Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jelan Kendrick Mess At Memphis

Memphis is a team that, like, Kentucky, was completely wiped out and needed to be refreshed by a star-studded recruiting class. Memphis lost five players from their seven man rotation last season, returning only Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman. Angel Garcia, D.J Stephens and Drew Barham are the only other scholarship players returning.

The star of the 2010 recruiting class is Will Barton, a true super-frosh and a possible one-and-done player (he's projected now as a late second rounder for 2011, but that stock will move up if he exceeds expectations as a freshman). Joe Jackson is the #2 recruit, a point guard who will lead the backcourt with Barton. Tarik Black is the best frontcourt recruit.

But most experts agree that in terms of raw talent, no Memphis recruit is superior to Jelan Kendrick. He's extremely athletic and long, and he has great natural handle of the ball. But the one catch with him is mental - he's a head case. Reports are that he's been getting in arguments (verbal, and possibly physical) with just about everybody in practice. And he's currently away from the team indefinitely. Head coach Josh Pastner insists it's a mutual decision, but Gary Parrish is standing by his report that the absence is less than mutual. And even though Memphis fans are keeping their head in the sand about this and angrily defending Pastner's explanation (if you click on the link to Parrish's article you'll see about 300 Memphis fans calling Parrish an idiot), it's just not plausible. Obviously Pastner doesn't want a kid like that around his team until he grows up, and what egotistical freshman basketball player ever voluntarily asked to leave a team so he can mature?

Because the suspension is internal, Josh Pastner could decide tomorrow to let Kendrick back on the team. But most likely this is going to be a long term problem. And there are already rumors that Kendrick might just leave the program.

It's a mess for a Memphis team that has high hopes again. I know that many fans think they're a Top 15 team already. But let's remember that they had those same expectations last year, and it blew up on them. There are just so many question marks when you're relying so heavily on freshmen. Particularly freshmen with problems.

If Kendrick doesn't return then Memphis goes from a heavy favorite to win Conference USA to a team in a dogfight with UTEP and UAB. And don't sleep on Tulsa, Southern Miss or UCF either (see my full 2010-11 Conference USA preview here). But at this point we can only speculate. We just have to see how this plays out.


Mark L. said...

Hi Jeff,

I agree with your post on Memphis. Tons and tons of talent with very little discipline. Their recruiting class has been praised all over the place but if Josh can't keep his team in line, they might be in trouble. I was reading another site and it predicted Memphis will go 15-1 in C-USA with UTEP at 14-2 and UAB at 12-4. If Jelan Kendrick doesn't play, where do you think it will leave Memphis?

Jeff said...

Absolutely. While I am firmly against John Calipari being allowed to continue coaching in the NCAA, I have said before that his one underrated skill is being able to handle all of these egotistical, super-talented freshmen. It's not as easy as he makes it look, and I don't understand why everybody is assuming that Josh Pastner can pull it off.

As for your projections, whichever website you were at must have copied me, because I picked Memphis, UTEP and UAB as the top, second and third placed finishers back in April! But in all seriousness, I don't think those high records are going to happen. Memphis is more likely looking at 14-2 with Kendrick, and more like 12-4 if he leaves. UTEP is looking at 12 or 13 wins. I'd give UAB 11 or 12. But picking exact wins is always an exercise in futility.

I don't think Kendrick won't play. Pastner won't keep him suspended for too long without letting him play or transferring. So if he doesn't transfer in the next couple of weeks, he will play early on in the season. The question is whether his bad behavior catches up with him again. If he leaves the program I think it will be because of a confrontation that he hasn't even had yet. But to be fair, considering Kendrick's record, projecting another confrontation for him in the next five months is one of the safest bets you could take.

Mark L. said...

I was at UMass when Calipari was there. Good recruiter, good coach but has since spoiled the program and it's gone south. Then, Bruiser Flint stepped in and made a mess out of things and Steve Lapis basically destroyed everything that was remotely left. I'm not surprised at the troubles Bruiser is having with Drexel.

My point is- these one-and-done caliber players can make a total mess out of a program- there are too many examples to point to but it wouldn't surprise me to see some sort of compromise between the two, Josh and Jelan. Look at Brandon Jennings- signing with the UofA, then bagging it. Was Josh at AZ when the Jennings thing occured?

Jeff said...

Yes, Pastner was at Arizona through the 2007-08 season.

One-and-done players are like what the straight out of high school players were to the NBA. They were alluring because when you hit you hit big. Everybody wanted the next Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard. The problem was, the majority of them failed, and when they failed they failed spectacularly.

One-and-done players have huge upside, but they do have huge downside, and I do agree that you can't win with only super freshmen. Kentucky fell in the Elite Eight last year and that was with FIVE first round draft picks, a returning star and leader in Patrick Patterson, and the most experienced coach in the world at dealing with that type of situation (Calipari). If that team couldn't get further than the Elite 8 then no team can get further than that without a lot of experience. Which is why I'm not buying the Memphis or Kentucky hype this season.

When one-and-done players work, it's when they're plugged into a team that is already really good, that already has a lot of leadership and already knows how to win a lot of games - like Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony, or Memphis with Derrick Rose. Carmelo wasn't winning without Hakim Warrick or Kueth Duany. Derrick Rose wasn't winning with Chris Douglas-Roberts or Joey Dorsey.