Over the course of the world, humankind has seen the rise and the fall of many great empires: the Romans, Greeks, Maya, Inca, Aztec, British, French, and more. On Wednesday, we witnessed the fall of another great empire: that of the Memphis Tigers.
Memphis head basketball coach John Calipari signed a contract to become the head coach at Kentucky. This signing ended a very successful run at Memphis that resulted in 11 NCAA tournament appearances, two Final Fours, and a second-place finish. He brought two mid-major programs out of the dust in Massachusetts and Memphis.
Calipari was the most successful mid-major coach when it came to recruiting. He was able to lure in players such as Dajuan Wagner, Shawne Williams, Derrick Rose, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Tyreke Evans. No other mid-major coach brought in as many great collegiate players.
Before he arrived at Memphis, the Tigers didn't receive national attention, finishing under .500 in the Conference USA. In his first two seasons, he brought home a third place finish championship in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). He then boosted the Tigers into the NCAA tournament, a complete turnaround for the program.
He reached consecutive Elite Eights before he led the Tigers to their best season in ages. The National Championship was theirs for the taking, but his players' inability to hit crucial late-game free throws allowed the Kansas Jayhawks to take the game from out of the Tiger's paw.
With the appearance in the National Championship, Memphis had established themselves as a perennial power in college hoops. Calipari would be able to continue to get great recruiting classes and continuously be a Final Four threat.
With all of their success, could the Memphis Tigers' empire collapse with a changing of the coach?
In college, the head coach plays such an important role. He or she recruits and teaches the kids how to play the game and improve fundamentals.
One of the reasons high school players sign with a certain team is because of the coach; he or she is the face of the program, and if he or she leaves, then the recruit won't be going to that school for the reason he wanted.
With John Calipari gone, it will be much more difficult for Memphis to compete on a national stage. They may be able to have success in the Conference USA, but reaching a Sweet Sixteen will be a difficult task.
Star freshman guard Tyreke Evans, the national Freshman of the Year, has declared for the NBA Draft. Evans said that Calipari's departure for Kentucky played a big role in his leaving.
Many other high school recruits will drop Memphis down on their list of schools. The new coach will have to work wonders to get the same class that Calipari would be receiving this upcoming season.
Memphis will no longer be one of the top teams every year. The Tigers will have to, basically, start all over. Not only will they lose their seniors, but the recruits that John Calipari would have easily snatched.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Wildcats have a new coach and are looking at a bright future. All they have to do is look at what Calipari has done in his first few seasons at each school that he has coached at. Now he is coaching a team that already has great potential. The Cats bring back Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson for 2009-10.
But in Memphis, the search for a coach continues. Whoever receives the job will have huge shoes to fill.
John Calipari is one of the greatest coaches in the game, and his departure would be an unrelenting nightmare for any program.
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