The 10 Most Memorable Moments of the Coach Calipari Era
At the time of writing, University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari is most likely hours away from finalizing a deal that will bring him to the University of Kentucky. Time to roll out the retrospectives.
Here is a look at the more memorable moments, benchmarks, and achievements from what looks a soon-to-be-gone era.
A New Day for Tiger Athletics
Just about every major college program falls on down times or has the occasional "off" year, and in the late 1990s the Tigers found themselves languishing in mediocrity.
Coming off two straight sub-.500 seasons would be hard enough for pretty much any self-respecting school to stomach, yet the Tigers of this era also had insult added to injury with the unceremonious firing of the legendary Larry Finch and the Tic Price scandal.
Finding themselves yearning for stability, Memphis found that and more in the hiring of John Calipari. Not only had they landed a solid X's and O's guy, but they got a big name as well. Calipari guided the UMass Minutemen to a 193-71 record and a 1996 Final Four appearance.
Top Recruit Dajuan Wagner Signs with Memphis
Given his history with the likes of Marcus Camby and Co., Calipari brought with him a stellar reputation for being able to lure the blue chip recruits.
After a respectable 2000-2001 debut season which saw the new-look Tigers return to the win column, coach Cal took little time in landing top recruit Dejuan Wagner from Camden (N.J.) High School.
Often compared to Allen Iverson for his ability to seemingly score at will, Wagner once scored 100 points in a game during his high school senior year.
He would eventually lead the Tigers to an NIT championship and was one of the first of the "one and done" ilk, before it was the letter of the law.
Tigers Win the NIT Championship
Although not quite the lofty expectations that the Tiger faithful initially envisioned, the 2002 National Invitational Tournament was certainly a step in the right direction.
Regardless of the subdued smiles on the faces of the Tigers, the victory signaled a changing of the guard of sorts. It was indeed a hint of better things to come; a dress rehearsal for future greatness.
Happy Days Are Here Again: Memphis Ranked No. 12 in 2005 Pre-Season Poll
After a decent 2004-2005 campaign in which the Tigers were dismissed by the then-up-and-coming Saint Joseph's squad, the next year was rife with possibilities, given the returning starters.
The pre-season NIT turned out to be a proving ground for Memphis. Defeating the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is one thing; disposing of a fiesty Alambama and UCLA is another.
The Tigers lost by three to Duke in the final, but the writing was on the wall: Memphis was back.
30 Again? Tigers Prove They're Not Going Anywhere
While this selection as a "top 10" might seem to be a stretch for some fans, it definitely proved one thing: these aren't your mid-1990s Tigers.
They were for real, without a trace of the one-hit-wonder tag that seemed to befall a lot of the nineties Memphis squads.
In spite of the heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight round, "Tiger Nation" was finally aware that, for the first time since the halcyon days of the Dana Kirk/Keith Lee era, they were to be reckoned with on a regular basis.
A Quarter of a Century Later, Tigers Back on Top
And all of the sudden, January 10, 1983 seemed like so long ago.
Unlike their past compadres, who lost their coveted ranking within hours of their coronation, these Tigers were intent on keeping their No. 1 status.
At least for a little while.
In January of 2008, when Memphis beat Southern Mississippi and subsequently saw then-number one North Carolina lose to Maryland, well, the party was on.
And for one glorious month, things stayed that way, until a determined (yet ultimately ill-fated) University of Tennessee squad dethroned the Tigers.
At any rate, it was indicative of an aforementioned trend; Memphis was a power that was here to stay.
C-USA vs. Big Ten.
What in the Mateen Cleaves is going on here?
Lack of clever titles for this slide aside, this game was an initiation of sorts.
A "holy crap, they're for real" coming out party for the Memphis Tigers, as they found themselves up by 30 points at halftime.
Given this year's struggles, it almost makes a Tiger fan nostalgic seeing the Spartan green and white in this year's Final Four; as in, "it could've been us!"
The video of Tom Izzo, a man resigned to his fate, placing his face in his hands, remains iconic.
"Man, We Knew We Was Gonna Win!"
That post game quote from Derrick Rose, much to the chagrin of the UCLA faithful, will live in infamy for Tiger fans everywhere.
For a program that was not-yet-elite, yet simultaneously not exactly starving for success, it was a perfect encapsulation of Memphis' 2008 run through the tournament.
We're here to stay, we're not going anywhere and we don't give a damn what "storied" logo is on your jersey.
It's a shame what happened next.
Mario Chalmers and the Foul That Never Was
Did Kansas win the game? Or did Memphis lose it?
Be it alleged non-coaching (time outs and smart fouling go a long way) or wretched free throw shooting, the "could of, would of, should of's" are endless.
Especially for a program that is still in search of the ever-elusive first national crown.
Any way you slice it, to be up by nine points with just over two minutes should ensure success.
But there's always next year, right?
“That’s just how it is. I’m happy, happy with the program, happy with the people. I love Memphis."
That's perhaps a canned response from coach Cal, to the now annual speculation that he will be off to another school come May.
Memphis fans are used to it, right? It's a mere formality?
“I want to be here,” Calipari said upon arrival from Glendale, Ariz., earlier this week. “This is where I want to coach, and my name will be tied to every job that’s open, and our fans I think have gotten used to it," he said to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
However, as of right this minute, the Memphis boosters are in meetings with him to negotiate, well, who knows.
His new salary?
His hand-picked replacement?
According to the Commercial Appeal's website, the founder of FedEx himself, Mr Frederick Smith, has made a personal appearance at Calipari's residence this evening.
Be it on the court or in the negotiating room, the man has a flair for the dramatic.
Here's hoping we know how to foul and call a timeout this time.