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In The Making For Eight Years

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on January 24, 2008

For the last two or three years, I’ve been proud to let my friends from outside Shelby County know that I lived in the murder capital of the country, that our mayor was a shithead, and for all intents and purposes had a problem with a third of the inner-city population.

While two of those three are true, I can’t be certain about the last thing on the list.

But the certain feeling that this town has received since the Memphis Tigers — who prior to this week was ranked at the top only once in nearly 90 years of basketball and wound up losing it the same day back in 1983 when they faced Virginia Tech — became the new #1 in the country on Monday, it’s one of bliss.

When Marquette, St. Louis, Charlotte, Cincinnati, DePaul, and Louisville all bolted from Conference USA for greener pastures, leaving Memphis and UAB behind, people never envisioned the Tigers being in the discussion for National prominence, let known National Championship contenders.

It was, according to the experts, going to turn into another lowly basketball conference that would only yield one whipping boy to the NCAA Tournament and nothing else.

But if there’s one thing that Calipari learned from his time at UMASS in the 90’s, it didn’t matter what conference they were playing in or even how sucky it is.

All that matters was that his guys went out night in and night out to give it their all on the floor.

Instead of preparing for conference play with cupcakes, Calipari rid us of the Ole Miss series and introduced the Tiger faithful to top-caliber teams like UCONN, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, and even Kentucky.

He brought in guys like Rodney Carney, Earl Barron, Joey Dorsey, Andre Allen — guys who weren’t on the top of many prep lists out of high school — and molded them into skilled players.

Then there was the second chance given to Jeremy Hunt, who overcame legal troubles to return to the team in 2006-07 and become a valuable asset off the bench.

Need I say more?

How about nabbing guys like Jeff Robinson and Derrick Rose, highly touted prep stars who decided to come to Memphis and possibly win a National Championship?

Pretty darn good coach, if you ask me.

Given the fact that the basketball program was in a mess prior to Calipari’s arrival with the Tic Price scandal, the #1 ranking is something that has been in the works since that press conference in March of 2000 in the Pyramid.

That day, along with Monday, could very well be two significant dates in the recent history of Memphis basketball.

Hopefully, come April, a third one can be added to this list.

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