MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tigers Basketball Coach Tubby Smith is fond of quoting his father, a Maryland farmer named Guffrie Smith.
"You can't rush nature," Coach Smith says his Dad told him in a conversation about his development as a homesick college basketball player at High Point College (now University) in North Carolina. Growing up on a farm in St. Mary's County, Maryland, Coach Smith now uses his father's observations about farming to teach in a basketball context. "That hog has to be fed or we're not going to eat. That crop has to be cultivated or we're not going to eat. We're going to feed that chicken or we're not going to have fried chicken. It's as simple as that," Coach Smith told members of the Memphis Rotary Club, recalling Guffrie's reflections about farm life in Scotland, Maryland. Now the veteran coach has a new crop of players and will attempt to harvest more wins for the Memphis program ready for the sun to rise on a new season.
Smith was hired 14 months ago to lead the Tigers basketball program back to local and national relevance. Just like his farming father, Coach Smith knows it's going to take time. "We have a lot of good things happening. It always takes patience," Smith told Rotarians meeting at Newby's on Highland, the restaurant near the University of Memphis that hosts Smith's live audience radio call-in broadcast during the season.
Smith revealed the upcoming University of Memphis Basketball season will feature a roster of two returning starters, four junior college transfers, a couple walk-ons, three freshmen and a few players yet to be named. Smith's evolving squad will take on the likes of new American Athletic Conference member and perennial powerhouse Wichita State.
"They have everybody back. They'll be the highest rated team in the league when it comes to RPI," said Coach Smith of the Shockers who went 31-5 last season and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they were bounced by the Kentucky Wildcats. In contrast, Smith's inaugural year as Tigers Head Coach featured 19 victories, 13 defeats and a fizzle at the season's end that left the coach and fans disappointed.
But now there are new hands at the Tigers' plow, including players taller than 6'6" and 190-pound Jimario Rivers who fought the good fight at the center position last season but faced much taller and wider opponents." Jimario is a kid that overachieved," Coach Smith told Rotarians. "I was impressed with his hard work." The other returning starter is Jerimiah Martin. "Jerimiah was #2 in the league in steals, 5th in assists, played most minutes of anyone in the league," Smith said of Martin, his point guard.
"So I'm really expecting him to step up. He showed a lot of leadership and he's learning," Smith said. The tallest Tiger attended every practice last season but had to sit out. Karim Sameh Azab, a 6'11" center from Giza, Egypt, can now play and will add height and bulk to the Tigers lineup. Coach says Azab hopes to visit his family for the first time in three years once the Tigers summer session is over. "I'm going to try and get over and meet his parents just outside Cairo," Smith said
After the departures of Tigers starters and top scorers Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as Markel Crawford, Team Tubby hit the JUCO circuit with the desperation of a farmer on the brink of crop failure. They recruited Kyvon Davenport, a 6'8" forward from Georgia Highlands College. They discovered Kareem Brewton, a 6'2" sharpshooter from Eastern Florida State College. From Gordon State, the Tigers signed 6'7" forward Raynere Thornton. Mike Parks, Jr., a 6'9" forward/ center from Southwest Mississippi College signed with the Tigers in April.
"With the loss of veteran players, we have to find veteran players. These guys have played 60-70 games in their collegiate careers and that's going to help us," Smith said. The incoming freshmen are guard Jamal Johnson, guard/ forward David Nickelberry and forward Victor Enoh. "We know the way to success is the number of fannies you put in the seats and the number of wins you get. Winning is a byproduct of having good players, teaching them the value of teamwork, playing together. So we've got to assemble that," said the son of the farmer about to do some serious coaching chores on the basketball court.