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Memphis + Calipari – Institutional Control

February 20, 2008

For all the Calipari fans, and all the fans of the UAB student who had the “Mempis” sign (aka “we beat Mempis [sic] not our girls”), please enjoy Pat Forde’s rundown of Memphis player misdeeds:

• Pierre Niles (20), a backup center who, according to the MempHis Commercial Appeal, owns the blue-sleeved hand seen slapping a UAB fan in the stands in the picture at the top of this story. Debris-throwing UAB fans should be embarrassed by their postgame behavior toward the Tigers — but if you don’t run across the court to get into the faces of those fools, as the Commercial Appeal reported Niles, Shawn Taggart (21) and Jeff Robinson (22) did, you stand much less chance of being goaded into slapping anyone. But judging from Niles’ body (6-foot-8, 310 pounds) and body of work (eight points this season), altercations might be his strong suit. (Meanwhile, Conference USA reacted with trademark sluggishness, failing to complete its review of the fracas as of noon Tuesday. A spokeswoman said the league is “still gathering information” on the Niles slap, more than 60 hours after it occurred. Meanwhile, Memphis has announced no discipline of its own against Niles.)

• Taggart and Robinson, who don’t just get their kicks by taunting UAB fans. They also have September 2007 arrests for inciting a riot outside a Beale Street night spot called the Plush Club on their résumés. Neither missed any game time because of the incident.

• Don’t forget Joey Dorsey (23), the spectacularly athletic MempHis center who police say also was involved in that September Plush Club incident, though he was not arrested. After that one, Calipari said Dorsey was down to his last strike to stay on the team. And it takes some work to reach last-strike territory with Cal.

• Robert Dozier (24), MempHis’ third-leading scorer, is alleged to have smacked a former girlfriend twice with his open hand earlier this month. (Hence the misspelled UAB sign.) He allegedly did this at 3:30 a.m. outside the very same Plush Club, which Calipari reportedly had declared off-limits to the Tigers after the September inciting-a-riot thing. Dozier’s punishment: He sat out one game, against vaunted SMU (8-15). Now, the ex-girlfriend comes with some baggage of her own, including previously asking for and receiving protective orders. She has not pressed charges against Dozier over the incident.

Memphis Commercial Appeal Photo of Fans after UAB vs Memphis Game

• Andre Allen (25), backup point guard, was arrested in 2005 on charges of soliciting a prostitute.

Then there is the coach, whose lone trip to a Final Four, in 1996 at Massachusetts, has been vacated from the NCAA record books for rules violations that occurred on his watch.

And that’s just the current roster. You might recall that former Tigers Jeremy Hunt, Kareem Cooper and Sean Banks had multiple off-court incidents of their own under Calipari. Forgive The Minutes for forgetting any others.

All of those incidents make one start to think twice about the Cult of Calipari. Schools are probably looking at their coaches on the hot seat, and their under .500 conference records, their long tenure with no big success, and they get a little lusty for the top prospects/ NBA caliber basketball players, the big wins and NCAA Tournament money that Cal can bring. AD’s at their desks thinking “how much money would it cost to bring in John Calipari, anyway?”

Tyreke Evans, who was witness to a shooting—his cousin is accused of murder in the incident— is being courted by Worldwide Wes to go to these same Memphis Tigers. I would say it’s probably not a good idea to join the second coming of Bob Huggins’ Bearcats, whose greatest hits included unlawful imprisonment/ “24”-style torture, domestic violence, and Art Long punching a police horse.

But the pros don’t really care about the arrest records of collegians. By the pros, the players can hire handlers and better lawyers to make “situations” disappear. The colleges don’t really care unless the coach gets caught (Kelvin Sampson timeline). Or if someone gets murdered. It’s the wins and losses are what satisfy the fans and the donors. Doing things in an arrest-free manner is nice, but is treated almost as a luxury. And for a player, joining Memphis means conversation and controversy, wins and exposure. None of which really hurt their future ball playing prospects.

Huggy Bear’s mid-major (the Bearcats were in Conference USA) wins got them to the big time, the Big East Conference with the big money and national exposure. Players were drafted to the NBA—Nick Van Exel, Danny Fortson, Kenyon Martin, Ruben Patterson, for some—so until Huggins was fired, it was a win win all around, except for Cincy students who had to tell people they actually went to a real school.

Similarly, Memphis’ players have them ranked #1 and the school and the coach are considered elite in their sport. Derrick Rose will be drafted in the top 10, and while I will bet the farm that this team won’t be winning a championship, they are making money and getting the national exposure.

How can Tyreke Evans turn that down?

How can schools not inquire about getting the Calipari package?

After all, for schools outside of the power conferences, or at the bottom of the power conferences, upgrading the talent requires taking on some risk. Or perhaps the best talent is so beyond the normal laws of conduct that most people adhere to (even in college) that they can act the damned fool.

And perhaps if Calipari moves on to a bigger conference, he won’t have to win at these costs. Or perhaps he will bring the same incidents along with his victories. Can a college administration have institutional control over a willful coach? Or do they choose not to?

It is certainly possible to have successful basketball teams without long rap sheets. Or at least rap sheets and incidents so bad they make national news. But it takes the kind of patience that fan bases often don’t have.

And make no mistake, there are coaches who do things the “right” way and are simply not good program builders. I’m not writing this in defense of those guys either. But Memphis’ list of dumb deeds and brushes with the law are outliers; and fans of coaches have to deeply consider the baggage they may bring to a school.

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  1. February 21, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Pico,

    As much as I love the Memphis Tigers, I can not defend the actions of its players off the court. Coach Cal is willing to take chances on some questionable guys (behavior questionable, not talent). Tark the Shark was the same way.

    I agree that Cal should tighten his control. He instituted a curfew and no club policy after the Joey Dorsey incident in August only to lift it when the season started. That surprises me since I would assume Cal wants nothing (including bone head snap decisions by 20 year olds) to derail is quest for a national title.

  2. picodulce
    February 22, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    He’s going down the same road as Tark and Huggins before him. That’s not a good road.

  1. March 15, 2009 at 8:04 am
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