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Monday / April 22.
  • Pastner Building a Wall Around Memphis

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    When Josh Pastner took over for John Calipari as the head coach at the University of Memphis in April 2009, one of his first goals was to keep the local talent at home.

    “When I was fortunate enough to be able to become the head coach, the first thing I said at my press conference was, ‘We’ve got to do all we can to protect the backyard and to get the best student-athletes locally,’” Pastner said Friday morning by phone. “Memphis pound-for-pound is one of the best, if not the best, cities in America in terms of student-athletes coming out.”

    The Tigers added yet another talented Memphian Thursday when Adonis Thomas, a 6-foot-6 wing from Memphis Melrose ranked the No. 6 small forward in the Class of 2011, verbally committed to Memphis over Tennessee, Florida, UCLA and Arkansas.

    “Coach Pastner and his staff were just great from the beginning after Coach Cal left,” Thomas said on ESPNU. “I love Memphis. They have a great fan support here and I just love playing with those players. They have great guys who play with me during the AAU season and guys who I’ve been seeing at exposure camps.”

    Thomas will join fellow Memphians Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Chris Crawford –all freshmen — next year on Pastner’s squad.

    Those three, plus Will and Antonio Barton, Jelan Kendrick and Hippolyte Tsafack — combined to give Memphis the No. 2 recruiting class in 2010 (behind Calipari’s haul at Kentucky).

    Pastner is not permitted to comment specifically on Thomas until he signs a National Letter of Intent next month, but it’s clear that his pledge is consistent with the coach’s goal of keeping the local talent at home.

    “I recognize we’re not going to be able to get every single guy,” Pastner said. “I want to make sure the ones we’ve targeted we have a great chance of getting.

    “For the local guys we want to make sure we put up a wall or a fence around Memphis, but that’s hard to do because there’s a lot of great programs around the country. You’re in an area where you’re surrounded by a lot of great programs, too. We want to be a national recruiting program but first and foremost you’ve got to take care of home base.”

    While Thomas may well have committed to Memphis regardless of the coach, it surely helps Memphis’ in-state recruiting that Tennessee is reeling at the moment.

    Head coach Bruce Pearl is operating without a contract and the program is being investigated by the NCAA.

    “Tennessee was very high on my list,” Thomas said on ESPNU. “I kept in communication with those guys for a very long time at a young age. They were my first scholarship offer.

    “But towards the end it was kind of difficult for me and my family. We didn’t want to jeopardize anything for my college career, even though Bruce Pearl is a great coach. The staff is great. The players are great. It was just the uncertainty about the program that I didn’t want to involve myself with that in my recruitment.”

    Of course, all is not perfect at Memphis, either.

    Kendrick, a 6-6, 190-pound freshman wing from Atlanta, continues to miss practice over what Pastner calls a “personal” matter.

    CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that Kendrick has been indefinitely suspended while school officials investigate a verbal threat the freshman made against a teammate and cited an anonymous source that Kendrick had been in multiple fights with teammates since arriving on campus.

    Kendrick was involved with another “personal matter” and didn’t travel with the Tigers to the Bahamas in August. CBSSports.com said Pastner banned Kendrick from the trip for a fight with a teammate.

    “All I can tell you is that these young men are student-athletes and not athlete-students,” Pastner said on the phone. “In general, our responsibility is the welfare and the student part of the individual. That’s No. 1 and that’s the bottom line.”

    He added: “When it gets resolved in time, we’ll revisit it and go from there.”

    After opening the season Nov. 12 against Centenary College, the Tigers will come here to New York Dec. 7 to play Kansas in the Jimmy V Classic. That game will feature a rematch of the 2008 NCAA championship game, won by the Jayhawks.

    Kansas is No. 7 in the initial AP Top 25 poll of the season and Memphis is No. 19.

    No. 2 Michigan State faces No. 10 Syracuse in the other half of the doubleheader.

    “We’re excited,” Pastner said. “We have a lot of games before then. Coach Bill Self is one of the best coaches in the country at any level, pro, college or high school. The guy’s a future Hall of Famer and their team is going to be really good. It’s always an honor to play a team and a coach like Kansas.

    “Second, what an awesome privilege to be playing at Madison Square Garden, a privilege for anybody.

    “Third, the opportunity to be a part of the Jimmy V Classic. There’s nothing more important than what it represents.”

    (The AP contributed; Photos courtesy Rivals, Memphis Roar)

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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