and Recreation for info. Collierville Parks and Recreation offers volleyball for girls in 3rd through 8th grade. Registration is in August.

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