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Twenty Years And Worth The Wait

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on April 2, 2008

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Twenty years ago, my mother began her tenure as supervisor in the Physical Plant and Planning at what was then known as Memphis State University.

Back then, the Tigers were coached by hometown hero Larry Finch, who led the Tigers to their greatest basketball moment back in 1973 when they faced UCLA and Bill Walton at old St. Louis Arena — an arena which I had the opportunity to witness the demise of nine years ago on a chilly late-winter afternoon while recovering from a broken ankle.

At the time, the Tigers were practicing in what was then an old and dark Fieldhouse, once home to players like Forrest Arnold and Win Wilfong in the 1950’s, and playing their games at the Mid-South Coliseum, located near where I grew up.

Many times during my formative years, I sat in some of the basketball practices, even sometime shooting baskets with Elliott Perry, Russell Young, Penny Hardaway, and David Vaughan, something that none of the people that knew my mother seemed to care about.

It was there that I learned to hate the University of Louisville, the University of Cincinnati, and later on, the University of Alabama at Bumpkinham-which employed Gene Bartow, the guy who took the Tigers some two decades ago to the Final Four.

By the time I entered fifth grade, I had watched the Tigers make a pair of Sweet 16s, an Elite Eight appearance against Cincinnati in 1992, and a Great Midwest Conference title in 1995 with Lorenzen Wright.

Once I reached middle school, the same Tigers program I grew up watching became a mere shadow of its former self. Larry Finch was gone, the Tigers moved into Conference USA with Cincinnati and Louisville and a guy by the name of Tic Price was now in charge of the program.

By the midpoint of Price’s first season, my grandmother, who would sit and watch Tiger basketball with me on cold winter nights during much of my childhood, was in a battle that Larry Finch or Tic Price could not coach her out of.

Cancer.

She lived long enough to see the Tigers lose in the first round of the 1998 NIT against Fresno State, which would be the last Tiger basketball game she would see in her lifetime.

By November she was dead at the age of 64.

And the Tigers would have one of its worst seasons in my lifetime, bowing out in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament to South Florida, which I’m pretty sure was a watershed moment in my time as a Tiger fan.

Towards the end of my 9th grade year, and 12th as a Tiger fan, the city of Memphis and Tiger basketball would change forever as John Calipari came to Memphis, rolled up his sleeves, and began to pump energy into a once-proud basketball program.

Given the fact that in my 14th year as a fan that Memphis would win the NIT against South Carolina, it was not something that Calipari was going to settle for.

And when C-USA disintergrated, it gave the Tigers a chance to do something that hadn’t been done in two decades.

Dominate the conference.

And dominate they have, winning three straight Conference Championships, with three straight 30-win seasons, and undefeated in league play this season for the first time in school history.

Sunday as I, along with several hundred Tiger fans sat, in the Roane Fieldhouse, no longer the dank that it was when I was a kid, I thought about all those times of seeing the Tigers come up short.

And when the clock struck zero, I knew that those days of waiting until next year was over.

Over and out.

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One Response to “Twenty Years And Worth The Wait”

  1. MoonDog said

    I’m old enough, and hate to admit it, but nevertheless recall vividly watching Bill Walton hit 21-of-22 shots against the Tigers in the 1973 championship game. To this day, I honestly believe that was the most talented team in Memphis history.

    Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, Bill Cook, Bill Laurie, Bill Buford, Wes Wesphal and Larry Kenon were a very special group of Tigers. Much like this current Tiger team, they’ve brought a city together, a city that certainly needs it after so many bad things have happened.

    They may not win it all, but they’ll be remembered for a lifetime.

    Nice scribble.

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