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.